February 26, 2006
SESTRIERE, Italy (AP by Howard Fendrich)—Bode Miller boasts about what a blast he had during his 0-for-5 Olympics. He insists results don't matter, having a good time does. Try telling that to Austria's Alpine skiers, who racked up a record 14 medals, nearly half the 30 on offer.
Who says you can't have fun and win, too?
Benjamin Raich can. The stoic Austrian tossed back his head and laughed as he rode on teammates' shoulders after winning his second gold medal.
Another Austrian, Michaela Dorfmeister, strummed an air guitar and kissed the podium's top step to celebrate one of her two golds. Winning in the Olympics was the goal that kept her from retiring _ and now she will.
Anja Paerson of Sweden bellyflopped and slid headfirst in the snow after capping her three-medal showing by finally adding a gold to her otherwise complete resume. Janica Kostelic of Croatia shed tears when her older brother Ivica won a silver _ drawing as much joy from that as from her own gold and silver, which at just 24 made her the most decorated female Alpine skier in Olympic history.
Only two Americans, both 21 and without a major victory, managed to celebrate: Ted Ligety, tackled by two teammates after his surprise gold in the men's combined event, and Julia Mancuso, who kissed her ski then donned a costume jewelry tiara for the medal ceremony after winning the women's giant slalom.
Living it up AFTER a win. Now there's a novel idea.
Not that Miller was the only bust of the Alpine competition on a U.S. Ski Team that came in with a goal of eight medals and the motto "Best in the World. Daron Rahlves departed his third and final Olympics with a ninth-place finish in the super-G, a 10th in the downhill and a "Did Not Finish in the giant slalom.
Ligety was asked what he would have thought if someone told him before the Turin Games that he'd end up the only U.S. man with a medal.[pagebreak]"I probably would have laughed. I mean, I definitely would have thought Bode or Daron would have produced a medal, Ligety said. "It's just kind of bad luck more than anything. You can't expect to produce on any given day.
The Austrians managed to do just that, claiming at least one medal in nine of the 10 races in the Italian Alps. They even pulled off a 1-2-3 finish in the men's slalom Saturday night, only the fifth medal sweep in 122 Alpine events in the history of Winter Olympics.
Everyone contributed. Raich, who has supplanted Miller as the man considered the world's top skier. Dorfmeister, 32, who stayed in the sport for a shot at erasing the memory of missing out on gold by 0.01 seconds at the 1998 Olympics. Hermann "The Herminator Maier, who won a silver and bronze at his first Winter Games since breaking both legs in a 2001 motorcycle accident.
In the end, all that pre-Olympics talk about a rivalry between the Americans and Austrians seems downright silly.
The Americans arrived with the motto. The Austrians left with the medals.
"You say, 'What could we have done? Could we have had another day of practice? Could we have trained differently? Prepared differently?' I'm going to say, 'No,' U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said. "We were prepared. We just didn't get it done when it really mattered.
Those who did include Paerson, who topped all Alpine skiers with three medals, and Antoine Deneriaz of France, who continued the tradition of little-known champions in the men's downhill when he stole the gold as the last skier down the mountain with a chance to win. And don't forget Janica Kostelic, ailing throughout these games, who set records by boosting her career totals to six medals, four of them gold. Kjetil Andre Aamodt set the men's mark by winning his fourth gold, which extended his record for career Alpine medals to eight.
At 34, the Norwegian also is the oldest man to win Alpine gold.
Asked the secret to his success, Aamodt offered advice that Miller, 28, and other, younger skiers should note.[ppagebreak]"Spend a lot of time on the hill, spend time training, and then, if you work hard over a long period of time, with a lot of focus, good things will happen to you, Aamodt said. "And ... use your head while you're having fun.
Other lasting images of the Turin Olympics: American Lindsey Kildow competing in the downhill only 48 hours after a frightening free-fall in practice sent her to the hospital. Kristina Koznick racing with a brace holding together her right knee. Slalom favorite Giorgio Rocca, Italy's best hope to avoid its first Alpine medal shutout since 1980, wiping snow from his nose after crashing midway through his opening run.
And the lasting image of Miller?
Perhaps slamming into a gate in the super-G before somehow finding his balance and stopping on one ski _ looking smooth in a losing cause. Or skiing off into the woods in a bid to avoid reporters. Or the photograph of him in a local watering hole, drink in hand, making an obscene gesture toward the camera.
His two silver medals at Salt Lake City, his 2004-05 World Cup overall title, his newsmagazine cover poses, his outlandish statements, his autobiography _ all of it contributed to the pre-Olympics hype that pegged Miller as the star of these games.
"I just did it my way, Miller told The Associated Press. "I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press