Miller goes all out but misses third medal

PARK CITY, Utah -- Bode Miller could have skied conservatively to become the first American to win three alpine medals in one Olympics.

But Miller is about as conservative as the Kennedy family, and he knows only one way to ski. He attacks the course the way Alberto Tomba attacks a hot tub party.

So even though he was firmly in second place after Saturday's first run, and even though he saw skier after skier tumble down the slope, Miller went all out in the final alpine event of the Olympics.

That approach paid off with two silver medals earlier in the Olympics, but it cost him this time when he skied off the course and struggled mightily just to finish the race 12 seconds behind eventual gold medalist Jean-Pierre Vidal and barely ahead of the Latvian.

"I wanted to push it hard," Miller said. "If I had backed off, it wouldn't have been that hard to get down and maybe come in fifth place or fourth place or even first place, but I wasn't willing to make that decision today.

"I wasn't the first American man to try to win three medals, but I would have been the first to win three. Everyone comes in trying to win whatever race they're in. I was in three and to come out with two silver medals is more than I can ask for."

Miller was the saving grace for the U.S. team, finishing second in the men's combined and second in the giant slalom. The United States won no other medals, finishing behind Croatia's Janica Kostelic and barely ahead of Great Britain (which won its first alpine medal in Saturday's slalom when Alain Baxter took the bronze). Among the other top U.S. contenders, Picabo Street drew a bad start in the women's downhill and never had much chance, while Kristina Koznick fell and failed to finish the slalom for the second consecutive Olympics.

It was the first time since Albertville that the United States failed to win a gold in the alpine. If it doesn't involve snowboards and flips, the Americans still trail the rest of the world on the slopes.

"I think we had tough luck. We had the type of luck I had today," Miller said. "We had the guys with the speed to win and we just didn't perform on the races days. A lot of favorites came into these Olympics and left with nothing or had subpar performances. But if you talk to those people, I don't think they're that disappointed. You have to be willing to risk it."

Miller was in second place after the first run, 36 hundredths behind Jean-Pierre and almost a minute ahead of Austria's Benjamin Raich. He could have skied conservatively and easily picked up the record third medal. Instead, he went sliding off the course while trying to negotiate a tricky turn early in the run.

"It was a very small margin of error in that part of the course," Miller said. "Those are the type of places where I can make up time on guys. I carry more speed than anybody in there and it was a matter of making that one gate. If I make that gate and got into the front end of the hairpin, I would have had more of a cushion of time to work with. That was the plan but unfortunately it didn't work out."

Miller picked himself up, returned to the gate and continued the run, only to miss a couple more gates and have to backtrack again. At times it seemed as if he were on snowshoes not skies, but Miller says he always makes sure to finish a course ever since a race when he wound up "breast-stroking across the finish line.

"Ninety percent of what I like about slalom is the effort. It takes a load of effort to make it down there. Especially on a course like this, where it's bumpy and rough and you can't see great and it's steep. And I wasn't up to it today."

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com.