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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- With the most important two minutes and six seconds of his day complete, Bode Miller sat in the finish area of the Rosa Khutor downhill course and tried to process where it all went wrong.
It was something he had learned long ago in his career: to not be defined by the time on a clock, to take a few minutes and absorb every inch of the task he had just completed, process what went right and what went wrong and move on before being bombarded with the opinions of everyone else. It is Miller who always controls his own emotions. No one else. And it was at this moment at the bottom of the hill -- with worldwide television cameras watching -- when the transformation from disappointment to acceptance was underway.
Miller began his day hopping out of bed a few minutes past 5 a.m., anticipating the opportunity that lay ahead. He had won two of the three downhill training sessions last week and eagerly waited for the race to begin. Some three hours before the sun would even rise, there was Miller, amped to the point that his wife, Morgan, said it seemed like he was already in the starting gate.
When the sun finally rose, the news outside was not good. A week of bluebird skiing conditions had given way to overcast skies and warmer temperatures, conditions that can challenge visibility. This is not ideal for a man who skis on the edge, a man who needs to see every bump and roll so he can steer through or around it.
At 11:45 a.m., Miller dropped in and the stadium was abuzz. He was the man many had come to see. After the first split time, Miller, who was the 15th skier to take the course, was ahead of leader Matthias Mayer by 0.27 seconds. Green flashed on the video board. By the next split, Miller's lead was 0.31 seconds.
But in the next section, Miller bumped into a gate. By the third split, his advantage dropped to 0.02. By the fourth, it was gone. He crossed the finish line in a time of 2:06.75, more than a half-second behind Mayer.
As he looked up at the video board and saw red, his head fell. He jammed his poles into the snow and leaned forward, staring at the ground in disbelief. He skied to the edge of the finish area and sat down, placing his head in his hands. After some 30 seconds, he propped himself up and made his way to the athlete's exit on the opposite end of the finish area. There, he just stopped.
Miller jammed his poles into the ground again and looked back up the hill, seemingly searching for answers. Where did he make a mistake? What could he have done differently? A trumpet quietly played in the distance. The only other sound was that of stunned silence. Eventually, Miller finished replaying the race in his head. He had his answer. He had done everything he could. Some 30 minutes later, his eyes covered by sunglasses with a blue USA ski cap pulled over his head, he explained.
"It's disappointing to not have a better result next to my name," said Miller, who finished eighth. "It's one of those days where it's hard to say where the time went. I skied really well. I was aggressive. I took a lot of risk. I made a couple small mistakes but not anything that would cost you a lot of time, and it's tough to just be missing it."
In a way, it all made perfect sense. In a sport where truly anything can happen on any given day, Miller has long been the ultimate who-knows-what-to-expect athlete. When expectations are absent, he can win. When the world expects greatness, he can disappoint. That's why the best skiers in the world are lucky to win 9 percent of their races. Bode will always be Bode. The recklessness that makes him great can also lead to mistakes. And he isn't going to change. Today, he pointed blame at the cloudy skies and Seattle-like weather, which he said made for a softer course and challenging visibility.
"The course just slowed down," he said. "It's one of the big challenges in ski racing. Sometimes it's not in your hands. When the visibility goes down, it affects me quite a bit. Guys who have a little bit better balance and initiation process in their turns, it doesn't faze them. I had to change a lot from the training runs today just not being able to see the snow."
Austria's Mayer, who won the race with a time of 2:06.23, agreed the conditions didn't do Miller any favors.
"In the last flat, there was a little bit of wet snow or soft snow, and I think a few hundredths of a second there really were the advantage," Mayer said.
Two weeks earlier at a World Cup event in Kitzbuhel, Austria, Miller dominated the final run of training by pushing his line to a risky place no other skier could match. But on race day, a small mistake here, another mistake there and a third-place finish in the end. That loss, Miller's wife said, brought her typically unemotional husband to tears.
But that wasn't an option in Russia on Sunday. With four more races to go before these Games draw to a close, Miller had to figure out how to move on. And so, at the bottom of the mountain, that's what he did.
"I like to make sure I know what my judgment of myself was on a given day before I submit myself to everyone else's criticism, judgment or opinions," he said. "I would have loved to have won, obviously. This is a premier event and something I've thought about quite a bit. But when it's out of your control, that kind of takes the disappointment away more or less.
"I think I skied well enough to win, but it just doesn't happen sometimes."
At least that's what he told himself.