Posted: Saturday February 18, 2006 5:45PM; Updated: Saturday February 18, 2006 6:15PM
Kjetil Andre Aamodt became the first skier in history to repeat as Olympic Super-G champ.
TURIN, Italy -- Four years ago alpine ski racers Kjetil-Andre Aamodt of Norway and Bode Miller of the U.S. sat side-by-side in an Olympic interview tent on an access road at the Snowbasin Ski Resort in Utah. Aamodt, then 30 and already one of the most accomplished ski racers in history, had held off the 24-year-old Miller to win his sixth Olympic medal, his second gold, in the combined event.
Yet, the ski racing world was already catching its first whiffs of Bode Fever. Miller had won the combined silver -- his first Olympic medal -- by bouncing up off his left hip in the combined downhill (many ski-heads consider it the best recovery in history) and then scorching his second run of slalom to nearly catch Aamodt in gathering Wasatch twilight. His full gas racing style had collided with his backwoods backstory to create a character.
"America is going to fall in love with this guy," said Bill Marolt, CEO of the U.S, Ski and Snowboard Association.
"He's here and he's here to stay," said coach Jesse Hunt, who would soon thereafter become the U.S. Ski Team's alpine director.
No one was more enthusiastic -- or gracious -- on that late afternoon than Aamodt. "Bode is revolutionizing the way of skiing," Aamodt said. "When he puts it together, he's in a class of his own."
There was a faint sense of torch-passing in Aamodt's words, as if he understand that his battered body, which first won an Olympic medal in 1992, was running on fumes and that Miller was the future. Four years later we are at another Olympic Games and how strange it is that Miller's era seems closer to finished than Aamodt's.
They met again Sunday on a Super-G course that rose above the village of Borgata, just outside the resort of Sestriere, 70 miles north of the Turin. Miller didn't finish and stood in soft snow next to the course with U.S. head coach Phil McNichol as Aamodt, now 34 and more battered than ever, ripped past two skiers later and won the eighth medal and the fourth gold of his long career, both Olympic alpine skiing records.
Aamodt waited in the finish area as five more racers came down, each falling short. Hermann Maier of Austria got closest, taking the silver medal only 0.13 seconds behind Aamodt. As Aamodt celebrated, Miller made his way down alongside the course and skied off alone in fresh powder behind a grandstand. Surely he was back in his motor home before officials looped the gold medal around Aamodt's neck.
Miller has skied three events at these Olympics. He raced reasonably well in the downhill and finished fifth, but was disqualified for straddling a gate in the first run of the combined slalom and then failed to finish the Super-G after leading at the first split. (Bode, in fact, has led every one of his Olympic races at some point). He has attracted far more attention for his energetic nightlife, captured partying in paparazzi-esque photos. As of Saturday evening, Aamodt is certifiably a legend and Miller certifiably a curiosity with a good resume that falls far short of his towering talents. (That might not bother him in the least, a possibility we'll come back to).
Miller has two more chances to win his third Olympic medal: Monday's giant slalom (in which he is a seemingly a genuine threat) and next Saturday's slalom, in which he is a distinct long shot.
There is a bigger picture, brought into focus by Aamodt's stunning and graceful victory on Saturday. The Norwegian's gold medal stunned even his peers. "Insane," said Daron Rahlves of the U.S., who finished a listless ninth and whose Olympics, with a 10th in downhill, have been scarcely better than Miller's. (Ditto for the U.S. team, which now has one medal -- Ted Ligety's surprising gold in the combined -- in five events, hopelessly off the pace in pursuit of the team's stated goal of eight medals).