Last Saturday night Vonn sat in a quiet corner of a U.S. hospitality suite, while family and team officials readied a celebration in her honor. "I was surprisingly O.K. with all the pressure," she said. "But all that emotion coming out after the race, that caught me by surprise. I'm empty right now. Completely exhausted."
When Mancuso earned her second silver medal with a terrific and surprising slalom run on the back end of the combined, she remembered skiing in the Mighty Mite program at Squaw Valley at age four. "The only thing that kept me in skiing was all the fun I had when I was little," said Mancuso. "I love the Olympics, but skiing is cool."
She was in an odd position in Whistler, deep in Vonn's shadow despite her victory in Turin as a 21-year-old. "It really feels like not many people know about my gold medal," Mancuso said on Sunday. "Why does the media have to have just one star? When I got my silver in the combined and Lindsey fell, all the headlines were like VONN FALLS, MANCUSO SECOND. Why couldn't the stories say VONN LIVES UP TO GOLD EXPECTATIONS; MANCUSO SHINES TOO? It seems like a popularity contest."
She could have shined even more. In the Super G she drew the No. 1 start spot and, racing blind, badly misjudged a turn and finished ninth. "Bummer," Mancuso said, "I was going really well." She was scheduled to defend her title in Wednesday's giant slalom.
Weibrecht, whose all-out style reminds everyone in the sport of a young Miller ("You watch Bode, and you see what you can accomplish by pushing the limits," says Weibrecht), grew up in Lake Placid, N.Y., and learned to race on the tough, icy slopes of Whiteface Mountain, host of the Alpine events at the 1980 Olympics and home to hundreds of other races at all levels through the years. The northern Adirondacks are a beautiful and unforgiving place. Weibrecht remembers, "January on Whiteface, 20 or 30 below without the windchill. Maybe you ski one run and go get warm. But you definitely keep skiing."
Miller's redemption (he would hate hearing it called that) began when he rejoined the U.S. ski team in late September. In a cheery press conference at the time, he referenced the ultimate can't-quit athlete when he said, "I can relate to Brett Favre. You walk away, and there's obviously a big hole left where that sport was. Especially in my case; it's my main form of expression." He said he also looked forward to working with younger athletes on the team.
But getting in shape to compete for months would be a challenge. "The skiing was not going to be an issue," Miller says. "I had thousands of races of muscle memory. It was a matter of getting equipment dialed in and staying injury-free. Which I really didn't." Miller had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in October and then severely sprained his right ankle in December.
Mike Kenney, Miller's uncle and a super-combined coach with the U.S. team, says, "He's the best all-around skier in the world. My question was whether he was prepared mentally, and it turns out he was. But he was marginally prepared physically, and it was a battle."
It was no less a battle on Sunday. Like Vonn, Miller was drained by his early races—and beaten up by his training fall, which launched Miller at least 30 feet. (Carey described it as "the kind of crash you see with 15-year-olds.") Awakened by coaches at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday, Miller said he was already "on fumes." Unlike the straight downhill, at which he was visibly nervous to the point that other skiers found it odd, this time he struggled to summon up any sort of energy.
After the downhill run he trailed Super G gold medalist Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by .76 of a second, a wide gap, and five other skiers by smaller margins. Miller had won a super-combined race in Wengen, Switzerland, but he did it by easily winning the downhill portion and hanging on despite finishing 16th in the slalom. Before leaving the slalom start on Sunday afternoon, Miller smacked his poles together once and exhaled forcibly, blowing out his cheeks.