- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

SESTRIERE, Italy — Sports usually aren’t complicated, but sometimes a little translation can help.

So when Bode Miller said, “I attacked the top full gas. I was 100 percent out there,” what he meant was that he got off to a good start in the men’s downhill yesterday at the Winter Olympics.

When Miller said, “In the middle sections with the terrain, I made the right moves,” what he meant was that he was skiing well technically.

When he said, “I got rotated out of the Daytona turn [before the final pitch] and just couldn’t find an aerodynamic position,” what he meant was “Uh-oh.”

And when he said, “There were a couple spots where I got bumped up a little bit off balance in the air and two turns where I couldn’t find a clear edge, and that’s the difference of being fifth and being second,” well, you get the picture.

Leading up to the competition, Miller might have been the most observed and quoted skier in the world. Certainly he was the most controversial — the most liked and disliked. But yesterday, after a fifth-place finish (1:49.93), he was nowhere near the best.

Neither was teammate Daron Rahlves, the low-key counterpoint to Miller and a prerace favorite who finished 10th in a disappointing day for the Americans.

The best by far was Antoine Deneriaz, a heretofore anonymous 29-year-old Frenchman who dominated his more celebrated rivals with a winning time of 1:48.80.

Rahlves said he thought he had a good run until he looked at his time (1:50.33).

“I’m kind of surprised,” he said. “What the [heck]? I went out there and did all I could, and it just didn’t work out. Looking back, there’s nothing I would have done differently.”

He acknowledged that Deneriaz was so good that he probably could not have won even on his best day. Miller, the ubiquitous cover boy and purported rebel who struggled through a mediocre World Cup campaign, more or less said the same thing.

“It would have taken a hurricane wind to get me into first the way Deneriaz skied,” he said. “He was pretty much untouchable.”

No weather phenomenon helped Miller or anyone else come within .72 seconds of Deneriaz’s winning time. World Cup downhill champion Michael Walchhofer (1:49.52) of Austria won the silver medal, and Switzerland’s Bruno Kernen (1:49.82) took the bronze.

Hermann Maier (1:50.00), the Austrian making an Olympic comeback after missing the 2002 Games because of a serious motorcycle accident, finished sixth.

“We all competed for second place today,” said Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel (1:50.04), who finished seventh.

“It’s the best day of my life,” Deneriaz said. “It’s like a dream. No one believed it could be true.”

Especially with Deneriaz 13th out of the gate, and with 55 competitors, the course gets pretty chewed up by then. His start position was a “reward” for leading the top 30 in Saturday’s time trials (they start the downhill in reverse order).

Two other Americans, Scott Macartney and Steve Nyman, finished 15th and 19th, respectively. But the big story, other than Deneriaz, was Miller and Rahlves both failing to win a medal. Each will try again. Miller is scheduled to compete in four more events, Rahlves in two. But U.S. coach Phil McNichol called the results “shocking” as far as the American team was concerned.

“It would have been great for Daron [to win],” McNichol said. “He deserves it. He’s a true, true champion.”

But not on this day.


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