Bode Miller’s first bid to become the oldest Alpine skiing medalist ended with disappointment at a Sochi Games downhill won by Matthias Mayer, an Austrian making his Olympic debut.
Miller, a 36-year-old American, clipped two gates on a slippery course and finished eighth yesterday morning behind the 23-year-old Mayer -- whose father, Helmut, won silver in the super-giant slalom at the 1988 Calgary Games.
Miller, who already has a U.S.-record five Alpine medals and is competing in his fifth Winter Games, will race in at least three more events in Sochi -- including the Feb. 14 super combined, where he is defending champion. Another gold medal “could be worth around $1 million in off-the-slopes income to Bode, mainly in sponsor bonuses, appearance fees, memorabilia deals and the like,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director at San Francisco’s Baker Street Advertising.
“At 36, this is likely his last Winter Games, and though he’s America’s most successful male Alpine skier and a household name, if he’s not competing four years from now marketers will be looking elsewhere,” Dorfman added in an e-mail interview.
Kjus apparel, the Austrian ski resort of Soelden and Icon Lasik, a laser eye surgery company, are listed as Miller’s current sponsors on the U.S. Ski Team’s website.
Miller, whose best Olympic downhill performance was a bronze in Vancouver, finished first in two of the three practice runs in the Russian resort.
Mayer didn’t have much history coming into the event. He was 13th in the downhill at the 2013 World Championships, and hadn’t been in the top three in any downhill this season. He had, however, been the fastest in the practice in Sochi when Miller finished sixth.
Mayer became the seventh Austrian to win Alpine skiing’s most prestigious crown. His country, which considers downhill skiing a national pastime, has won the Olympic title in seven of the 17 Winter Games in which it has been contested.
Mayer raced down the 3.5-kilometer (2.17-mile) course in 2 minutes, 06.23 seconds. Christof Innerhofer became the first Italian to win an Olympic medal in men’s downhill in 38 years by capturing silver in 2:06.29, rolling on his back in the finish area with glee when he saw his medal-winning time. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud took bronze.
Miller finished in 2:06.75 -- more than half a second off Mayer’s time and three spots behind U.S. teammate Travis Ganong.
He hit two gates and lost speed in the middle of his run. Starting 15th among 50 competitors, he had the fastest splits at the top of the course, leading to loud cheers and the waving of American flags in the finish-line crowd.
Those cheers turned to groans as he fell behind. After Miller finished and saw his time, he placed his hands on his helmet and stared at the ground for about 10 seconds before slowly skiing toward the course exit.
“I made a mistake on the top, the top was where I made that bobble and didn’t have as much time in hand as I had in the training runs,” Miller said.
A medal in Sochi would allow Miller to surpass Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway, who holds the mark as the oldest Alpine medalist after taking the super-giant slalom at the 2006 Games at the age of 34.
After the super combined in four days, Miller will compete in the super-G on Feb. 16, the giant slalom on Feb. 19 and perhaps the slalom on Feb. 22.
“This can be a tough one to swallow today, having skied so well in the training runs and then come in and be way out of the medals,” Miller said after the downhill. “I’ve just got to steel myself for the rest.”