Earlier this week at Whistler, just before the men's Olympic downhill, I ran into Jonathan Weibrecht, whose younger sibling Andrew races for the U.S. Ski Team. Of course he was pulling for little brother, who at one time used to chase him down Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, where the family lives. But don't forget about Bode Miller, said Jonathan, a former U.S. Ski Team member himself: "Every racer knows that when Bode is on there is nobody in the world better than him."
Bode's been on, all right. In winning gold in the men's combined, and a record fifth career Olympic medal, Miller once again made the case that he's one of the best skiers to ever slap on the boards. In the combined, you ski a speed event in the morning the downhill, which tests your nerve and strength and return in the afternoon for the slalom, a technical event that tests your ability to turn the skies. And this week at Whistler, it's also been a test of being able to master the conditions. The weather has been warm here, meaning that the top of the courses have been rock hard ice while the bottom is mush. Miller grew up skiing in New Hampshire, where conditions often vacillate between icy and slushy, so perhaps it was a perfect test. He paired a 7th place finish in the downhill with 3rd place slalom. "I've been ready and prepared for this all year," he said after the race. But he admitted that he was exhausted after the downhill. Still, he says he didn't think strategize about the slalom. "I wasn't thinking about what I needed to do what win," he said in answer to my question. That's totally in keeping with Miller. It's all about the skiing. Even if he had a four-second lead going into the slalom, he said, he wasn't going to change tactics. Bode skis hard, period. "It really means something to me to ski that way when the pressure's on and I'm exhausted," he said.
As wild as he was in Sestriere at the Torino Olympics, Miller skied for redemption at the Vancouver. In the downhill, a small mistake cost him the gold medal "I blew the whole race on one turn," he said afterward but his technical ability on a nasty, icy course earned him the bronze. None of the fancied racers from Austria or Switzerland came close, and the winner, the Swiss skier Didier Defago, was another dark horse.
In the Super G, which is a shorter version of the downhill with more gates and less speed, Miller once again made good on his unmatched versatility. He notched his second medal of the Games, and gave notice that the foul-mouthed, night-clubbing iconoclast I had profiled on the cover of TIME four years ago had given way to someone more, well, let's not say mature, since we are talking about an incredibly free spirit, but a guy who came to ski rather than take on the world. "For me the legacy is the way you perform; the performance for me was impressive. I was nervous and fired up and excited," he said after the downhill.
If Miller's medals aren't quite a surprise, Andrew Weibrecht's bronze in the Super G certainly is. He posted a 1:30.65 time after a slightly hairy run that saw him nearly topple at the top of the course. Skiing third, he held on to first place until Miller came down eight places later. "I haven't ever come down leading a race," Weibrecht said. "I figured I would stay in there until 10 guys came down. But I kept staying in there."
His time held up until Miller beat him, and it was only 0.31 off the winning pace of Norway's incredible Aksel Lund Svindal, who started 19th. Until Vancouver, Weibrecht's calling card was an electrifying run at the Birds of Prey downhill in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a couple of years ago that both impressed and terrified the U.S. coaching staff. Small for a speed racer (5 ft. 6 in.; 1.65m) he's made steady progress, finishing 11th at the Super G in Kitzbuehel in January. He picked a great time to step into the limelight. Svindal won the gold by covering the course in 1:30.34, edging Miller's 1:30.62 by 0.28 seconds. It's the second medal for the Norwegian, who like Miller is a former world champion. He shaded Miller by a sliver of a time (.002) for silver in the downhill.
Notably absent in the Super G and the combined was the mighty Austrian team, which came into the games as a heavy medal favorite. To the stunned amazement of the many Austrian fans roving around Whistler, the performance has been something of a national nightmare in the sport the Austrians have dominated. The Yanks, on the other hand, have always done well in Canada. Gold and bronze medalist Lindsey Vonn practically owns Lake Louise, a stop on the women's tour. Throw in Julia Mancuso's two silvers and the U.S. alpine team has now won seven medals at the Vancouver games, its highest total ever. Whistler isn't exactly home cooking, but you can smell it from here.