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Olympic men’s downhill many things, but fair isn’t one of them

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SOCHI — Here’s the thing you can feel, really feel, when watching Bode Miller ski the downhill: He’s on the edge. He’s pushing the edge. In his words, he’s pushing the line. All of the downhill skiers are but maybe you feel it a little more with Miller. He’s on the very edge.

The edge of what? Well, that’s a little bit harder to pinpoint. He’s always on the edge of a crash, of course, but it feels even more dangerous than that. It’s like he and the other downhillers are on the edge of something disastrous, something calamitous, something hard to put into words.

“Hhhhh!” the person next to me sounds off five or six times while Miller skis — the sound of catching breath. “Huhhh,” she inhales when he’s turning and looks as if he’s about to flip. “Huhhh!” she inhales when he crashes into a gate. “Huhhh!” she inhales when it seems like he’s about to go bouncing off the course and, possibly, into the outer atmosphere never to be seen again. It’s like a sustained two-minute horror movie.

VIDEO: Comparing Bode’s run to Mayer’s

The alpine downhill is, perhaps, the marquee event of the Games because of that “Huhhh” sound, because of the feeling in the pit of the stomach, because even with all the thrilling jumps and blazing speed around the Games, it is the sport that grabs your inside for a few thrilling seconds. And then it’s over.

That means: Over. There’s one run down the mountain. That’s all. In a sports world of second chances and efforts to make things even for everybody, the downhill is thoroughly and unapologetically unjust and biased. You get your turn. If you catch a bad break on the light, or the wind changes direction, or the course is chewed up for your run, or the weather takes a bad turn … you deal with it. There’s no second chance.

And because of this: We are on a 25-year run of mostly random Olympic champions. The greatest downhill skiers of the last quarter century are probably, in no particular order: Austrians Michael Walchhofer, Stefan Eberharter and the legendary Hermann Maier (the Herminator); the great Swiss skier Didier Cuche; fellow Swiss skier Franz Heinzer who won three consecutive World Cup downhill titles; France’s Luc Alphand who would become a race car driver; Norway’s current genius of the downhill Aksel Lund Svindal and, heck, let’s throw in Bode MIller because so many downhill skiers are in awe of his guts and will.

Here’s one thing that is true of all nine of those men who have dominated the downhill for a quarter century.

MORE: Margin calls — U.S. talks Alpine variables

Not one of them won an Olympic downhill gold medal.

It’s pretty wild, if you think about it. It would be like taking the nine fastest sprinters of the last 25 years and not one of them wins an Olympic gold in the 100m. The Olympic downhill was once the place to elevate the greatest downhill skiers — Franz Klammer, Jean Claude Killy, Toni Sailer, Bernhard Russi — into legendary figures.

MORE: Bode Miller disappointed, but dealing

But now — randomness rules. In Torino in 2006, for instance, France’s Antoine Deneriaz won gold. It was the only international downhill race he ever won. The great Michael Walchhofer, two-time defending World Cup champion, settled for the silver, the only downhill medal he ever won.

In 1998, France’s Jean-Luc Cretier won the downhill. It was HIS only international victory. Hermann Maier, like more than a dozen others, crashed on the seventh turn and could not finish. Maier won gold medals in the super-G and the giant slalom in his career. But the downhill always eluded the Herminator.

In 1994 it was American Tommy Moe, and, right, he never won a World Cup downhill race either. Franz Heinzer — who, as mentioned, had won three World Cup titles in a row — crashed. Two years earlier, Heinzer finished sixth.

Sunday, everyone was looking to Bode and Svindal and Adrien Theaux of France. They are the best in the world. Miller was the most intriguing of the bunch; though he’s 36 and has been written off, he had been awe inspiring in training. Two out of three sessions, he had finished with the fastest training time. After his breathtaking Saturday session, Kjetil Jansrud of Norway issued a quote on Miller’s run was blunt and to the point: “There’s not much to say besides it was epic.”

“It’s a f-ing real course,” Miller explained, as only Miller can explain.

MORE: Matthias Mayer restores Austrian pride

Then, Sunday, a 23-year-old named Matthias Mayer went out early on that bleepin’ real course and put up a pretty good time. He didn’t think it was THAT good a time, but then nobody really expected much of him. Mayer is the son of Helmut Mayer, the 1988 silver medalist in the super-G, and he’s considered a bit of a skiing phenom but so far he had not done much in the downhill. He had never won an international race.

Miller went four skiers later. He would say something about the sun going down on him and that causing some issues. He would say that the middle of the course just slowed down. Then, this is the deal with the downhill. No mercy. He was faster than Mayer at the top of the track but he slowed, he had a brush with a gate, and he simply could not find enough speed. His run certainly FELT dangerous. But it was a half second slow.

Svindal went shortly after Miller. He too could not find enough speed to get on the medal stand. Theaux followed and could not come close. The only one who did come close to Mayer was Italian Christof Innerhofer who is worth mentioning because he’s also an Armani swimsuit and ski wear model, plays the stock market, and takes painkillers for his back every single day so he can continue to ski. THAT is a downhill skier. He fell six-hundredths of a second short.

MORE: What makes Bode great after all these years?

And the times got slower and slower after that. Mayer won gold. It made him the fourth man since 1994 to win his first downhill event at the Winter Olympics.

“It’s tough when you have to judge yourself because the clock doesn’t really seem to judge you fairly,” Miller said when it ended.

That’s the downhill at the Olympics. It’s thrilling. It’s terrifying. It’s magnificent.

And it does not even pretend to be fair.

Jennie Finch to manage baseball team for one day

Jennie Finch
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Athens Olympic softball champion Jennie Finch will manage the Bridgeport Bluefish, an independent minor-league baseball team on Sunday and, reportedly, become the first woman to manage a men’s pro baseball team.

Finch, a pitcher, retired from softball in 2010, two years after her sport’s Olympic farewell in Beijing, where she and the U.S. took silver behind Japan.

Finch has been an advocate for softball’s return to the Olympics, which could happen in Tokyo 2020.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to decide in August if baseball and softball, among four other sports, will be added for the Tokyo Games.

Finch, who is married to former MLB pitcher Casey Daigle, is also known for having struck out Albert Pujols.

MORE: Jennie Finch, Lisa Fernandez weigh in on Mo’ne Davis

Looking fwd to guest managing the Bridgeport Bluefish this Sunday! ⚾️ #Baseball #BridgeportBluefish

A photo posted by Jennie Finch (@jfinch27) on

Justin Gatlin, alter ego trailed by film crew for documentary

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Justin Gatlin swears he’s not as bad as he’s made out to be.

He calls his alter ego “J Gat.” And that’s someone you don’t want to mess with.

Before a race, the mild-mannered American sprinter says he transforms himself into the feisty guy named “J Gat,” a nickname he’s given to a version of himself that wants to take over the world from archrival Usain Bolt. Their rivalry heading into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics has sometimes been portrayed as “Good vs. Evil” given Gatlin’s doping history.

“I don’t accept myself being the bad guy,” Gatlin said. “I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. I’m a brave person. I’m a good person. I know this about myself and I have to act like that.”

“J Gat” to the rescue. He runs with fury and looks “mean and intimidating” when caught on camera after races.

That’s not the real Justin Gatlin.

“Justin has only gotten as far as starting line. After the gun goes off, it’s never Justin. It’s always as ‘J Gat,'” Gatlin said. “I’m a whole different person away from track.”

To illustrate that, Gatlin is making a documentary. The 34-year-old will have a film crew trailing him around at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore., to record his every move.

One caveat: Stay out of the way of “J Gat.” You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. (Case in point: gesturing toward a heckler who was bothering his mother in the stands during the awards ceremony at Worlds last summer).

“A lot of athletes get consumed by the Hollywood lights,” said Gatlin, who will face a 100m field at Pre that includes Americans Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, along with Asafa Powell of Jamaica. “I’m like, ‘We can make this story, but I have to still do my job. We have to coexist together. I can’t give you my undivided attention and go off and start losing races.'”

There’s no working title yet for the film or date when it will air. And no subject is out of bounds, including his doping past. The 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, was reinstated from his ban on July 24, 2010, and returned to capture bronze at the London Games two years later.

He’s been one of Bolt’s biggest threats ever since.

“The theme of (the movie) is basically my journey,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin recently showed the roughly 90-second trailer to his 6-year-old son, whose first words were: “Play it again, dad.”

“That was the cutest thing ever,” Gatlin said. “He’s like, ‘I have to be faster than a cheetah to keep up with you, dad.’ That makes me proud.”

The trailer shows flashes of Gatlin stretching, lifting weights and sprinting. In one scene, he said: “If I could do this forever, I would. I love the pain I get from training. I know that it’s a pain of growth. Inside, I’m infinity.”

Gatlin said he’ll race at least through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics so his son could be there.

“I’d like to give that to him as a gift,” Gatlin said. “Even if I don’t win in 2020, just to be able to be on the team.”

Gatlin’s times in the 100 have been slower this season, running 9.94 seconds so far compared with 9.74 this time a year ago.

All by design.

He’s treating the early season races more like rounds so he can work on his form. Gatlin believes he has the speed to keep up with Bolt, but needs to execute his style of race.

That didn’t happen in Beijing at the World Championships last summer. Gatlin was a slight favorite in the 100m given that Bolt wasn’t exactly race sharp. Gatlin was neck-and-neck with the Jamaican, but over-strided with about 15 meters left. Gatlin went into his lean too early, paving the way for Bolt to capture gold yet again.

“It’s all a process,” Gatlin said. “Sometimes, processes are rewarding and sometimes processes are painful.”

Before a 100m showdown with Bolt can occur in Rio de Janeiro, Gatlin has to make Team USA at the Olympic Trials in July. It’s not an easy task with sprinters such as Gay, Rodgers, Trayvon Bromell and Gatlin contending for three spots. Gatlin also will try to earn a place in the 200m.

To assist him, he will summon “J Gat.”

“Very rarely will you find an athlete that calls me Justin,” Gatlin said. “It’s always ‘J Gat.’ Justin has never run a race.”

MORE: Five events to watch at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule