Emotional Bode Miller medals in race that mattered most

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It has been manifest since he strapped his boots into into skis here at the Rosa Khutor complex that Bode Miller was racing with a higher sense of purpose at these Olympic Games.

He has wanted it bad, perhaps too badly, sought in the expression of sport and art that has always been his calling, in the rush of a minute or maybe two in the joinder of man and mountain, to find that moment of clarity and, indeed, of transcendence.

At the bottom of the hill Sunday, when the big scoreboard said he was on his way to winning an Olympic medal for the sixth time in his storied career, Miller cried. His wife, Morgan, cried. They hugged each other. Holding an American flag, she helped him regain his composure amid television interviews. Later, on the podium, the flag draped over his right shoulder, before congratulating the others — because Miller has always believed in sportsmanship — he appeared to be alone with his thoughts.

VIDEO: Bode Miller’s emotional strength (Tom Brokaw interview)

And then it all became clear.

Miller’s younger brother, Chelone, died at age 29 last April, found dead of an apparent seizure in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., in the van Bode had bought for him. A snowboarder known to family and friends as “Chilly,” he had been in a dirt bike crash in 2005; thereafter he suffered from chronic seizures.

“Losing my brother this year,” Miller would say, “was really hard for myself, my family, our sort of whole community.

“I have been a focal point for them over the years — my racing. It was just — yeah, a lot of emotion. To have things go well today, as well as they did, I felt very fortunate to come out with a medal. Just, um, everything felt pretty raw and pretty connected. It was a lot for me.”

VIDEO: Bode Miller claims 6th Olympic medal

In a profile published before the Games in ESPN The Magazine, Miller disclosed that he and Morgan had gone to California to pick up the van and Chilly’s ashes. They even spent a night in the van.

“It’s super-emotional,” Miller was quoted as saying in that story, “and there is a lot of love and passion and power there. If you can channel that into ski racing, it’s possibly something that could make a difference.”

After the flower ceremony Sunday had concluded, he would Tweet:

Morgan would tweet:

“I’m skiing the best I’m skiing in my entire life,” Miller said at one point Sunday, explaining that conditions so far through these Games — changing light, soft snow — “don’t suit me very well.”

That’s why, after being favored in the downhill, he finished eighth. The defending Olympic champion in the super-combined, he finished sixth.

“I’m trying,” he said, “to do everything I can.”

It’s why he looked so focused Sunday morning in the super-G start gate. It was, he would say afterward, “probably if not the most important [race] of my life, right there with it.”

Miller’s run Sunday saw him rocket through the top section of the course. But a mistake off a late jump had him worried that he had given up too much time to stay in the medal hunt.

He ran 13th, then waited and watched. Only Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who won the race, in 1:18.14, and American Andrew Weibrecht, improbably, who started 29th, and surged to second; 23-hundredths of a second ahead, ran faster. Canada’s Jan Hudec would tie Miller for bronze, 53-hundredths back of Jansrud.

VIDEO: Matt Lauer talks with Bode Miller, Andrew Weibrecht

Miller’s super-G medal is the sixth in his Olympic career. That ties him with Bonnie Blair for the second-most ever by a U.S. Winter Olympic athlete. Apolo Ohno has eight.

“I have never,” he said, “been so stuck on counting them. For me, I have put in a lot of work. This is a really hard year. A lot of effort coming back, to get fit and get ready, and just battle through everything life throws at you sometimes.

“To come out and ski hard — it’s almost therapeutic for me to be in these situations where I really get to test myself. So I was happy to have it be on the right side of the hundredths. Some days, like I said, medals don’t matter. Today was one of the days where it does matter.”

Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020

Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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