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.”

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen trail at world championships

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Nathan Chen fell in competition for the first time since December. Yuzuru Hanyu messed up a jumping combination. Neither of the world championships favorites is in the top four after the short program in Helsinki on Thursday.

Instead, two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain catapulted to a comfortable lead with a personal-best short program. Fernandez landed his jumps clean, with two quads, for 109.05 points.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is second with 104.86, followed by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 100.45 and China’s Jin Boyang at 98.64.

Fourth-place Hanyu put his knee down on the opening jump of his planned quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and then doubled the toe loop. He ended up with 98.39 points, more than 12 points off his world record.

Chen is fifth after falling on a triple Axel and totaling 97.33 points, hurting his hopes to become the youngest men’s world champion.

The free skate is Saturday morning, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chen last fell in the Grand Prix Final short program in December. He then outscored the field, including Uno, Fernandez, Hanyu, in the Grand Prix Final free skate to jump from fifth to second.

Chen then won the U.S. Championships in record fashion and beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships in February, landing a record five quads in the free skate at both events. He has landed 20 straight quads in competition.

Chen has indicated he may attempt six quads in the worlds free skate on Saturday. He may need them to challenge for gold.

The last U.S. man to earn a world championships medal was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2009.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate

Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 109.05
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.86
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 102.13
4. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 98.64
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 98.39
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 97.33

8. Jason Brown (USA) — 93.10

U.S. women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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