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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.”

Ajee’ Wilson learned from sitting out World Championships

Ajee' Wilson
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NEW YORK — Ajee’ Wilson, the world’s fastest female 800m runner in 2014, could only watch the 2015 World Championships 800m final.

“It was hard,” Wilson, 21, said Saturday. “I really wanted to be there.”

But she couldn’t, not after a stress reaction in her left tibia. It was announced that she withdrew from the Worlds team on Aug. 10, the same day U.S. men’s 800m champion Nick Symmonds was left off the team due to a contract dispute that gained many more headlines.

At Worlds, the final proved a surprise. Kenyan Eunice Sum, the favorite and top rival of Wilson based on times in 2014 and 2015 (before Wilson’s injury), took bronze. Maryna Arzamasava grabbed upset gold for Belarus.

“It gave me hope for this year because anything can happen,” Wilson said. “I’m just hopeful that this year will be my time.”

Wilson is off to a promising start. She won the 800m at the indoor Armory Track Invitational in Manhattan on Saturday by .03 over Laura Roesler.

Roesler, the 2014 NCAA champion from Oregon and runner-up to Wilson at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missed most of 2015 due to a partial right Achilles tear.

Wilson said she raced through her shin injury last June, from a victory at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 13 through the U.S. Championships final June 28.

At Nationals, Wilson memorably lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).

Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.

Wilson said that while she was injured before the U.S. Championships, she never considered not competing at the meet.

“I was still kind of in denial that it was a problem,” Wilson said, adding that while the final didn’t aggravate the injury, “after USAs, it kind of just got to a point where you had to shut it down so I would be ready for this year.”

Wilson took about three weeks off from training completely and was back to normal.

“It was just poor timing,” said Wilson, a New Jersey native who turned professional after high school and placed sixth at the 2013 World Championships before elevating to fastest woman in the world in 2014 and second-fastest in 2015 before she shut down.

This summer, Wilson is among several threats to break a 44-year drought of U.S. Olympic titles in track races longer than 400 meters.

She may be the best hope to do so, that is if she can prevail at the Olympic trials. Not only is Roesler back, but she’ll also have to contend with veterans Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez.

The latter duo finished directly in front of Wilson at the 2013 Worlds and the 2015 Nationals, but neither made the final at Worlds last year (Montaño fell in her first-round heat).

The Olympic trials final is July 4 in Eugene, Ore., with the top three in line to make the Olympic team. Wilson will hope to be there with a stronger left tibia and a more secure right shoe.

“Ever since I started running, it’s been really deep in the 800m,” she said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”

MORE: Rio Olympics six months out: Burning Questions

Lindsey Vonn’s winning streak snapped

Lindsey Vonn
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For the first time in 13 World Cup speed races, Lindsey Vonn crossed the finish line and saw a number other than “1” next to her name.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I saw [the scoreboard],” Vonn said. “I knew that I didn’t ski my best, and I knew that I didn’t risk everything.”

Vonn was beaten by Swiss Lara Gut and German Viktoria Rebensburg in a World Cup super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday.

Gut was .15 faster than Rebensburg and .23 better than Vonn, who still broke Renate Götschl‘s record with her 42nd World Cup super-G podium. Full results are here.

“It’s a good day at the office,” Vonn told media. “I’m older and wiser now and to get to the finish healthy and to be in third is still a pretty darn good day.”

Vonn had a clear error near the end of the course, losing balance and lifting her right ski off the snow, but she was already behind Gut in the two most recent split times. The mistake may have cost Vonn second place, though.

“Today was just not one of those days where I really felt like putting it all on the line,” Vonn said. “I’ve had a great season so far, and I want to keep it going.”

Gut earned the victory, one day after she was a disappointing 14th in a downhill won by Vonn.

“It’s not true that Lindsey is unbeatable,” Gut said, according to The Associated Press. “All of us just have to step on it.”

Vonn had won 11 of her previous 12 World Cup downhill or super-G starts, including five straight super-Gs. In the only non-victory in that stretch, she skied off course and recorded a DNF in a downhill.

On Sunday, Gut cut into Vonn’s standings lead for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships. Vonn now leads Gut by 87 points through 25 of a scheduled 41 races.

Vonn remains on 76 World Cup victories, 10 shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record.

The World Cup resumes with a downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Saturday.

MORE: American podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course