ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Bode Miller can see clearly, now that the pain has gone, where he went wrong in Sunday’s Olympic downhill: He could not see clearly enough.
The most medaled U.S. Olympic Alpine skier of all time, racing in his fifth Games at the age of 36, told reporters on Tuesday that he needed laser eye surgery and should have had it earlier in the season.
Had he done so, the Sochi Games might already have seen Miller re-write the record books instead of being listed as an also-ran with a disappointing eighth place after starting as favorite.
“I don’t win when the sun’s not out,” said Miller after completing a super-combined downhill training run down the same piste that saw his bright hopes of becoming the oldest Alpine gold medalist fade to grey two days earlier.
”I haven’t won in five years when the sun’s not out.
“I was supposed to get an eye surgery earlier this year. I have a great sponsor, an eye doctor, and we just never found the time to do it because the race schedule is so tight. We were pretty pissed off looking back that we hadn’t figured out time to do that,” he said.
Vision is critical for all downhillers, timed to the hundredth of a second as they twist and plunge down icy mountainsides through brilliant light and forest shade at speeds in excess of 130kph.
Any uncertainty, the slightest hesitation or deviation from the optimum line, can be cruelly punished on the clock.
Miller is as aggressive as anyone, dominating two of the three training sessions with runs that awestruck rivals described as epic.
But he recognized he has a flaw, hidden in the sunlight, but apparent when the clouds arrive.
“My vision is critical. When the light’s perfect, I can ski with any of the best guys in the world. When it goes out, my particular style suffers more than the guys who are more stable and don’t do as much in the middle of the turn,” he explained.
Every losing athlete goes through a familiar litany of ‘Could have, should have, would have’ and Miller was no exception.
He said he had let himself down and felt angry and disappointed in the immediate aftermath.
”We went through it yesterday and you know, it’s tough, because everyone was disappointed,“ he said. ”It was a pretty big let down. This was my main focus coming into the year and skiing really well.
“I think everyone wants to find the answers as to why it didn’t go better.”
The lack of clear-sighted vision, the changing conditions from training to race, the soaring expectations all played a part in the whole effort unraveling on the day.
Because of the success in training, when the piste was ‘boilerplate ice’, he had not changed his setup when the conditions demanded a softer, smoother approach. He could have changed skis but that too would have been risky.
“After winning the training runs like we did, it would be a tough call to say ‘Right, as well as change we are going to completely throw a dart in the dark and hope it hits,'” he said.
”I think we made the right choice, we acted on all the information we had. I think I skied as hard as I could and as hard as I would. I couldn’t have taken any more risk. Maybe I could have taken less but that’s hard to ask of a racer on Olympic downhill race day.
“So I think we all came to the conclusion that it was just a combination of things...after that it’s pretty easy for me to move forward and reset. I took yesterday off and just kind of relaxed. Rested up a little bit and then back to work.”
For Miller, that now means the super-combined, where more overcast conditions and a downhill course made softer by rising temperatures - not to mention the threat of fellow American triple world champion and 2006 winner Ted Ligety - will make it an even tougher challenge for him to retain his title.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by...