WHISTLER, British Columbia — His resume now lacks for nothing. The argument about who's the greatest ski racer in U.S. history has probably been settled.
Bode Miller finally has his Olympic gold medal, coming from behind Sunday to win the super combined on Whistler Mountain. But for all the chokes, near misses and criticism he's endured on his way to this moment, he won't cherish the medal as much as you might think.
"The gold medal doesn't mean that much," Miller said. "If I had won it in a way I wasn't proud of today I probably would have resented the medal."
As Miller has said throughout a 13-year career that has seen him win more World Cup races (32), World Championships (four) and Olympic medals (five) than any other American, it's the quality of his skiing that means the most to him.
"The way I skied these last (three) races is what's important," said Miller, who has won a medal of each color at the Vancouver Games. "I would have been proud of that skiing with a medal or not."
During the downhill portion of the race, Miller flew farther than he expected off a jump putting him on a line that nearly sent him of course and out of the race. Miller corrected himself but gave up time and finished seventh.
Admittedly exhausted, he followed up with one of his best slalom runs of the season and the third fastest of anybody in the field to take gold. He won by 0.33 seconds over Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, whose father and coach set the slalom course. Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland won bronze.
"The level that I skied at today is right at the very, very top," said Miller, who fell in a slalom training run Saturday.
His medal is the latest exclamation point on the most successful Games in U.S. Ski Team history. The U.S. has won eight medals, bettering its previous record of five set in '84, and has won at least one medal in all six events. Four events remain.
All four Americans finished in the top 11 of Sunday's race and the team recorded the three best times in the slalom run.
Ted Ligety, who won gold in the event in '06 when it had two slalom runs instead of one, had the fastest slalom run but finished fifth overall. Will Brandenburg was second fastest in the slalom and 10th overall. Andrew Weibrecht, who won bronze in the super-G Friday, was 11th.
"I could not be any prouder of these guys and the way they skied," said U.S. coach Sasha Rearick. "They inspire me with the way they ski."
Inspirational skiing is precisely why Miller is still in the sport and why at times he's been so conflicted.
The 2006 Games were a disaster for Miller. He entered with a media-imposed goal of winning five medals and left with none and a reputation for choking when he failed to finish three events.
"I didn't necessarily want to be there," Miller said on Sunday. "... But I also didn't want to not be there. I was incredibly conflicted. ... I had no intention, really, of blowing it. I raced as hard as I could. But I didn't have this motivation. I didn't have the energy and the enthusiasm."
In '06 Miller says his competitive spirit was sapped by International Olympic Committee.
"The Olympics in my mind is a two-sided coin," Miller said. "It has all the best things of sport. It has amazing energy, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration. It's what changes lives. I think, in that sense it's the pinnacle of what sport and camaraderie and all that stuff is.
"On the flipside of that, is the opposite. And that's the corruption and the abuse, the money. I'm not pointing fingers, but that's what was bothering me. And being thrust into the middle of that and being the poster boy for that when it is the absolute thing I despise most in the world was really draining on my inspiration, my level of passion. And those are things that I function on primarily when I'm racing."
He's found that passion and inspiration again, he says, from rejoining a team that seems to have adopted his style. And, at 32, Miller's experience should not be discounted.
But even now, the three medals he's won on the Dave Murray Downhill run are nothing more than trinkets as far as Miller is concerned.
"The medals are more of a distraction than anything else," Miller said, "because it makes everybody think I'm proud of the races because I got the medals. And really I was just as proud of the races when I came across the finish line not knowing whether I'd win or not as I am once I found out that I got medals."
Ligety was trying to become the first Olympian ever to defend his combined gold medal and wasn't happy he didn't have a second slalom run.
"If you are truly going to have the essence of (combining two events) I think it should be a normal combined," said Ligety, who ranks third in the world in slalom but hasn't scored World Cup downhill points since 2007. "... The downhill guys get a full race, but the slalom guys only get half a race. ... But obviously I'm kind of biased."
Ligety will get a race that plays more to his strength Tuesday during the giant slalom. Ligety is currently the World Cup leader in giant slalom points and has finished on the podium in three of his six races this season.
Miller will race in the giant slalom, too, and could inch closer toward that five-medal Games his fans have been clamoring to see.
Even if it's four years later than they wanted.
AMERICA'S 5 MEDAL CLUB
Apolo Ohno (short track) — 7
Bonnie Blair (speedskating) — 6
Eric Heiden (speedskating) — 5
Bode Miller (alpine) — 5