ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Bode Miller spoke of his late younger brother after his sixth Olympic medal opened the emotional floodgates on Sunday.
The 36-year-old American’s equal third place in the super-G at the Sochi Games made him the oldest Alpine skier to win a medal.
Only one skier, Norway’s Kjetil-Andre Aamodt, has ever won more medals (eight) but those facts and figures were not uppermost in his mind at the finish as he tearfully struggled for composure.
It was the thought of 29-year-old Chelone, the promising snowboarder who might have been at the Games but died of an apparent seizure last year, that proved too much for Miller to keep it all together.
”It was just some questions and comments about my brother,“ he explained to reporters afterwards. ”Losing my brother this last year was really hard for myself, my family, our whole community.
“It was just a lot of emotion. To have things go well today, as well as they did...everything felt pretty raw and pretty connected. It was a lot for me.”
Competing in his fifth Olympics, Miller had arrived in Sochi determined to add to the collection that had already made him the most medaled U.S. skier.
He was fastest in two of three training sessions for the downhill but changed conditions on race day left him well out of the reckoning and he was also unable to defend his super combined title on Friday.
Miller made a big error out of the last jump on Sunday but his time still seemed good enough for gold until Norwegian late starter Kjetil Jansrud, and then U.S. team mate Andrew Weibrecht, went faster.
In the end, he had to settle for a tied bronze with Canadian Jan Hudec.
”I think I came out and skied really aggressive, but too aggressive for this hill,“ said Miller. ”I made a mistake on the bottom here that was just stupid.
”My mind was still looking for hundredths of a second, I pushed too hard and ended up costing myself half a second or six tenths.
“That’s always tough but to hang onto a medal today, I feel really lucky and very fortunate.”
Miller said he had never been ‘stuck on counting’ his medals, having long maintained that how he skis and performs, rather than whether or not he wins, is what gives him satisfaction.
On Sunday, he was not happy with his skiing but was prepared to make an exception after the frustration of the previous week.
“Some days medals don’t really matter if you ski the way you want to ski. Today was one of the days where the medal really did make the difference for me,” he said.
Asked how he felt to be the oldest medal winner, Miller replied simply: ”I feel old.
”I don’t think the skiing today matches up with how I have been skiing in general,“ he added. ”I feel like I am skiing some of the best I have skied in my entire life. I definitely have the ability to put time on guys.
“It’s been tough this Olympics with the conditions. They just kind of turned on us and they don’t suit me very well at all. It’s a weakness of mine, and it has been forever, that when the conditions go a little mushy I tend to push too hard.”
Skiing at 80 percent of his capabilities in such conditions might have won him more medals, he conceded, but it did not feel right. Any mistakes were a consequence of the intensity that made him a champion.
Miller said he was proud to be considered alongside the likes greats such as Aamodt, Austrian Hermann Maier and Norwegian Lasse Kjus.
“It’s not something I think about on a regular basis but the times where I do think about it, it’s pretty overwhelming sometimes,” he acknowledged.
“When you look at your body of work, my whole adult life, in a phrase or one visual context...it sort of makes it a little bit more raw emotionally.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Martyn Herman.