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Gate is a hang-up for Bode

SESTRIERE, Italy -- The gold medal was practically around Bode Miller's neck before it was exchanged for a noose. But don't worry, everything was cool. He figured his blunder during his slalom run and subsequent disqualification relieved him of twisting through the Italian Alps for a 60-mile trek to a medal ceremony.

"At least I don't have to go all the way to Torino," he said.

Good one, Bode. You were kidding, right?

Of course, we all know how those ceremonies can be so monotonous. Really, who wants to stand atop the podium and receive a gold medal on somebody else's turf? It's a total drag listening to your country's national anthem with so many people cheering back home and all those sponsors lining up outside your door.

Medals? Booooring.

Miller can kick back, relax and have another beer in the Irish Igloo, a pub in the mountains that was his favorite hangout until he spotted a few reporters. And forget training. It was sunny and about 30 degrees Monday, which means it was freezing out there. Miller didn't practice, but you know who did?

Ted Ligety.

The 21-year-old from Park City, Utah, ripped through the slalom course Tuesday and captured the Olympic gold medal in the men's combined in 3 minutes, 9.35 seconds, more than a half-second ahead of Croatian Ivica Kostelic. Rainer Schoenfelder of Austria was third. Ligety put together the two best slalom runs and made up a deficit of nearly two seconds to win the event after finishing 22nd in the downhill portion.

Ligety has been one of the better slalom skiers in the world for the past year, but hardly anybody knew because so many people were fawning over everything Bode, hanging on his every word. Miller needed only two letters to explain himself Tuesday: DQ.

Ligety's win was so unexpected that even he couldn't comprehend that he has one more gold medal than Miller does. This no-name was ranked 15th in the world and never won a World Cup event going into his Olympic debut.

Teammates Steven Nyman and Scott Macartney celebrated the Yanks' fourth gold medal ever in men's alpine by tackling Ligety. Miller was nowhere to be found.

"I thought it was possible," Ligety said. "But I thought that if I was even close to a medal, I would be so happy. It's incredible. I can't believe it because I'm not very good in downhill. It's my first Olympics. It's incredible."

Miller was terrific in downhill, which was why nearly everybody expected him to win. He was leading by .32 seconds, an eternity in alpine skiing. All he had to do basically was stay upright for the final two stages, and he would have captured his first gold medal. And for him, slalom is a speed bump.

Last year, he was the best skier in the world largely because he navigated through the gates so well. He hit a double off the wall Tuesday and fell on his face rounding first base. He straddled Gate 40 on his first slalom run -- a no-no -- and was gone before he knew what hit him. He has a fifth-place finish and a DQ to show for the Olympics this year.

Let's face it, he's gagging. What else can you say?

Miller was among the favorites for a few gold medals in these Olympics. He's the reigning World Cup champion and an international star. He might be the most popular American in these Games now that Michelle Kwan is gone.

You don't see him finishing fifth too often. It seems he's either first or face planting, and lately it's been the latter. He's failed to finish five of seven slalom events this season. He won two silver medals in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, but second is not why he's here. Of course, he greeted his latest gaffe with Bode-esque nonchalance. It was so obvious that he didn't even protest the decision.

"It's not the first time it's happened," he said. "It's a drag, but the downhill was good, and I made it to the finish line. That's at least half the battle for me."

At this rate, he might not see Turin until he reaches the airport. Miller still has the Super-G, giant slalom and slalom remaining, so he can recover. He won silvers in the combined and giant slalom four years ago, finished 24th in slalom.

Miller evolved into a bad boy of sorts leading into the Winter Games after whining about the International Ski Federation's drug-testing policy, telling "60 Minutes" he was skiing "wasted" and accusing cycling legend Lance Armstrong of doping.

OK, so Miller's not the smartest guy in the world, but he's a terrific athlete. He was an elite tennis and soccer player when he was a kid and carries a 6-handicap in golf.

Samuel Bode Miller's story has been well documented. He was raised in a wooded area in New Hampshire by hippie parents, home-schooled in a house that had no running water and no electricity. His mother gave birth to him and his sister in a ski lodge their grandparents founded. Another sister and a brother were born in their house. All four were delivered without doctors.

One sister is named Kyla Miller, with no middle name. His sister Wren's real name is Genesis Wren Bungo Windrushing Turtleheart Miller. His brother Chelone's name is Nathaniel Kinsman Ever Chelone Skan Miller.

He spent a few years living with Hamburg native Erik Schlopy in a barn in Innsbruck, Austria, a few feet from cows and pigs. Now, he lives in a recreational vehicle to avoid the attention in hotels. He's outspoken, and for a while many people found him refreshing. But it's time for him to grow up. It sure seemed his act was wearing thin with his teammates, who made it a point Tuesday to gush about Ligety.

Nyman called the kid the future of American skiing. Somebody asked Nyman if there was any chance Miller's penalty motivated Ligety?

"Ted is fully confident that he can destroy Bode."

Heck, dude, he just did.

And today he'll beat him again, this time to the medals ceremony.


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