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Bode Miller stays the same

Fiery US skier claims third Olympic medal, 1st since 2002

U.S. skier Bode Miller talks with the media after winning a bronze medal in the men's downhill Monday in Whistler

— As much as people wanted Bode Miller to say things have changed and that there has been a big revelation in his life, Miller insisted he's still the same guy who took up skiing at age 3.

Love or hate, front page or back page, Miller said after Monday's race, his focus always has been what takes place on the course. He won the bronze Monday in Whistler, British Columbia, and in the process became the first American to win three Olympic Alpine medals.

"All that stuff is, you guys will call it change, but for me, it's all the same," said Miller, who won sliver medals in giant slalom and combined events in 2002 at the Salt Lake City games. "I mean it's all I've been doing since I was 3 years old. It's just skiing and deciding whether you want to ski, and what you're willing to give to ski and what it takes and what it gives you back.

"It's hard to interpret for you guys," Miller continued. "I don't really feel any different. I feel like I was able to step away from the team and then the sport and make my decision to come back with a clean slate."

Switzerland's Didier Defago became the oldest skier — 32 — and first Swiss skier in 22 years to win the downhill, outlasting Aksel Lund Svindal, of Norway, by a mere seven-hundredths of a second. Miller was just nine-hundredths of a second from the gold.

"It is one of the most beautiful days of my life," said Defago, who won in front of more than 6,000 fans, many of whom were flying the Swiss flag. "It has changed a lot since training, but the conditions were perfect for me. I knew I would do well, but I never expected to do this well. I had a great year … a medal had to come eventually for me."

But the real story was Miller, the controversial and enigmatic American who came into the 2006 Olympic Games with so much hope. But a medal-less performance put Miller under the media's microscope.

He left the U.S. Ski Team to ski for himself and was on the fence of whether to compete this season. During that time, Miller said paying his own costs and running his own team helped put things in perspective.

But it never changed him.

"It's all ski racing to me," he said. "I race hard no matter what. One thing that was important in my decision to continue this year was to race in the right fashion. Allow myself to be inspired and try to inspire other athletes."

Miller becomes the first American to win a downhill medal since Tommy Moe claimed gold and Picabo Street grabbed silver in 1994.

Miller said he found that love again for skiing and proved it with a classic Miller run Monday on a course where officials were worried about conditions after warm weather and rain wreaked havoc on the snow. Low overnight temperatures Sunday and relatively clear skies Monday alleviated those concerns.

America's other three downhill competitors struggled with the flat light. Steven Nyman finished 20th, Andrew Weibrecht finished 21st and Marco Sullivan crashed.