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Alpine skiing

Janka pockets gold for Swiss

DNF for Miller as US, Austria falter

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / February 24, 2010

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - The loud, rhythmic clanging of cowbells shaken by Swiss fans in the stands provided the soundtrack as the man they call “The Iceman,’’ Carlo Janka, climbed to the top step of the podium after winning the Olympic giant slalom yesterday.

Janka leaned forward to take a bow, and the pair of Norwegian medalists on either side - Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal - reached over him for a high-five while cameras clicked away.

Most noteworthy was who was missing from the scene.

Zero Americans and zero Austrians.

For the first time in seven Alpine skiing events at the Vancouver Games, no one representing the United States was on the podium. Bode Miller, vying to become the first man to claim four Alpine medals at a single Olympics, was long gone, having missed a gate in the opening leg of the two-run giant slalom.

“It’s disappointing not to keep the streak going,’’ said Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, whose ninth-place finish was the best for the US.

Tommy Ford of Bend, Ore., was 26th, and Jake Zamansky of Aspen, Colo., was 31st in their Olympic debuts.

Surprising as the early US success was, perhaps the biggest stunner is Austria’s problems. Its men haven’t collected a medal in men’s races, four years after earning eight.

“It’s pretty cool that the Austrians haven’t medaled,’’ Ligety said, “especially being the ski powerhouse that they are.’’

They came close yesterday: Marcel Hirscher was fourth, Romed Baumann fifth, and defending champion Benjamin Raich sixth. All put together two-run times that came within a second of Janka’s winning total of 2 minutes 37.83 seconds.

Enough to earn standings points on the World Cup circuit. Hardly enough to earn praise back home.

Austria left the 2006 Games with 14 Alpine medals, including six from the women. With three races left at Whistler - the women’s giant slalom today, the women’s slalom Friday, and the men’s slalom Saturday - the total is two medals. Austria hasn’t fared that poorly since leaving the 1976 Innsbruck Games with two medals, and there were only six races back then, unlike 10 today.

For comparison: The US has eight medals. Norway has four, even though its team consists of a total of six skiers. Svindal, by himself, owns three Vancouver medals, same as Miller.

Switzerland owns two golds, thanks to Didier Defago in the downhill and Janka.

Janka was fastest in the first run and third-fastest in the second. When the 23-year-old crossed the finish line and looked over at the leaderboard, he shook his ski poles, raised his arms overhead and grinned. Simple as that.

About 10 seconds into Miller’s run, the Franconia, N.H., native leaned so far back he nearly sat in the snow. But he righted himself momentarily, before finding more trouble and listing way to his left - nearly putting his hip on the course - and then way to his right.

Seconds later, he was done, clipping a gate with his glove and going off-course.

Miller made no apology for what happened, explaining that the way he skis can lead to that sort of result and it also can lead to what he accomplished last week: super combined gold, super-G silver, and downhill bronze.

“I’m taking more risk than everyone else. That’s partly why I’m able to get medals. It looks easy when you make it,’’ Miller said. “When you crash like today, it’s like, ‘Oh, huh?’ I did a good job today, too. I was right there.’’