Posted: Feb 28, 6:02p ET | Updated: Feb 28, 10:29p ET

With Miller, Vonn leading the way, U.S. rules Alpine

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) -- Four years ago, Bode Miller's washout of a Winter Olympics symbolized where the United States stood in the Alpine skiing hierarchy.

Pegged as the big thing heading into the Turin Games, Miller finished only two of five races, faring no better than fifth place. Ridiculed for its "Best in the World" slogan, the American team left Italy with a grand total of two Alpine medals.

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This time, their eight medals represent the highest total for U.S. skiers at any Olympics, and twice as many as any other country collected over the past two weeks. And Miller led the way.

Not only did Miller win three medals -- gold in the super-combined, silver in the super-G, bronze in the downhill -- but he also pushed and prodded teammates to follow his go-for-broke style.

"We weren't scared," the 32-year-old Miller said. "We didn't back down when the moments were there. In the seconds where you want to lift off the gas to be a little safer, everybody just stomped back down on it."

Lindsey Vonn, the star of the team heading into the games, won one gold and one bronze. But the two-time overall World Cup champion didn't come close to the outsized expectations heaped upon her leading up to the Olympics. Then again, the talk of a medal sweep came before Vonn arrived in Canada with a badly bruised right shin, worrying she might not be able to ski at all.

Aided by various remedies -- from taking common painkilling pills to wrapping her leg with an Austrian curd cheese that supposedly reduces swelling -- and extra time to heal thanks to the weather conditions that delayed the start of competition, she led Julia Mancuso in the downhill to give the U.S. its first 1-2 finish in any Olympic Alpine event since 1984.

Vonn added a bronze in the super-G, but she also skied out in three of her five races, including a spill in the giant slalom that broke her right little finger and hurt her back.

"I have that gold medal," she reminded the world before departing, "and despite everyone else's expectations, my goals were simply to win one (gold) medal. And that's what I did."

Mancuso won another silver in the super-combined, but the other American medal was the most surprising of all -- a bronze in the super-G for Andrew Weibrecht, who only once before placed as high as 10th in an international race of any significance.

The only U.S. skier considered a real medal contender who did not win one was 2006 combined champion Ted Ligety.

He's only 25, like Vonn and Mancuso, so all three probably will still be on the scene at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, as will Weibrecht and younger skiers who made their debuts at Vancouver, such as Will Brandenburg, 10th in the super-combined.

Whether Miller will be around is anyone's guess, although he'll be 36 by then. He sure seemed rejuvenated this time, talking about "energy" and "excitement" and "passion" and being "inspired" by teammates. Unlike at the Turin Olympics, when he stayed on his own in a motorhome, tuned out the races and partied hard, Miller lived and trained with the rest of the team.

"He's an unbelievable athlete, he's an unbelievable skier. He's got tremendous experience. Everything's possible," United States men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "But I didn't venture into this thing with Bode to just win medals. I ventured into this because Bode had the opportunity to come back to the team and be a positive team member."

The medals did come, though.

The previous U.S. team record for Alpine medals at one Olympics was the five in 1984. And Americans brought home a combined total of five Alpine medals from the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Games.

"I don't think anyone was expecting this," skier Marco Sullivan said. "It was 'The Lindsey Vonn Show' coming in, and now it's turned into 'The U.S. Ski Team Show."'

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