By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - American showman Bode Miller finished way down the standings in Wednesday's giant slalom in what could be his final Olympic race, his creaking knees found wanting on an unforgiving piste.
And if it was to be the 36-year-old's farewell appearance after illuminating five Winter Games he will be sorely missed, according to U.S. team coach Sasha Rearick.
"For U.S. skiing, but also the ski world, the fanatics of skiing love watching Bode because he's such an inspirational skier," he said of the four-times world champion whose unique and cerebral style marks him down as one of the greats.
"He's brought fans to the sport, they absolutely love him because he brings charisma and inspiration in the way he skis."
Miller had knee surgery last season in a bid to appear at a fifth Winter Olympics and his bronze in the super-G took his medal tally to six, more than any other American skier.
During the initial downhill training runs in Rosa Khutor Miller was the quickest man on the mountain, but warmer temperatures and soft snow scuppered his chances of claiming the sport's biggest prize.
"I'm so proud of the effort Bode's put in here," Rearick said. "It's amazing. From early October, when he came to Soelden, he's been hammering day in and day out.
"I was really proud of the effort he gave in the super-combined. He skied free, and had fun in the super-G, got his medal. That was a huge relief."
Miller, a former world champion in four of skiing's five disciplines, clearly did not enjoy Wednesday's giant slalom and said he would delay a decision on Saturday's slalom.
"My knee's not in super shape and bumping down Lake Jump again, that run, I just don't have the confidence to put my leg in there. I just kind of skip over and down.
"I just don't have the confidence to ski through that stuff. I wish it went better. I see this as a missed opportunity.
"We'll see how (the knee) settles down before making a decision on the slalom. Slalom and GS are pretty tough on it.
"As soon as it gets out of control and you get the swelling in there and everything gets irritated, it can be hard to get it back down. We'll see how it reacts and make a decision."
Miller said he would finish the World Cup season. "Yeah, I'm going to finish the season barring something going weird with my knee.
"It's tough to have my last race here look like this but I feel really good about where I'm at, I came back really strong, I really did a lot of work and I put in the times.
"It leaves me with a really positive feeling, I feel really like I did my best."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Robert Woodward)