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Lake Tahoe's Travis Ganong 5th; highest finish for U.S. in Olympic downhill

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American skier Bode Miller struggled to maintain speed on the bottom two-thirds of the Olympic downhill run on Sunday and finished a disappointing eighth in an event that was won by Austria’s Matthias Mayer.

Surprisingly, it was Lake Tahoe skier Travis Ganong who wound up with the best finish among U.S. downhillers. Ganong, who trains at Squaw Valley ski resort, finished out of the medal podium as well, but his fifth-place was admirable.

It was Ganong’s best finish in a major international event in the downhill, besting his seventh-place mark last month in a World Cup event in Austria.

“My run was awesome,” Ganong said. “I did basically what I wanted to do. I pushed hard. I pushed huge off the jumps and had a smile on my face when I finished.”

That smile was for good reason. The seventh skier to head down the somewhat treacherous course, when Ganong finished he held the fastest time on the Sochi course, the longest run distance wise in Olympic history.

But the lead (2:06.64 seconds) was short-lived. Ganong eventually slipped to third place with only a few skiers left, and watched helplessly at the bottom of the downhill as he eventually slid to fifth place, 0.41 seconds behind Mayer’s winning time of 2:06.23.

Ganong close to getting a bronze

Ganong finished .31 seconds shy of the bronze medal time of Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud. Christof Innerhofer of Italy took the silver medal and was a mere 0.06 seconds behind Mayer.

Yet considering his status entering the 2014 Winter Olympics, Ganong fared quite well, better than anyone had a right to expect.

Ganong entered the Olympics ranked 18th in the World Cup standings in downhill and 36th overall. He’ll get the opportunity to build on his debut showing when he returns to the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center to compete in the men’s Super G competition next Sunday.

“I’ve been methodically building my career over the last four or five years in the World Cup and getting better and better each year and lowering my ranking and gaining more confidence,” Ganong said. “Now I’m at a point where I know my skiing is good and I can be relaxed. That’s a really fun place to be because then you’re just having fun every race.”

Lake Tahoe's Sullivan finishes 30th

Another U.S. skier from Squaw Valley – Marco Sullivan – wasn’t as fortunate. He took 30th place and was 3.87 behind Mayer’s winning gold-medal time.

Rough finish for Miller

It was a sad day for Miller, who missed all of last season rehabbing from a knee injury, yet appeared on track to win a gold medal or at least make a podium appearance after registering the fastest qualifying times earlier in the week.

Miller, who was appearing in his fifth Winter Olympics and has the most medals (5) of any American alpine skier, had a fast start at the top of the downhill finals when his pace was ahead of the field. However, he couldn’t maintain that speed in the cloudy, overcast weather that didn’t favor his all-out, aggressive style of attacking. The training runs were all sun-drenched days when visibility was perfect.

“The way I was skiing on the top, I was really pushing it,” said Miller, who was 0.52 seconds off the winning time. “I was skiing in a way where it doesn’t work when you can’t see as well. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it was (that went wrong). “It’s tough. I was looking to win and felt I had a good chance at it and was well prepared.”