KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Lowering his head, then crouching in a corner, Bode Miller lingered in the finish area after his slower-than-expected Olympic downhill run, contemplating where things might have gone wrong.
Most everyone, Miller included, thought he was the man to beat entering Sunday’s race.
Most everyone, the 36-year-old New Hampshire native included, thought he had a realistic shot at becoming the oldest Alpine gold medalist in Winter Games history.
He didn’t even come close. Failing to produce the sort of near-perfect performance he came up with in practice, Miller finished eighth in the downhill, more than a half-second slower than champion Matthias Mayer of Austria, who charged down the course in 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds.
‘‘This can be a tough one to swallow today, having skied so well in the training runs, and then come in and be way out of the medals,’’ said Miller, who is based in California.
‘‘But I think I skied really well, honestly. I was super-aggressive,’’ he added. ‘‘The conditions didn’t favor me today, but I think, all things considered, I skied really well.’’
Not nearly well enough. Still, Miller only would concede that he made ‘‘a few little mistakes the whole way down, but nothing that really should have cost me much time.’’
He had the fastest times on two of the three training days, when the sky was blue and sunlight draped the snow. On Sunday, a cloud cover made it tougher to see, and Miller pointed to that as a key factor.
‘‘I don’t have as much tolerance for not being able to see the snow. I need to know where the snow is,’’ Miller explained. ‘‘The beginning of the turn, middle of the turn, I need to know where the little bumps are, because I’m right on the edge.’’
In addition to the lower visibility, Miller said the snow in the middle of the course was softer when he raced as the 15th starter than when Mayer was the 11th man down the hill.
All week, he was by far the best racer at the top of the course, building up advantages that allowed him to overcome being slower in the lower sections.
When it mattered more, Miller was not nearly as clean at the outset, and by the end, he was not in the tightest of tucks, giving away precious time.
Miller wasn’t even the top American. Travis Ganong finished a surprising fifth, better than he’s ever done in a World Cup race.
After needing left knee surgery two years ago, Miller sat out all of last season with an eye to being fit for the Olympics. He already owns a US-record five Olympic Alpine medals. And he was not shy about saying he really wanted to win Sunday.
‘‘This is the premier event,’’ he said, ‘‘and it’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit.’’
US men’s head coach Sasha Rearick’s take?
‘‘Bode wanted it too much,’’ Rearick said.
Miller was asked what went through his mind in those quiet moments after he completed the course.
‘‘Going back through the run, seeing if I’d make changes, if I blew it, if I did something stupid. In this case, I didn’t,’’ he said.
Another medal favorite, Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, the reigning world champion and World Cup leader in downhill, finished fourth. Countryman Kjetil Jansrud, however, took bronze to ensure Norway’s fifth men’s downhill medal in the past six Olympics.
Svindal blamed his own errors in finishing 0.29 seconds behind Mayer, silver medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy, and Jansrud.
‘‘I think I had pretty good speed, but I had too many small mistakes,’’ Svindal said. ‘‘Twenty-nine-hundredths is not a big margin, and that’s what those mistakes will cost you, for sure.’’
In 65 previous World Cup or world championship races, the 23-year-old Mayer never had finished first. He’d never fared better than fifth in a downhill.
‘‘I was very self-confident this week,’’ said Mayer, whose father, Helmut, won the super-G silver at the 1988 Calgary Games. ‘‘The turns are just right for me. And the hill is just right for me.’’
He edged Innerhofer by only 0.06 seconds and Jansrud by 0.10.