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Bode Miller, ski tinkerer, wins silver in the super-G

Bode Miller, who added a silver medal to his tally in the super-G on Friday, is one of many Olympic athletes who embrace the technical materials side of their sport -- in this case his skis -- to reach maximum performance.

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US skier Bode Miller races in the men's Alpine Skiing Super-G at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia. When he's not on the slopes, Miller, who won a silver medal in Friday's race, is known for embracing the technical side of his sport.

Stefano Rellandini/REUTERS

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When Bode Miller decided to return to ski racing this season, the first person he told was his equipment manufacturer.

That was no coincidence -- nor was the silver medal he won in Friday's super-G, having won bronze in the opening event of the men’s alpine skiing program, the downhill.

Though he has begun to embrace his Olympic journey in comments that channel his inner Johnny Weir, that is not the only reason – or perhaps even the main reason – Miller came back.

Miller is a Ph.D. in the school of alpine skiing – an engineer whose real-word degree comes from pushing the boundaries of speed on slopes designed to eat him for lunch. Always driven by one overriding desire – to go as fast as is humanly possible on two strips of waxed fiberglass – the technical side of his sport enthralls and motivates him.

"He's really into it, and he wants to push it on the materials side," said Rainer Salzgeber, the racing director of Miller’s ski manufacturer, Head, in announcing Miller's return to racing over the summer.

To some Winter Olympians, paying attention to the “materials side” is a necessary evil – something they must do if they want to win, or at least not crash. As luger Tony Benshoof says, “when I’m the one riding the sled down the track at 95 m.p.h. I want to be the last one to turn that bolt.”

For others like Miller, it is part of the allure of winter sport, where the equipment is often a determining factor in who ends up being fastest or highest on race day.

“I like to be educated about why (the) equipment I have does what it does,” says Zach Lund, who is eighth heading into the last two heats of men’s skeleton tonight. “I want to know why, when I steer, it does this. I want to do my own runners. By knowing it, I’m close to it.”

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