Whether first or falling, Miller is never boring
Skier Bode Miller tries for another medal today.
PARK CITY, UTAH
This is the essence of Bode Miller:
After finishing his first run in last week's alpine combined skiing event, he commented, "It was sketchy, it was very sketchy. I was scared, especially when I fell."
After his final run, he apologized to the crowd, "I had a lot of mistakes, and I felt I let you guys down."
Bear in mind, Miller won the silver. Easily.
On a good day, he is the fastest slalom skier in the world. On a bad day, he can be a classic and a catastrophe on the same run, clipping gates and catching edges.
But he is never boring.
Ever since his mother dropped him off alone on the ski slopes of northern New Hampshire as a grade-schooler, Bode Miller has been about speed. Today, in the giant slalom - and Saturday in the slalom - it will be no different. More than the medals, the titles, or the media attention, it seems, Miller is still just the kid who wants to go down the hill faster than anyone else.
It's an obsession that has long brought him failure and disappointment, but now seems set to make him a skiing revolutionary in the line of legend Alberto Tomba - as well as one of the most exciting athletes of these Games.
"I've never seen anybody ski as fast as he does," says Norwegian Kjetil Andre Aamodt, a seven-time Olympic medal winner and considered by some the greatest all-around skier in history. "In his mind, he has no limits. He's always thinking about how fast he can go, and not thinking about the consequences. I think about the consequences."
Most do. But Miller is a curious breed. For years, he was best known as the guy who hardly ever finished a race. Contrary to teaching and common sense, Miller leans way back on his skis to generate enormous speed, though it also throws him off balance, which makes falling a more likely scenario than finishing. From Feb. 28, 1999, until Nov. 25, 2001, that's precisely what happened, as he failed to finish a single slalom.
Yet he never changed his style.
For him, skiing has never been solely about results. Rather, it has been about always stretching the boundaries of his abilities. Square-jawed and stubble-chinned, with the slightest hint of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Miller has a similar toughness and determination. "Everything in my life has been about being a good competitor," he says. "Sometimes being a good competitor for me means crashing."
Part of that attitude, he acknowledges, comes from his unique upbringing. For most of his preteen years, he lived with his parents in a backwoods New Hampshire cabin with no electricity or running water. A childhood of numb toes and trips to the outhouse made him a little more independent, Miller has often said - and maybe a little stubborn.
He still does the Bode lean. He's just learned to control it a bit more. The results have followed: Three World Cup slalom victories this year, one giant slalom victory. The best year for an American skier since the days of the Mahre brothers in the 1980s.
With medals in the giant slalom and the slalom - certainly a possibility - Miller could even become the first American skier to win three medals in one Olympics.
"It's been a process," says coach Jesse Hunt, who looked as if he'd been put through a cuisinart after the alpine combined, even though his pupil took silver. "Recently, we've gotten him to understand what he can do and what he can't do, and he's beginning to find that limit."
Perhaps even more impressive than the victories, though, has been the way in which he has won.
In Austria, he topped the third-place finisher - his closest-ranked competitor in world standings - by 2.46 seconds. In another race, the second-place skier crossed the line 1.92 seconds later. Even here at the Olympics, he beat the entire field by 1.1 seconds on his final slalom run in the combined to take silver.
This, in a sport that often relies on hundredths of seconds to determine its winners. "You just don't see that," says Edie Thys, a former Olympic skier who now writes for Ski Magazine. "He's a phenom. The competition looks at him and has no idea what he's doing."