Medals Don't Mean Bode Miller Has Redeemed Himself
Why is he here?
This was the ideal opportunity to make amends for his despicable behavior four years ago at the Turin Games. That's where one of skiing's most gifted racers trashed the Olympics as a cancerous menace, spent his nights in a partying daze, lived apart from his teammates in an RV and went 0-for-5 on the mountainside, finishing only two races. He was branded a disgrace to his country and his sport, to the point where the queen of the slopes, Lindsey Vonn, cringed recently when asked how she would handle the pressure of high expectations after Miller's washout. "I know what I'm not,'' she said, "and I'm definitely not him.'' The assumption was that Miller would fade away as a punchline and wasted talent, but somehow, after pondering retirement, he ignored a beat-up body, including an ankle sprain suffered in December during a volleyball game, and showed up again in the competition he despises. And who the hell knew he'd win three medals in his first three races, with his long-awaited inaugural gold coming Sunday in the super combined, making him the first U.S. Alpine skier to bag a triple in the same Olympiad? What I wanted Miller to say was that he was an immature dope in 2006, that he's smarter and straighter now with a two-year-old daughter, that he's more understanding about 21st-century business life at age 32, that he's thrilled to win Olympic medals because of the tradition and magnitude of the event, that he doesn't want to send mixed messages anymore.
Yeah. Right. Sure, dude.
"It's hard to really describe in a way that makes sense, but the actual gold medal doesn't mean that much," Miller said. "If I'd won it in a way that I wasn't excited about or proud of, I would have probably resented the medal in a certain way because of what it makes everyone else think. People are generally not good at separating those two things. They think you're proud because you won an Olympic medal, and the reality is, I'm proud because I skied that way at the Olympics."
Oh. I see.
You'd have a better chance of psychoanalyzing Courtney Love than cracking the Bode Code. He should be allowing us to celebrate his lofty place in ski lore, now that his five career Olympic medals have tied him for second among male Alpine racers, trailing only the eight of Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt. Still scheduled to go in the giant slalom Tuesday and the slalom Saturday, Miller can become the first man to win four medals at a single Winter Olympics and secure his place among the all-time greats, keeping in mind that he has 32 World Cup wins and four world titles in four different events. Said U.S. teammate Will Brandenburg: "I mean, Bode has now done everything you can in skiing. He's won World Cups. He's won World Cup overall titles. He's won medals in every color. And now he's got the gold. And I think that's big. He's one of the best skiers of all time now and no one can discredit that." No one, that is, except Bode himself. Pathetically, he keeps on baffling us with his b.s., trying to embrace the good in the Games while still painting himself as a more subdued counterculturist who doesn't like the accompanying greed. Look, a lot of us don't like corporate America and the way it operates, but that doesn't mean we lash out at it while reaping the benefits. By coming here and winning, doesn't it just defeat the purpose of whatever Miller has been protesting all these years?
"The Olympics is definitely, in my mind, a two-sided coin," he said. "It has all the best things in sport. It has amazing energy, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration. It's what changes lives, and I think in that sense it's the pinnacle of what sports and camaraderie and all that stuff is. And on the flip side of that is the opposite. That's the corruption and the abuse and the money. And I'm not pointing fingers, but that's what was bothering me. And being thrust into the middle of that and being the poster boy for that -- when it's the absolute thing I despise most in the world -- was really draining on my inspiration, on my level of passion. And those are the things I function on primarily when I'm racing."
What he's saying, I think, is that he was horribly uncomfortable with being the 2006 pre-Games poster boy, of being hyped up as a potential five-medal winner. "I've relaxed a bunch of my animosity toward the commercialism of the Olympics from the last time. I can't personally change that stuff as much as I'd like to,'' he said. So why not just keep articulating that? Instead, he continues to devalue the worth of a gold medal, which demeans the purest objective of the Olympics -- to train for years and beat the world's best competition -- and insults the pride of other athletes who've worked so hard to be here. Who is Bode Miller to look down his nose at a gold medal, then smile and wave during a flower ceremony after winning a gold medal?
And why did he use a tortured Tonya Harding analogy to explain the irrelevance of the medal itself, reviving the 16-year-old incident in which Harding's husband plotted an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan?
"You don't want to go the Tonya Harding route of winning medals," Miller said the other day, quite weirdly. "If you wanted strictly to win medals, you could go through a long start list of racers and just go to their house in the offseason -- break a leg here, pull out a shoulder socket there -- and you'd probably have a whole bunch of medals.'' Not that anyone disagrees with his basic theory, but it's his annoying way of trivializing a medal that brings tears of joy to athletes, families and countries. Four years later, it seems Bode still can't be Bode without trying too hard to be cool and above it all.
When he's not.
"I never know what to make of Bode Miller, because he is crazy," Austria's Benjamin Raich said. "I'm serious. He is so hard to understand. But I know this: When he is on, he is the perfect skier."
Funny how "perfect" was the word Miller used when he crossed the finish line Sunday, sounding very un-Bode-like about his victory. "For my first Olympic gold, it was absolutely perfect," he said. "When you're at the Olympics, the energy and everything else, you can use that to bring your game up. To be able to do that a few races in a row, it feels absolutely amazing. The level I skied at today is right at the very, very top." Hmmm. To me, he sounds pretty excited about those dastardly medals.
At least he is happier in his life, staying away from last calls and trying to be a better teammate, a commitment directly reflected in his rousing success in Whistler. His father, Woody, says his son has found verve again after "going through the motions" four years ago. Bode has come a long way from the last time some American media members saw him, at a cramped basement bar in Turin, where he was an inebriated mess on the next-to-last night of the Games. This time, Miller is part of the U.S. team, living and eating with the guys. "I wasn't emotionally very involved in the races. I was treating them very cold and clinical," he admits."I let myself go more [now]. In '06, I didn't really necessarily want to be there for a number of reasons, but, you know, I also didn't want to not be there. So I was incredibly conflicted. I think I had no intention really of blowing it, but I raced as hard as I could, but I didn't have this motivation. I didn't have the energy and the enthusiasm."
Amazingly, Miller actually scolded some teammates last month for performing sluggishly at an early-morning practice. It wasn't long ago when he would have blown off such a practice. "He's been really motivated," said his Whistler roommate, Ted Ligety, who won gold in Turin while Miller partied. "It's cool to really see him win an Olympic gold. That's what's been missing from his resume. There is nothing left Bode hasn't won -- world championships, World Cup overall titles, Olympic medals of every color. Perfect? It was today."
The shame is that Miller, if he'd adjusted his mindset the way he has this year, might have won four or five medals in Italy and established himself as the Michael Phelps of the wintertime. Would you believe he was nervous before the race Sunday? Bode, with butterflies? "That was the feeling I've been searching for, and I let it build up. I was real nervous before I went, but excited-nervous, not anxiety-nervous," he said. "Normally as an athlete, a veteran of 400 World Cup races, you kind of repress that stuff. I used to crash all the time because of it. But I think that's part of why I wanted to come back."
He came back to get excited-nervous? Sorry, I cannot explain this man. For a brief moment, he acknowledged being hurt by some of the harsh criticism in Turin, claiming he is "dedicated" to skiing despite his absentia-by-alcohol. "That was the most poignant issue after the Olympics, where people were criticizing me for who I was as opposed to what I did," Miller said. "I'll accept what I did. I didn't win medals. I'll take any criticism for that, but who I am is an athlete dedicated to my sport."
It didn't take long before he was laughing about the same subject. "Somebody asked me if these three medals were revenge," Miller said. "And I said: 'You mean revenge against myself?' "
Finally, a nonsensical champion has said something that makes sense.