For a mature Bode Miller, fifth trip to Olympics is all downhill

Bode Miller can't get his toddler to sit still. The 9-month-old boy is squirming around the hotel room as if he's ready to jump in the start gate of the Sochi Olympic downhill.

If you tell the kid to do one thing, Bode explains, he does the opposite.

The kid is determined to have his own way.

"He's like a salmon," Miller said, "he wants to swim against the stream."

Right on cue, as if directed by Martin Scorsese, Miller's wife, Morgan, looks up and says what everyone is thinking:

"I wonder where he gets that from?"

Cut . . . print it.

It was interesting to sit in a Colorado hotel room last fall and witness the coming-of-middle-age comeuppance for ski racing's onetime bad boy.

It wasn't so long ago that Miller seemingly needed the dribble cup, and now he's 36 and changing diapers?

Bode is the grownup in the room. Yeah, right.

His life could be narrated in one of those old "March of Time" newsreel montages.

"Raised in New Hampshire by hippie parents, and maybe without potable water, young Bode rose from free-range impudence to become America's greatest male Alpine skiing icon!"

Miller was just named to his fifth Olympic team — can you believe it?

In 1998, still a teenage prodigy, he earned a surprise berth to the Nagano Olympics and posted a DNF in slalom and giant slalom as he took ski racing's temperature and bided his time.

In 2002, at Salt Lake, he jaw-dropped his way to two silver medals as he reminded people more of Evel Knievel than any accomplished ski racer.

In 2006, atop the Italian Alps at the Turin Games, he was the five-medal prospect who disastrously miscalculated the world's tolerance for large-scale precociousness when it wasn't backed by results.

Cognitively brilliant but brought up without electricity, or many other guiding lights, Miller decided he wasn't in Italy for us. He arrived first class on his astral plane and offered his own, ethereal ideas of the Olympic ideal.

He admitted to "skiing wasted," or at least hung over, and reminded the uninitiated that his mission was the quixotic pursuit of perfection.

When Miller partied all night but didn't produce any medals, though, he was billed "the undisputed buffoon" of the Turin Games and a "goofball on skis."

He soon left the U.S. ski team and went into the wilderness in search of whatever Bode Millers look for.

In 2010, at Vancouver, coaxed by U.S. team coach Sasha Rearick back to the mother ship, Miller finally put the pieces together for a redemptive two weeks in which he claimed gold, silver and bronze.

Miller, at last, had partnered his inner, organic skiing side with the top step of the Olympic podium.

He consolidated his already legendary international Alpine status — Miller heads to Russia with 33 career World Cup race victories, six season discipline championships and two overall titles — with the only marker Americans understand: Olympic gold.

That should have been the end of it, right there, at age 32, which is approaching AARP on the World Cup circuit.

Miller's left knee would require microfracture surgery that would force him to miss all of last season.

The idea that he could return in any credible form for the 2014 Sochi Games seemed farfetched; even more unfathomable was that he might lead the U.S. Alpine contingent as a doting father, devoted husband, role model and elder statesman.

Yet, here we are.

Adding "serious medal contender" to Miller's plate makes the countdown to the Feb. 9 Olympic downhill in Rosa Khutor all the more exciting.

Ski racing tells you when your time is up, as precision Swiss timing devices don't lie. Miller, though, appears genuinely rejuvenated and ready to rip it in Russia.

He's lost 20 pounds and shaved nanoseconds off his start gate-to-finish line.

Last weekend, he nearly won the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, the most prestigious downhill in the world. It might have been his last, best shot to enter Austria's hall of fame.

Miller would have prevailed if not for a tactical bobble. And, instead of brushing it off, he acknowledged it as a significant career disappointment.

"It's pretty heartbreaking," he said.

Time is precious now, especially skiing time.

He followed up in Kitzbuehel, though, with a second place in super-G, which solidified his intentions heading into Sochi.

Miller is eligible to compete in all five men's events and, although his best slalom and giant-slalom days are years behind him, it is conceivable he could triple in the same three events he nailed in Vancouver: super combined (gold), super-G (silver) and downhill (bronze).

Miller has gone from snow pariah to ski-team ballast.

He is a mentor for Mikaela Shiffrin, America's 18-year-old rising star. She recently tweeted that Miller was her skiing hero and inspiration.

On a conference call this week, Shiffrin said of Miller, "Once again, at Kitzbuehel, he proved that he is so innovative, with his lines and with his confidence. He knows it's going to work. Because he believes in his ability to make it work."

In 2006, U.S. coaches wanted to throw Miller off a chairlift.

Last week Luke Bodensteiner, executive vice president of the United States Ski and Snowboard Assn., said the governing body was "absolutely committed to providing him every bit of support required. . . . Bode is very cognizant of his stature, and cognizant of his legacy he wants to leave. And he's got some unfinished business."

Miller's return to form changes the dynamic of the Sochi Alpine events. His presence on start lists affects Austrian, French and Swiss racers who respect him as much as they do any European who has ever locked into ski boots.

"[Austrian great] Benny Raich has won more races than Bode, but he's not feared," said former racer Steve Porino, now an NBC Sports analyst. "I'm convinced the competition fears Bode. Ski racing is not about getting up in people's faces, but he might actually cause people to take risks that are out of their comfort zone."

Miller making tracks also ups the competitive ante with U.S. teammate Ted Ligety, the new star of the men's team.

Miller and Ligety have a healthy, but relentless, rivalry. Miller loves to praise Ligety as he pushes his buttons. He wonders if Ligety would be dominating giant slalom if he had to go against the home-run hitters of Miller's prime: Austria's Hermann Maier and Switzerland's Michael von Gruenigen.

"He's racing against a different group of guys now," is the way Miller puts it.

Ligety and Miller have won Olympic gold, in the same event, with contrasting styles and personalities.

"Nobody really knows Bode," Ligety joked. "He's a complex dude."

Ligety, a technique master, can poke back by saying, "Bode's so athletic he can get away with bad skiing and still ski fast."

Serenity is relative with Miller. The sidebar to his inspiring comeback is fraught with heartbreak, legal fees and complications. He endured the death last year of his younger brother, Chelone, to a seizure.

He has two children by two women and is now married to the mother of neither. He heads to Sochi coming off a custody battle over his young son. The boy was originally named "Sam" but renamed "Nate" after Miller married Morgan Beck, a professional volleyball player.


Miller also won't concede to any outsider that he is happy.

"I'm happy because this is my last interview of the day," he joked.

He is, though, a fuller-formed Bode.

You see his joy when he flips his boy around on the couch.

Miller has matured, yet refuses to give back the childlike innocence that has allowed him to keep dreaming big.

"My confidence is imaginary," Miller said. "I had it since I was a baby. I just always thought I could do stuff I couldn't do."

He then glanced at his toddler son. "Like him," Bode said. "He'll try to do all kinds of [stuff] he can't do."

Bode said that when he was 14 he was told to switch to snowboarding because he had no future in skiing. He was skinny and gangly and basically barrel-rolled through finish lines.

"You guys are crazy," Miller said he said. "I'm going to win World Cups. I'm going to win the Olympics."

Miller said if you crash a thousand times, "you eventually acquire the skills to do those things you're trying to do."

The thing about kids, unlike adults, is that they're less inclined to take "no" for an answer.

"I knew I wasn't going to break," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to quit. . . . My confidence was not just based on factual information."

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