Bode answers 'What if?' 'I don't regret anything'
WHISTLER, British Columbia -- Bode Miller was standing in the leader's box, half-expecting bad news. He didn't have to wait long.
It came striding purposefully toward him in the person of Aksel Lund Svindal, who grinned mischieviously and then stuck out his right hand.
"You again?" Svindal laughed.
What should have been a sweet story about the closing flourish by an aging skier to cap one of the great careers in Olympic Alpine history can't be told without asking "What if?"
Because of Svindal's blistering run down the mountain Friday in super-G, what looked like a gold for Miller was downgraded to silver. In the downhill four days earlier, the tall Norwegian turned Miller's silver into bronze in the same blink of an eye.
But those are tiny "what ifs" in Miller's ski closet.
Skiers are forced to live on the edge, and not just figuratively. But there are still plenty of things they can control. At the Turin Games in 2006, Miller ran wild through the streets and discos at night and squandered more talent in five days of racing than most of his competitors could do in a lifetime.
He's also revolutionized his sport, picked up four Olympic medals and two World Cup titles and left his rivals gaping at his victory margin or his recovery from mistakes that have crashed almost anyone else.
"He doesn't train all summer, he comes back and wins two medals. Only Bode can do it," laughed Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein, the ski circuit's elder statesman and, at 36, four years older than Miller. "If I wouldn't train all summer and come back, I would crash every second gate. His way of skiing is unique. His talent is immense. He deserves these medals."
Yet asked about the Miller of four years ago, Buechel simply shakes his head.
"Bode is Bode," he replied. "If you tell him in the Olympics at Torino, 'Focus and do your best,' I think sometimes he just does the opposite, just for fun. Just because he doesn't like authority.
"He would have had a great chance there," Buechel added. "He did it his way and it didn't work out. And I think he learned from that."
Miller says just the opposite. The closest thing he will acknowledge to learning a lesson is the time he spent walking the beaches in San Diego with his young daughter after walking away from the sport a year ago. He got comfortable wearing sneakers instead of ski boots. He couldn't bring himself to admit he missed skiing and swears he won't the day he departs for good.
If you want stories about how he's changed -- how he ditched his RV and became part of the U.S. team, how he gets nervous before races instead of recounting the good times the night before -- ask somebody else.
"Why perform now?" Miller considers the question. "Because most likely, it's what I wanted to do."
Even his father doesn't buy that.
"I don't know if it's maturing so much as sorting out things. I know how he felt in Torino. It wasn't a last-minute thing," Woody Miller said. "It was a funky feeling he had from the summer on. Ideally you're looking forward to Olympics and really feeling positive, but he was sort of dreading it. ...
"I don't totally understand what it was," he added, "but it was very deep and he was just burned out in a way, not from skiing but from all the other things that went with it that he couldn't deal with."
He won't get a lot of sympathy.
It was Bode who courted the sponsors' dollars, gave the interviews for all those cover stories, and beat the drum more loudly than he needed to. He was the one who boasted about skiing drunk in a "60 Minutes" interview ahead of the Turin Olympics because he reveled -- and still does -- in being provocative.
That was the reason why, after being shut out at the games he was expected to dominate in 2006, Miller stood outside his RV in a parking lot in Sestriere and talked of "an awesome two weeks."
"I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level," he said.
OK, so he had fun. But at what price? Did he have any idea -- or care -- what people were going to think about him? He was already oh-for-the-Olympics and displaying less common sense than that.
"Nobody else can tell you what your quality of life is," Miller replied, "or should be."
Four years later, walking away from the course in the fading light of afternoon, I asked Miller if he's thought of how things might have turned out differently.
"When I look back," he said, "I don't regret anything. At that moment, that was what was important to me."
Something else matters to him now. I think he's got something to prove.
"I got beat down," he said a moment later. "But I did it."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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