We'll only see Bode again if we let him be himself


SESTRIERE, Italy -- In the Steven Spielberg classic "ET," the alien hero, who is just trying to get home, is discovered by the authorities. He is pale and half-dead. The only sign of life is his glowing red heart. The authorities take him in for examination; they want to know how he works and what makes him tick. But the tests and scrutiny nearly kill him.

Bode Miller is nearly in the same condition at the end of a heavily analyzed, two-week, 0-5 Olympic bender. The more we try to pick him apart, to understand his world, the more we ruin what we came looking for: a pure hippie-kid from the woods who spoke his own version of the truth and won ski races the way everyone told him he couldn't.

It was beautiful. But today, as Miller spews one ill-advised remark after another, it is important to remember what made him an attractive sports athlete in the first place.

Miller thrilled us with his rebellious approach to skiing. He risked winning. And in the process, he pushed his sport beyond any level imaginable. He would come into a turn straighter and faster than anyone before him, only to see if he could pull it off. Sometimes, with shockingly athletic recovery, he did. Sometimes he didn't. Still, it seemed that, for him, the outcome was the same: There was no outcome. It was never about the finish, it was about everything in between. He said as much in countless interviews before the Torino Games even began -- what he loved was the potential in a pristine race course, what he kept seeking was chances to realize that potential.

"I understand how this could confuse people," he told ESPN.com last week while walking back to his trailer after a race he had failed to finish.

But the more people pried and pushed to understand, the more he let them in -- because like his skiing, he wasn't worried about the outcome of his conversations, he was more interested in the process of the discussion. He spoke freely and openly about his feelings at the moment a question was being asked. It's what journalists wanted. But sometimes, as the Games approached, they didn't like what they heard because they wanted finite answers. What they got was the flow of Miller's thought process. He was trying out ideas, just like he tried different lines through a course.

To be sure, Miller's current status as Olympic bad boy is not entirely the fault of the media. He should have been more guarded. He should have just kept his mouth shut on many occasions. We could have all done with fewer Playmate pictures taken at a late-night Sestriere disco, or sarcastic comments about how hard it would be to travel to Torino to accept a medal. And it would have been nice if Miller had come through the media corral to talk to us once in a while, instead of hopping the fence and disappearing into his motor home.

As a former teammate of Miller's and now a member of the media who stands on the other side of the fence, I can tell you, it is not Miller's job to accommodate us. Nor is it surprising that he doesn't want to talk anymore. On many occasions, when he did welcome the media into his life, he got burned.

Miller's job is to ski fast, something he didn't do here at the Games. Still, in the same way I would never want to see Bode coming down a course holding himself back just to finish, I would loathe to see him being untrue to himself just to be safe with reporters.

Right now, Miller is a mess. His performance was dismal, his reputation is in tatters. Nobody is happy. For Miller and for us, the only way the magic is going to kick up again is if we let it. Bode Miller has to believe that he can be the person he wants to be, both on and off the slopes. And we need to stop digging. Because the more we dig, the less we'll find.

The only way we will experience the thrill of seeing Miller at his best again is if we just let him go home.

Carrie Sheinberg, three-time national ski racing champion and top American finisher in the alpine slalom event at the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.