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LA Times on Bode Miller

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
King of the Mountain

Making his mark with boldness and composure, American skier Bode Miller rises to the top of his game

By Alan Abrahamson
Times Staff Writer

January 9, 2005

CHAMONIX, France — In this corner of France, as in much of Europe, the Alps do not so much caress the sky as stab at it, reaching up with points and spires that invite challenge from those who know that the richness of life's journey is in the daring.

But those who would dare to be truly great on the mountain must also attain a measure of temperance, learn to balance audacity with control, instinct with experience.

This winter, Bode Miller's time has come.

This season, the 27-year-old Miller, born and raised in rural New Hampshire, has emerged as the best ski racer in the world, an American on top in a sport long dominated by Europeans.

"Harmony and balance," said Jean-Claude Killy, the 1968 Olympic skiing legend, adding, "He has got it all together."

Miller calls it a "pure" thing, "pure" being one of his favorite words.

"I knew it … before I even had a race this year," he said, adding, "I was getting to a place where I felt like when I skied my best I knew that people were going to have to do really, really good to beat me."

Miller has built up so many World Cup points that, absent injury or freakish uncertainty, he will coast to the overall title when the season ends in a couple of months. Three Austrians are 2-3-4, among them Hermann Maier, the famed Hermannator.

The last time a U.S. skier won the overall World Cup title was in 1983, when Phil Mahre did it.

Miller has for years been an exceptionally good racer. He won two silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, in the giant slalom and Alpine combined. This winter, however, he has learned how to minimize mistakes and, perhaps even more important, how to recover from mistakes — that is, to stay on his skis and keep heading downhill. "He gets to the finish line now," said Daron Rahlves, another top U.S. skier.

Even when he doesn't win, Miller is still the skier with whom everyone else must reckon. In a World Cup event here Saturday, Miller and Maier tied for eighth; another Austrian, Johann Grugger, won the race.

"I felt after the first intermediate times that I had done OK, but I believed I'd made it only after Bode's run because you never know what this guy is capable of doing," Grugger said afterward.

Rahlves, meantime, is sixth in the overall World Cup standings. He finished fifth Saturday.

The 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, are a mere 13 months away. U.S. men's coach Phil McNichol said, "We could have one of the best Alpine performances on the men's side we've ever had in history. That's saying an awful lot. But I think the guys are capable of it."

Miller has always been fast going downhill. The other part of the package is that he is a willful and independent thinker, no surprise for someone who was deliberately raised to be able to fend for himself.

At post-race news conferences, Miller acknowledges, he can often be curt. But when he wants, Miller can also be gregarious, eager to share opinions on a wide range of subjects he finds compelling — one of the reasons he now has a side gig as a part-time host on Sirius satellite radio.

In an hour-long interview with The Times, for instance, he weighed in on, among other topics, the moral relativism of doping rules in sports: "I mean, right now weed is on the doping list. And I grew up with that as a part of my whole society. And, like, I'm sorry, but that's just not cheating."

On American popular culture: "In the U.S., people tell you that knowing what Paris Hilton does on the weekends or whatever is important…. That is absolutely not important."

And on the essential tenet of his life: "I've always tried to do, and tried to believe … you should do what's right simply because it's right."

Miller grew up in a home without running water or electricity. He was home-schooled through third grade. He first got onto skis when he was 2; the story goes that he demanded that his mother let him go, that he be free to do it his way, to ski by himself.

As he got a little bit older, he came to realize he truly loved skiing. He made plain he still loves it now, as then, and for the same reasons: "There was a lot of freedom. And it was really objective. There were no judges. It was all basically under your control. There were no other teammates that would blame you or that you could blame for winning or losing. It was, it's really a pretty pure sport."

At 13, he entered Maine's Carrabassett Valley Academy as a ski racer.

During the 1996 U.S. championships, he won bronze in the slalom.

Two years later, Miller reached the World Cup circuit.

"He came in skiing really, really fast, with absolutely no tactical skills whatsoever. It catches up to you," Mahre said in a telephone interview. "Talent can only take you so far. Then you have to become a mental skier. You learn how to take risks and when not to take them. He matured a lot these past few years."

McNichol said, referring to Miller's early years on the circuit, "The screwing-up part, that was at such a high level of frequency, it was OK, the gun is ready, we're looking at a 50-50 chance, or a higher percentage, on the screwing-up side than him actually doing what we knew he was capable of doing. It has just swung the other direction now."

Killy, in a reference to Miller's personality and the expression of that personality on skis, said, "He's a free flier. He's a bird. He flies where he wants, how he wants, the way he wants. Most of the time, for an American that's a handicap. Sometimes, it's a big plus over us Europeans."

Miller insists he has experienced no great epiphany.

He switched before the season to new skis, made by Atomic.

He said he has learned to take control of variables he can control; he travels around Europe, for instance, in a motor home driven by a longtime friend.

He also offered by way of ultimate explanation, "You need a huge, huge cache of time on your skis and runs to be able to make accurate decisions."

Miller remains one of the tour's few all-event skiers, meaning he races in the downhill, slalom, combined, giant slalom and super-G. When he won the downhill and super-G over Thanksgiving weekend at Lake Louise, Canada, Miller became only the fifth skier ever to win World Cup races in all five; the others are Alpine legends, the likes of Norway's Kjetil-Andre Aamodt.

Miller, however, does not like being a superstar. He very much likes winning for the reasons he fell in love with skiing long ago; he very much does not like the celebrity that, in Europe, comes with winning.

"Because I can win races right now, a lot of races, as I have, that only makes things harder to have success in the rest of the areas of my life," he said. "I mean, really, it's counter-productive.

"I mean, the [stuff] that happens when I win, having to go to the press conference, the media [stuff], the drug testing, smile for the cameras, a bunch more autograph stuff, it's all the stuff I enjoy the least and that I find the least rewarding. Whereas the stuff happens when I lose, when I crash, is all the stuff that I like the most. I get to — I sneak away, nobody notices me, I get to go back, eat some good food, drink a beer, play my PlayStation, read my book, talk to my friends, whatever it is, the stuff that I really like to do."

The 2005 world championships beckon, in Bormio, Italy, beginning Jan. 29. Beyond that, the 2006 Olympics, at which Miller figures to be a central personality.

It's all about balance, Miller said. This summer, he figures to be back in New England, at a camp run by his family, his usual gig, teaching tennis. For him, it's the furthest thing from celebrity. His eyes lighted up as he described the joy of the drills he does with 12- to 16-year-olds. "It's just, it's just so pure," he said.
post #2 of 6
What has happened this past week end?
He showed "late" twice in a row at the bid distribution and was "punished" twice with higher bids than he could have had...
Is the powerful Austrian Ski federation behind this?

post #3 of 6
That's one of the more bizarre leads to appear in a major newspaper.
post #4 of 6
That's being generous.
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 
post #6 of 6
Bravo! Any publicity is good publicity for alpine skiing.
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