Challenging Rosa Khutor course looks like it was built for Bode Miller
America’s most -decorated Alpine skier looking to make his mark at his fifth Olympics
Bode Miller of the USA in training for the Alpine Skiing Men’s Downhill in the Sochi Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre. Photograph: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
He’s a fortnight away from the start of competition so his manner was easy and his mood light. At one point he turned and gestured at the impossibly sheer mountain about half a mile away over his left shoulder. “That’s the men’s downhill run,” he said with a can-you-imagine chuckle. “Glad I don’t have to go down it.”
By teatime, the slick gods of the downhill had finished their first practice run and when they came in afterwards to pass judgment, you got the impression it was mainly bravado that was getting in the way of them agreeing with Lyne.
“There’s definitely some nerves,” said American skier Jared Goldberg, “but I was definitely more nervous about killing myself at Kitzbuhel a week and a half ago.”
Lapped it up
Predictably enough though, the man with the fastest time down the mountain lapped it up. Then again, if Bode Miller had finished last in the practice run, you’d still have bet a fair amount on him declaring it his. He’s always been an ain’t-no-mountain-high-enough kind of guy.
“They didn’t dumb it down much, which is nice,” he said. “They didn’t ice the top, which is understandable – the turns are huge up there. The swing and turns would make it very tough for guys on top if it were icy. It would be better for me, but that’s fine. I still feel like I have the ability to ski that top and put time on guys.
“But once you come out of the chute all the way down they didn’t take anything away. The speeds are up, the terrain is challenging and the jumps are big. I more or less ski with the intent to push myself so sometimes the risk is out of proportion to where the rewards come from.”
Story of his life. For the oldest man in the field at 36, Miller has had a pig of a job shaking the tag of immature wastrel who hasn’t made enough of his talent.
“Probably the greatest underachieving ski racer in history by a long shot,” his coach told ESPN this week.
When you consider he is the most successful American Alpine skier of all time – with Olympic medals in all five disciplines – that he is still considered to have underserved his potential says much about the risks he’s taken and the rewards in which he has (over)indulged.
Bode Miller’s greatest hits do make for highly entertaining reading. This is the guy who went on American TV in 2006 and admitted to/boasted of occasionally skiing under the influence.
“If you ever tried to ski wasted – it’s not easy,” he told 60 Minutes. After failing on a grand scale in Turin later that year, he consoled himself that at least he had “got to party and socialise at an Olympic level”.
“My actions are not always consistent,” was one of his explanations. “I’m super-mellow and laid back, but I’m always thinking and running 100,000 scenarios through my head. Sometimes I’m disciplined, but I like to be a total slacker, too. I party hard, but I train hard.”
Age has withered that side of him a touch yet he still has his moments. In the States, his personal life is perfect tabloid fodder. He has two kids by different mothers, neither of whom is his wife.
He got married in 2012 to a professional beach volleyball player 12 years his junior and within six months landed in the news for accidentally hitting her with a golf ball, leaving her needing 50 stitches around her eye and admitted he came damn close to blinding her.
Yet through it all, his results have held up. After the disaster of 2006, he won a gold, silver and bronze in Vancouver to wipe the slate clean. A bad knee injury in 2012 kept him out of competition for the whole of last year but he’s back now and if Thursday’s practice run is any guide, he isn’t here just to say he made it to five Olympics.
“I think it can be a hindrance to be in your fifth Olympics and have four-hundred-and-something World Cups behind you,” he said on Thursday. “I do get less nervous and less excited. I’m much more focused and I’m hoping the trade-off works in my favour.”
Set up for Miller
And so to today’s downhill. It isn’t his best event but even Aksel Lund Svindal, the big Norwegian who is one of the favourites for gold, conceded yesterday the course is set up for someone like Miller. Someone who takes risks, with the athleticism to push off the big slingshot turns and still hold his form. For the last Olympics he will ever ski in, Miller will hardly hold anything back. But then, he never did.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” he said recently. “I did a lot of stupid things. But it’s so miraculous where I am now with the achievements, the successes, the failure and growth I’ve gone through personally.
“While I’d love to go back and change things or say I regret certain things, I really think I’d buy the whole package. Just because it’s so hard to know what made the difference for me ending up where I am today.”Hard for him. Harder still for everyone else.