BEAVER CREEK — Just when some had written off American Bode Miller, he goes and does something brilliant, like put down a spectacular run for a podium finish in a discipline he isn’t particularly known for.
As the champion downhiller slashed his way down the Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup giant slalom run on Sunday, it was apparent he was on fire. In fact, the only skier able to best Miller’s time on Sunday was teammate and GS master Ted Ligety. Where Ligety carves with precision and finesse, Miller charges the gates, cutting sharply through turns and barreling straight at times.
He skidded to a stop after his first run, looking up at the timing screen. Jaws dropped among other racers and the crowd as his time flashed on the board — second place, behind Ligety. Miller, on the other hand, already knew he’d put down a special run. He gave his wife, Morgan Beck, a hug and told her, “My legs feel so strong.”
“I’ve been looking forward to being able to run a course to test me a little bit more, and this one is definitely demanding,” Miller said after his first run. “By the time we get to the last bit you’re tired, and I was able to still push hard through the last pitch all the way to the finish. I’m really psyched that my fitness held up.”
For the second run of the day, it was a question of whether Miller would be able to do it again, especially as several Austrians upped the game with increasingly fast times. He responded with an aggressive charge that once again was only beat by Ligety, who won the race by an entire 1.3 seconds. The crowd went wild, and Miller stood waving and smiling in a moment that was remarkably reminiscent of his days of downhill dominance on this course a few years ago.
Knee is strong, Miller says
The GS success followed an impressive super-G run the day before, a run that was lost in the final seconds by a gate that Miller said he didn’t see until too late. Nevertheless, the fine form is significant for a skier who is returning from a knee injury and spent more than a season away from the sport. He last had surgery to repair a microfracture to his knee in early 2012 and sat out for the rest of the year to recover.
He dropped out of the ski-racing scene for a year and a half, and now at 36, and after such an injury, some wondered if he could ever make a comeback. However, he returned this winter announcing his intentions to compete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics — and with the way he’s going, it looks like he could do it.
His knee is structurally strong, he said, and the work he’s put into rehabilitation and training is allowing him to race hard.
“That’s a big difference,” he said. “Even before, (my knee) always bothered me. It’s exciting that I can go out as hard as I can and just let my ability take over. Before, I was always managing my fitness a little bit.”
While Miller said he’s aiming for results in every race, it is no secret that his biggest goal of the season is to do well in what is likely his last Olympics.
“Olympics are the focus of the season, but I’m trying to also win every race I’m in,” he said, adding that his intensity is allowing him to compete against skiers more than a decade younger. “You have to be willing to do the work. I wasn’t in the position to be there two years ago, and that was obvious to everyone by my results.”
Fitter and speedier
Miller credits much of his comeback to improved fitness and a new workout plan. Since the summer, he’s been working with Gavin MacMillan, of Sports Science Lab.
Sports Science Lab is a Southern California company specializing in performance and rehabilitation. MacMillan works with an extensive list of athletes that include a number of professional boxers, NBA athletes, national rugby teams and more.
MacMillan put Miller on a regimen focused on strengthening his knee. Unlike more conventional programs that put athletes in the weight room, MacMillan is a firm believer that traditional weight lifting negates power and speed. Instead, he had Miller work on plyometrics, balance and high-repetition strengthening.
“We did a ton of work to strengthen his hips, his legs and his lower back and overall core,” MacMillan said. “You can really improve his ability to change direction at that high speed. Muscle works like a big elastic band, and as long as you train it like that, it responds really well. If you train it like a brick, which is how much weight it can lift, it’s not going to correlate with the power and endurance you need on the slope.”
He called the Birds of Prey weekend a big step forward for Miller, saying that it was no surprise judging from how he responded to the training.
“Bode’s the best ever to do this, so he responds. His mind is probably the best mind I’ve ever trained. He fully understands his body, what it’s doing and what it needs,” MacMillan said. “Now it’s a matter of how long it will take to get his timing down in races.”
At Birds of Prey, the skiing world definitely saw a new Bode Miller. He showed no lack of the confidence he’s known for, but also seemed significantly calmer and easy going, shrugging off a disappointing downhill run on Friday, keeping perspective after his super-G blip and taking time to sign autographs after his giant slalom runs.
Maybe skiing’s “bad boy” has finally grown up. Even so, he’s no less fun to watch and if all goes to plan, he will give the world a show this Olympic season.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and email@example.com.
“I’ve been looking forward to being able to run a course to test me a little bit more, and this one is definitely demanding.”
American ski racer