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Bode Miller astounds us

Alan Braunholtz

The Vilar Center showed the film “Flying Downhill” during the Birds of Prey World Cup events. A documentary on Bode Miller’s racing career, it also showed a little of what makes him such a charismatic athlete. There’s no denying it, he pretty much has “rock star” tattooed on his forehead.He’s refreshingly open throughout the film with such honest self-evaluations that his confidence isn’t cocky at all. He obviously loves ski racing, being the fastest and supportive of his teammates. But he isn’t endeared to the skiing establishment. That’s hardly surprising. ever since a young boy, some official figure has been telling him “You’re doing wrong!” Thankfully, a surprisingly mature self-assurance allowed him to go with his correct instincts and feel for speed. To paraphrase a coach: He has an amazing touch for the fall line and the natural athletic talent to get there. He is a literally a ski racing genius that everyone shakes their heads in disbelief at.The U.S. used to celebrate strong-minded individuals – the cult of the lone cowboy in the rugged Western landscapes. But no more, apparently. He’s got more flak for one taken-very-much-out-of-context quote than some NFL athletes do for hitting their wives. A joking exchange about ski racing “wasted” after a late-night celebrating winning the World Cup overall championship ended up in newspaper headlines as “Bode skis drunk!” shock horror. “Wasted” is not a well-defined term, encompassing states from “dead tired” to err … well, you know, and I’m willing to bet that all of us have showed up at work “wasted” to some extent after celebrating something not quite as good as being the best in the world. And who doesn’t exaggerate when telling entertaining stories? He finished third in that slalom race, so apparently he wasn’t in too bad of shape. And he makes the point in the Denver Post that he would never consider doing this before a speed race like the downhill. Did anyone ever care if Joe Namath played hungover? He certainly sold the party boy image.Almost all the “oh my gosh, how could he say that?” hysteria comes as usual from those who haven’t bothered to read the book, see the film or watch the interview. Instead they just lapped up whatever emotion the media fed them. Amazingly, the U.S. ski team had strong questions as to Bode’s position on the U.S. ski team. It’s not enough for a ski racer to just go really, really fast anymore or be a likeable genuine human with his own thoughts. They have to be controlled. Different is OK and marketable, but not that different!So it wasn’t the smartest thing to say on camera, but who wants to think like a lawyer every time you open your mouth? At least it’s created some interesting dialogue, as many of his comments do. Not to mention much needed publicity right before the upcoming Winter Olympics. I’m sure the sponsors are crying crocodile tears all the way to the bank. Skiing is not only some puritan sport dedicated to cleansing body and soul. It’s also a hedonistic activity with many resort ads emphasizing apres ski partying as much as the slopes.It’s easy to open up avenues of thought regarding our inconsistent positions on recreational and performance enhancing drugs. No one raises an eyebrow at students pounding caffeine and other legal stimulants to help them study. These drugs are banned in minute quantities in competitions, though. The NFL turned a blind eye to steroids for years while banning players for recreational drug use. Baseball still winks at steroids. Before all the fuss over EPO in professional cycling, Jan Ulrich lost a year for testing positive for ecstasy, a disco enhancer. Eye surgery to get advantageous 20:30 vision is OK (ask Tiger Woods), but drugs that enhance concentration or endurance aren’t, even if they present no danger to the athletes. As Bode pointed out, there’s no test for alcohol while other recreational drugs are big no no’s. Remember all the snowboarders who got in trouble at past Olympics after testing positive for marijuana? Of course, that may be a performance-enhancing drug for them. How do you get that high out of the pipe?Bode got in trouble previously for saying that drugs that made ski racing safer should be OK. I believe, perhaps naively, in the purity of sports and don’t agree, but then I’ve never launched myself down a mountain at 90 mph struggling to survive a turn on anaerobic will power after two minutes of effort, either. It’s only a point of view. An athlete who has never tested positive for anything should be allowed his, too.Do we really want the cliched sports interview from every athlete? “How does it feel to win-lose?” “It feels great-awful and I’d like to thank my family, team, God …” He’s now apologized and hopefully can get back to the enjoyable business of skiing faster than anyone else in the world. I understand why the media behaves the way it does for ratings, but not why we wallow in it. We let them build people up, then rejoice when they recast these “heroes” with feet of clay. Are we that bored, jealous and nasty? If we want heroes, there are a lot of people dedicating their lives to the poor, sick and the environment for no reward other than making the world a better place for others to live.I love watching great athletes. It’s inspiring to see what hard work and unique talents can do, and I dream of better genes in my next life. Hopefully, Bode will keep enjoying astounding us for a few more years – on the snow at least.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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