A surreal feeling
BEAVER CREEK – Bode Miller needs to stop winning races so he can focus on winning races.Seriously.After screeching to victory Friday in the Birds of Prey downhill in what was a historic 1-2-7 finish with teammates Daron Rahlves and Bryon Friedman, Miller then had to work his way through the draining post-race grinder – a relentless barrage of requests for interviews, autographs, pictures and hugs.Miller’s triumph – his fourth win in the five races held so far this season – was one of the most rewarding, memorable moments of his life.”It’s hard to put importance on victory,” he said. “But today, I won’t forget this race. … Daron, me and him being one-two, the crowd the way it was, basically my whole family was here. That was really exciting that everybody got to see me win in downhill. It was just a really great day on different levels.”It was also a draining one. When you are the great shining hope to be the first American man to win an overall title since 1983, when you are only the fifth skier ever to win in all four World Cup alpine disciplines and when you are trying to validate your sport to a fickle American public with reporters from USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times hovering around looking for the next Lance Armstrong, you do as Miller did Friday.You wave flags. You spray champagne. You answer the same question umpteen times. You smile for pictures with babies and let fans touch you. You take in the entire moment. One of the reasons Miller could be the next crossover star like Armstrong is that he is undeniably real, something that was apparent to the large crowd of spectators who came to watch Friday’s race. His steady smile was real. His bear hug of Rahlves at the finish line was heartfelt. In post-race interviews, he spoke candidly, as usual.
His weariness was real, too, though, when he walked into the media tent for one last press conference with Rahlves and third-place finisher Michael Walchhofer of Austria.”I was a little concerned about today,” he said. “It was kind of a tough hill for me yesterday. I got a little bit tired, and I had no chance to spin that out like I usually do (on the bike). My normal routine was interrupted because I had so many things to do. Obviously, when that starts to happen, you need to re-adjust priorities because racing and the things that make racing go well can’t be pushed aside to do media things and stuff like that.”Vacation?After a string of questions concerning his ability to maintain his training regimen and to stay fresh racing all four disciplines for the remaining 35 World Cup races, Miller jokingly said that he’s considered the option of taking off some time if his streak of top-three finishes continues.”We were joking about that the other day,” he said. “(About) how fun it would be to come out and win 18 or 20 races in the beginning of the season and take a little bit of time off in January. Go down and play some golf, come back for World Championships, take the rest of the time off and then say, ‘Yeah, I’ll be back to pick up my clothes in the spring.’ But I think it’s unrealistic. There’s too many question marks.”Miller upped his points total in the overall World Cup standings to 480 with his win – a monstrous lead over the rest of the pack with Walchhofer trailing the closest behind with 195 points.He’s already silenced the critics who said he couldn’t master all four disciplines by winning back-to-back downhills and finishing No.1 and No. 2 in the first two super-G’s. If he stays healthy and consistent, the possibility of the overall title could morph into reality.
Even in his glee, however, coach Phil McNichol spoke shrewdly Friday between sips of champagne.”Ski racing is a really tough sport to bet on,” he said.Miller made similar comments when asked about his considerable early lead. “It’s tough to make much of a prediction,” he said. One thing that doesn’t help, either, is continually being in the eye of a rapidly growing storm – something Miller at this point is trying to handle on the fly, just the way he handles himself on course.”There’s not really any good solution to that,” he said. “I’m hoping I can just manage it within a reasonable level just to keep my sanity. There’s definitely going to be times where I’m just going to have to cut it off. Like I said, if it starts to affect my ability to do the routine that I need to do to perform well in four events, that is something that the media needs to respect is that I’m not like some of the guys who have a day off on Sunday who can recover more. I need to be ready to go every day. I need to make sure that I have all the time to do all the things right to keep winning, and then beyond that, we’ll see.”Hooked on a feeling
Amid the uncertainty looming in the remaining World Cup season, which moves back to Europe after today’s giant slalom and Sunday’s slalom, there remains one undeniable truth: Miller, right now, is the best skier in the world. There is no debate. Even with the pedal to the floor on one of the toughest downhill courses in the world he drove flawlessly to the finish line, whereas last year he was swallowed up by the compression at The Abyss.”When you ski that way and it works, it’s really a phenomenal feeling,” he said. “Down the pitch, it’s a little bit surreal. Gates are going by and you’re doing things just right without really having to think about it at all. It’s just an awesome feeling. When I came off those jumps at the bottom, I was having the time of my life.”Yes, Bode is hooked on a feeling. He said it feels, “surreal.”If he can continue the good vibes, all that hangs in the balance – the overall title, the adulation of his countrymen, the re-shifting of the World Cup power structure – may become real. Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.