It’s a world gone Bode in Bormio
BORMIO, Italy – These are Bode Miller’s world championships. Fans surround the RV where he has set up shop, hoping for an autograph or a few words. Banners draped on homes proclaim, “Bode, we’re crazy for you.” The newspapers can’t get enough of the skier dubbed the “Cowboy of the Snow.”There is more than hoopla and showmanship at work here. A year before the Turin Olympics, Miller has put forth some daunting credentials: Right now, he is the best skier in the world.In a sport whose history is rooted in European exploits, this 27-year-old nonconformist from Franconia, N.H., who is dead serious about having a good time is trying to take his place alongside one of skiing’s most revered names. With one more victory he will become the first man to win three golds at a world championships since Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy captured four in 1968.”I’d love to have as many medals as events I’m skiing in,” Miller said. “I know myself. When it comes to the big day I don’t mess it up. If I do mess it up, it’s because I was going for it.”Miller won the super giant slalom to open the worlds – skiing’s biggest event apart from the Olympics – to jolt the powerful Austrians. He also took the downhill, the glamour event in which he and teammate Daron Rahlves finished 1-2.
And even when things go dreadfully wrong for Miller – as when he lost a ski in the combined race – he turns the mishap into high comedy. After losing a ski just 15 seconds into the downhill leg, Miller was finished. But that didn’t stop him. He went most of the way down the slope on one ski and then fell on his rump. The next day, European papers ran sequential photo spreads of his rollicking stunt.”This is great for the sport,” said Ken Read, a former Canadian downhill star and now head of his country’s ski federation. “Bode is exciting, dominant, good looking. He’s the best skier in the world, and for all of us on that side of the ocean it’s nice to see.”In Thursday’s giant slalom, Miller was the defending champion. Things went wrong again. He lost control on the first run and slammed into an advertising banner, kicking up a spray of snow. He needed two stitches in his chin, but he’ll be ready to go in Saturday’s slalom. He’ll also have a chance for gold in the new team event that concludes the championships Sunday.Miller clearly skis to his own beat. He is considering quitting the U.S. ski team after the Olympics to start his own squad or establish a rival circuit, according to a weekly diary he publishes in several newspapers around the world.He thinks that given all the money on the circuit a lot of skiers on the team are not paid enough and don’t have a chance to cut loose.
“They’re expected to abide by all kinds of rules and not have fun because of the way the schedule is drawn,” he wrote. “With my team, everyone would have a chance to have some down time and party.”Miller entered the worlds as the leader in the overall World Cup standings and is trying to become the first American since Phil Mahre in 1983 to win the overall title. His performance at the worlds only burnished his image.Miller also is attempting to become the first skier to win a world title in each of skiing’s five disciplines. He won combined and giant slalom gold medals two years ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland, to go with his super-G and downhill titles in Bormio.Phil McNichol, coach of the U.S. team, lauds Miller’s mental approach to skiing.”If he has a bad run he finds the good in it,” he said. “If he has a good run he finds the bad. Any sport psychologist would try very hard to instill this in his athletes.”
Fans felt a mix of horror and amusement upon learning Miller lost his gold medal for the combined from the 2003 worlds after using it to hold up the toilet seat at his apartment in Austria.Hours after winning the super-G medal in Bormio, he lost that one, too. The medal was in the pocket of his jacket, which apparently was taken while he was celebrating his victory at USA House, where American skiers go for recreation and publicity events. The medal was returned to the bar staff there. His jacket, however, is still missing.During the worlds, the Super Bowl was played an ocean away – no small matter for Miller, a New Englander clearly in the Patriots’ camp. The game didn’t start until after midnight, but Miller had his priorities. After all, at one point he considered flying to the game in Jacksonville, Fla. He settled for a front-row seat before a big screen at the U.S. quarters, a red baseball cap perched on his head and a beer in hand.”Yeah, I was there until the end, and then a little more,” Miller said. “I was out pretty late.”Miller likened his ability to perform under pressure to that of Tom Brady, the quarterback who led the Patriots to their third Super Bowl title in four years.”You can see that he has good focus, good intensity, he’s good at executing and he’s one of the guys you’d like to take the pressure,” Miller said. “He wants the responsibility of deciding whether his team wins or loses, but at the end of the day he’s really doing it for himself, too. He’s trying to lead his team.”Vail, Colorado