Turin-ing back the clock: Can Bode Miller win five medals?

Bode Miller has won three medals in three races at these Winter Olympics. With two races left, will he feel any pressure – as he did in Turin – to win five?

By , Staff Writer

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    American skier Bode Miller shows the gold medal he won in the super combined event in Whistler, British Columbia, Sunday.
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Bode Miller’s new Olympic attitude will now face its sternest test yet: his own success.

Even up to the point of Sunday’s super combined, Miller was skiing in an atmosphere of suspended disbelief: Could this really be the same Bode Miller who blew up in Turin? Surely, he would fly off into the slopeside Douglas firs on the next run.

Now, after Miller won his first-ever Olympic gold, his third consecutive medal of these Games, and the fifth Olympic medal of his career Sunday, the conclusion is inescapable: He is really, really good.

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But doesn't that bring us right back to where this all started? Miller has won three medals in three races. There are two races left – the giant slalom (Tuesday) and the slalom (Saturday) – and he has already won an Olympic medal in one of them (giant slalom, 2002).

So ... does this sound familiar: Can Miller win five Olympic medals?

The answer, incredibly enough, is yes.

Can he do it, or will he do it?

Miller is the only skier in history to win at least five World Cup races in all five disciplines – downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, and the combined. He is one of the world’s best all-around skiers of the past 30 years.

But the fact that he can do it is vastly different from the expectation that he will do it. Just because the US can beat Canada in hockey doesn't mean it will. Wait. Never mind. The point is that it was such unrealistic expectations that made Miller not want to go to Turin at all.

The fact is, Miller wants to ski the way he wants to ski, which can be summed up in the word "hellbent." Sometimes, it doesn't go so well, especially when his heart is not in it (see, Turin). Sometimes, he does OK (see, Vancouver).

But part of the reason that has worked out for him here is that he's come in with no expectations.

Perhaps the most telling measure of his transformation both on and off the course is that, in many ways, he – not Lindsey Vonn – has become the great American success story of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

If you'd told that to NBC before the Olympics began, they would have floated you off on your own ice floe with mukluks and multimillion-dollar severance package.

Even now, Miller isn't likely to be pressing his face to the window of the "Today Show" studio, begging to tell the story of how The Grinch Who Stole Turin has seen the error of his ways. He told a Canadian television crew Sunday that there are still some things he doesn’t like about the Olympics. He didn't elaborate.

“The three medals are a distraction,” he added later.

Here come the distractions

So far, he has been able to generally steer clear of those distractions. But they might be just beginning if VONNcouver becomes the Millerympics.

In truth, Miller hasn’t been an elite skier in the slower, technical events – slalom and giant slalom – for three to four years. His World Cup wins in those races generally came earlier in his career.

Since Turin, he has had far more success in the speed events – the downhill and super-G – which have now concluded at the Vancouver Games.

But his slalom run in the combined is a reminder that he still can have flashes of brilliance in any discipline.

On a difficult course set specifically for the slalom specialists in the field, Miller posted the third-fastest time (behind two other Americans, incidentally: Ted Ligety and Will Brandenburg).

It gave the five-medal debate a stronger scent of legitimacy.

Not that Miller is likely to care. “I was proud of my race [Sunday] right when I came across the finish line, not even knowing I had a medal,” he said.

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