Bode Miller bronze: what a difference four years makes

For American Bode Miller, bronze in the men's downhill Monday was a sign of how much his attitude toward the Winter Olympics has changed since Turin.

Bode Miller smiles after winning bronze in the Winter Olympics men's downhill competition in Whistler, British Columbia, Monday. After a 'terrible' experience in Turin, he had once promised not to come to the Vancouver Games.

Monday morning, Bode Miller went out and did what he could not do in five tries four years ago: He won an Olympic medal – a bronze in the men’s downhill.

About an hour later, he did something even more surprising: He talked about how much the Winter Olympics meant to him.

This Olympics, “I wanted to let myself get involved and be emotional about it,” he said at the post-race press conference. “It’s different … when you feel the Olympics and get a little bit scared and let that move through your whole body.”

He should know. Determined to treat the Turin Olympics just like any other race, Miller succeeded mainly in alienating most of America: He didn’t win a single medal, and – perhaps worse – he didn’t seem to care.

But when he decided this offseason to keep skiing for at least one more year, his purpose was “to race in the right fashion,” he said Monday. And that included the Olympics.

“I wanted to race with inspiration,” he added.

Turin-ing the page

Four years ago, those words could have won him at least a measure of compassion from the American public, if not a medal. Monday, they did both.

By all accounts, Miller is having fun – that quality that Americans perhaps cherish most in their Olympic athletes. Even though he was scheduled to race Saturday morning, Miller walked in the opening ceremonies Friday. (The race was the men’s downhill, which was postponed to today because of the weather.)

“You have to accept that [the Olympics are] different,” Miller said Monday. There’s “more excitement, there’s more energy, and that can be a positive if you feed off it.”

Or it can be a negative.

In Turin, Miller was expected to be the American face of the Games. One year earlier, he had won his first World Cup overall title – alpine skiing’s highest achievement – raising hopes that he could win a medal in all five events.

What happened next became a lesson in how not to manage hyperinflated expectations. Miller pumped them higher, cashing in on numerous endorsement opportunities and fueling a media frenzy with his typically unvarnished comments.

Skiing drunk is not hard, he told “60 Minutes” with a characteristic flourish

The weight of expectation

In Turin, Miller crumbled, failing to finish three of his five events.

The results, though poor by his standard, were not shocking. Miller’s reputation, after all, was as a maverick who cared less about results than going as fast as his skis and the angle of an alpine piste would allow.

And more than that, it is no secret that huge expectations can bring huge burdens. In Monday’s downhill, for example, Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis – a strong favorite for a medal – finished 17th.

As one of the Canadian faces of Canada’s Games “you could feel the pressure on him,” said teammate Erik Guay after the race.

But Miller’s no-apologies attitude in Turin – carousing late into the night despite his failures on the slope – made things worse, pitting him against his own country, literally and symbolically.

By the 2007 season, he had broken away from the US Ski Team and had vowed not to ski in the Vancouver Olympics, citing his “terrible” experience in Turin.

That season he won his second World Cup overall title.

Bronze reward

But last season brought little success as injury and the logistics of managing his own career overwhelmed him. Miller quit the season early and contemplated retirement.

Instead, he announced this fall that he would be coming back to the US Ski Team – and to the Olympics.

His reward came Monday, when his bronze made him the most decorated American man in the history of Olympic alpine skiing: the bronze here and two silvers from Salt Lake.

More could come. Miller’s best event, the combined – a mix of one downhill and one slalom run – is Tuesday. Win or lose, though, one thing appears certain: Miller will enjoy himself.

And that, Miller said, “is a much nicer feeling for me than the way I was before.”


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