Four years ago, America was sure that it was being Punk'd.
Then came the Turin Olympics, and Bode Miller looked like a blooper reel.
What was this "World Cup," and how could anyone incapable of staying on two skis for the length of a run ever be crowned its champion?
Something smelled fishy. Either the Europeans has invented this World Cup thing, and "Bode Miller" was actually an accountant from Toledo named Steve, or someone had secretly given Miller a skill transplant before the Olympics began.
Now, at long last, Americans are seeing Bode Miller as originally advertised – with the most decorated American man in the history of alpine skiing bringing silverware to the Winter Olympic medal table Friday.
In 2002, when America knew "bode" only as a verb in Webster's English dictionary, he won two silvers, including one in one of the most memorable races in recent Olympic history. In the combined event, he fell on the downhill, recovered, and then beat the entire field by an outrageous 1.1 seconds on his second slalom run to take silver.
On that day, gold medalist Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who has won more Olympic medals than any other alpine skier in history, said: "I've never seen anybody ski as fast as he does."
Even when he won the World Cup overall title in 2005 – meaning he did better across all races than any other skier in the world that year – he was virtually unknown in America. On the World Cup tour in places like Kitzbühel, Austria, and Val d'Isère, France, the only expectations were those that he put on himself.
And that was how it had always been, from the time his mom dropped him off at Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire as a kid and said "go ski."
The Turin disaster
In Turin, however, he let America rearrange the furniture in his head.
"I’m the same person, but in '06 I didn’t feel very happy about where I was at," said Miller Friday.
He knew he could never win five medals. It had never been done before. But he felt captive to the narrative that emerged around him.
"I felt more and more trapped by what everyone was saying – I felt no ownership," he added.
After Turin, "Bode" became a verb with a different connotation: To implode spectacularly at an Olympic Games.
Here in Vancouver, Miller came in with no external expectations.
After Turin, of course, Americans were never likely to entrust their hopes to Miller, and his results this year had been mediocre after taking the summer off and contemplating retirement.
When he walked away from skiing, he walked away 100 percent, he said. In September, he had “zero likelihood of racing” – no skis, no coaches, no training, no technician.
But that has allowed him to hit the reset button – to come back on his own terms. He's won medals at this Olympics, he said, "because that’s what I decided I wanted to do.”
But he has still not won gold.
If he is to do that Sunday in the combined, he will have to beat Aksel Lund Svindal, who topped Miller in the super-G and the downhill (finishing second). In fact, Miller has been bested by a Norwegian in three of his four Olympic medals.
Sunday, perhaps he can take Svindal’s own advice.
He said: “What I told myself at the start [of the super-G] was, put a smile on your face – you already have a silver. Now try to get a gold.”
• Christa Case Bryant contributed to this report.
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