Archive for Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympics Blog, Day 3: Reinventing Bode Miller

February 15, 2010

It’s tough to root for a guy who takes his talent for granted.

That was the problem with Bode Miller four years ago at Torino.

Perhaps he bought too much into the hype that he earned by winning a pair of silver medals at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Maybe he spent too much time listening to the people who told him he was great instead of simply going out and being great. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

It’s fun to be a rock star, and Miller was in many ways the Steven Tyler of the skiing world heading into Torino. The slopes were his stage, all eyes were on him and he seemingly always found ways to deliver. Then came the after-party, and Miller rocked it even harder.

Really, his collapse at Torino was no surprise. The hype machine ran into a wall he built for himself. He conveyed an apathetic attitude, and he made more headlines for comments about skiing drunk than about actually skiing well.

I didn’t want to root for Miller today for that very reason. Talented people come up short all the time; there’s nothing wrong with that. But I hate to see people with a gift waste it because of lazy behavior. Fortunately, Miller had the USA logo on his shoulder, and I’ll always root for that.

It was interesting, though, to hear the talk about Miller leading up to his race, as well as in the minutes that followed it. We don’t get many headlines about skiing when it’s not an Olympic year, so the fact that Miller matured a bit during the last four years probably escaped a lot of people — I know I missed it — until today. TV broadcasters are great at speaking in dramatic tones to generate sympathy, so maybe I’m just a sucker on this story, but it sounded like Miller was a bit embarrassed by what happened in 2006. It sounded like he realized he’d let down himself and the Team USA fan base.

His preparation leading up to Vancouver was different; more focused; more committed. He wanted to have a great run down the mountain and, if possible, bring home a third career medal. He had a remarkable run down the slippery slope, not looking too uncertain despite the fact that numerous practice runs had been canceled during the past week. He flew over the final jump and blazed across the finish line, temporarily taking first place. Ultimately he finished third, but he spoke with grace afterward. He was proud of the way he skied, and he was proud to represent his country and he was humbled to take home the bronze.

In the end, Miller just may have repaired his image. I’m certain he won back a few fans.

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