Which Bode Miller Will We See at 2014 Sochi Olympics?

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Which Bode Miller Will We See at 2014 Sochi Olympics?
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There's never ever a chance to ignore Bode Miller. He has won more Olympic alpine ski medals—five—than any American man in history and there may not have been a more exciting moment than seeing Miller crouch into a coil and throw himself into the downhill in Vancouver four years ago.

He won a bronze and celebrated as if it had been a gold.

It's always a question for the viewer. Close your eyes until you know he's reached the bottom safely or keep them open and see him bounce over moguls, cut the corners as close as an F-1 driver, a man who seems to not care whether he finishes with all his limbs attached or not.

Miller, 36, will likely ski his last Olympics downhill on Sunday.

 

During his career, Miller has almost always made us notice him. His five medals are a gold, three silvers and a bronze.

He first earned major attention in the U.S. by winning two silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

His theme became known worldwide then: "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun." His goal was never to win, he said; it was to have fun. He would like to ski as fast "as the universe allows."

If there is a picture next to the word "reckless" in the dictionary, it is of Miller.

He drew a different kind of attention at the 2006 Games in Turin, where he was more often found having a very good time in local drinking establishments.

But his universe then wouldn't let him ski quite so fast. He told an Italian newspaper that, "Fame is poison and I lived better when I was a nobody."

One of the defining images of those Games was Miller quitting the Super-G and skiing off the course. He finished fifth in the downhill when he was a heavy favorite, and after that race, word filtered out that he had been up past midnight drinking and partying. His final indignity in Torino was being disqualified from the combined.  

On television, Miller seemed to just shrug away the embarrassments, and officials from the U.S. spent more time making excuses for him than talking about the rest of the team. 

Miller acted as if he didn't care. "It's other people who want me to win medals," he told reporters when finally corralled.

"I could give up tomorrow and not have the slightest regret. I could go away from this (ski) world for a year and maybe then I'd start over and feel like I had to prove myself again."

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

It was not an attitude that endeared him to the American public, who will mostly root for any countryman. It was written that Miller was acting worse than a spoiled child and he left the impression that there wasn't much he cared about, especially a sport that had made him rich and famous.

Certainly Miller is not the only athlete who partied too too much or didn't behave the way we want our athletes to.

Record-setting swimmer Michael Phelps famously was caught smoking what appeared to be an illegal cigarette at a party and was a proud escort of a Las Vegas dance girl.

But once he put on his swimming goggles, Phelps obviously always tried his best and was always in his top swimming form.

Miller took no blame for his behavior.

"Sport was born clean," he said in Italy. "It would remain so if it was just about competing for the fun of it. But the media and the public corrupt it because of the pressure they create."

Miller didn't finish that statement by mentioning that he became a millionaire off the sport because of those same media that wrote about his every performance and those fans that crammed courses when he was in the field.

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There was one positive Miller found in not winning anything in Turin. "At least I don't have to go all the way down the hill for the medal ceremonies," he said.

As if to prove his point, when fewer cameras were trained on him and not many in his home country few paid attention to the sport, Miller won four races in 2007 and finished second in the overall season championship in 2008 back in Italy, Bormio.

Only bad weather that cancelled the downhill kept him from having a chance at winning the overall title. And in 2008, Miller and Lindsey Vonn each won the overall World Cup title, the first time two U.S. competitors swept the titles in 25 years.

There was a time after the 2010 Olympics, where he won a bronze in the downhill, when the time between gold and bronze was the slimmest in Olympic downhill history, when Miller hinted he might retire. But he didn't.

"Maybe others want me to," Miller said at a race in Colorado, "but I'll make the decision."

He earned his 33rd World Cup win with a downhill win in Beaver Creek where he won over the American crowd that went crazy ringing cowbells and chanting "Bode, Bode."

Andrew P. Scott-USA TODAY Sports

Miller had knee surgery in 2012 and skipped the 2013 season so he could be ready for these Olympics, he said.

He sounded like a very grown-up Miller, and now he'll get his chance, one more time, in front of the world, to hurl himself down a mountain and act as if he doesn't care, win or lose.

After Thursday's training run in Sochi, Miller told reporters in Russia that he feels younger competitors have a mental edge on him because, "Let's face it, getting psyched for an Olympic race at age 36, for the fifth time, it's not as easy as it used to be."

Is Miller playing possum or is he going to give us something special? It could be either. That's always been his way.

But a man who skips a season to prepare for the Olympics? He wants a medal. He's an adult now.

 

Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered seven Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.

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