American Bode Miller wins gold in men's super combined event at Vancouver Olympics

Enjoy an up close and personal look at the action in Canada.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 22, 2010

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Before this past week, Bode Miller's reputation and legacy seemed to be all wrapped up in what was missing. Fairly or not, the wide-angle view of Miller was dominated by one 13-day span in 2006, a span in which Miller's talent dictated that he could win as many as five Olympic medals but his attitude yielded zero.

"I didn't really want to be there," Miller said, "for a number of reasons."

On Sunday afternoon, Miller delivered in a way he failed to back in 2006, winning the gold medal in the super combined event at the Vancouver Olympics. He did so by skiing in the kind of inspiring manner that he says he cares most about -- results be damned -- and thus added the first gold of his Olympic career to the silver he won last week in the super-G and the bronze he won four days earlier in the downhill.

Three races, three medals, one complete and thorough image overhaul. The Turin Olympics, during which Miller was physically in the Italian Alps and mentally seemed to be anyplace but, have been washed away in seven scintillating days. When these Games began, no U.S. skier had more than two medals -- in an entire career. Miller, who won a pair of silvers in 2002, now has five and, with two events to go, could take more, perhaps because the most talented skier in the world is finally skiing, as he said, "free."

"The level I skied at today is right at the very, very top," Miller said. "You can't get that just on call. It's not like you just turn a key and magically ski at your absolute best. But when you're at the Olympics, the energy and everything else, you can use that to bring your game up. . . . It feels absolutely amazing."

The easy assessment of why such a transformation could take place would be to say that Miller has learned from his mistakes, that he has grown up. Miller, 32, largely dismisses such a notion. "I think I've actually been pretty consistent, ever since I was little," he said in the days before the Games.

But there are stark contrasts between those dark days in Turin and now. Then, he flippantly said he was able to "party at an Olympic level" -- perhaps his signature quote from those disastrous Games. Now, he is the father of a 2-year-old daughter, and he rises early and has his coffee, as he did at 5:45 a.m. Sunday. Then, he stayed in his personal motor home in the parking lot of the U.S. Ski Team's quarters. Now, he shares a bathroom with teammate Ted Ligety -- "surprisingly clean," Ligety said -- in the team's condos.

Back then, too, he was at almost constant odds with the ski team's coaches and officials, with whom he parted ways in 2007. Now, after rejoining the team last fall, he is thriving within that structure.

"Bode's role is to challenge each other, push the limits of what we can do," U.S. men's coach Sasha Rearick said. "He helps inspire me."

In 2006, unable to summon such inspiration, his effort was hollow. "I had no intention of blowing it," Miller said Sunday. Yet that was how his results were labeled, a choke job by a prima donna who didn't care. He is so talented -- he is a two-time winner of the World Cup overall championship, perhaps skiing's most difficult title -- he was the obvious focus of the pre-Games coverage. He did not, he said, enjoy being the vehicle by which the International Olympic Committee promoted its product.

"The Olympics is definitely, in my mind, a two-sided coin," he said. "It has all the best things of sport. It has amazing energy, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration. It's what changes lives. In that sense, it's the pinnacle of what sports and camaraderie and all that stuff is.

"On the flip side of that is the opposite, and that's the corruption and the abuse and the money. I'm not pointing fingers, but that's what was bothering me, and being thrust in the middle of that, and being the poster boy for that, when it's the absolute thing I despise the most in the world was really draining on my inspiration, my level of passion. . . . I just had the plug pulled out on my most important fuel source, and it had been happening for a year, and it was just too much."

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