Love or hate him, Bode's back for another Olympics

Published February 03, 2010

| AP

Maybe it's better for Bode Miller this way. Maybe the bad boy of the Turin Olympics relishes being an afterthought this time around.

The emergence of U.S. skiing star Lindsey Vonn has allowed Miller to escape the spotlight heading into these Winter Games. No controversial interviews. No hype.

"I think I'll get some attention, but with Lindsey doing so well this year, I think I'll be more under the radar than I was in '06," Miller wrote in his online blog last week.

Referring to media backlash about his off-course antics four years ago, Miller continued: "That was a joke. They blew that completely out of proportion." And looking ahead to Vancouver, he said: "There's no way to know what it will be like until we get there. It won't be shocking either way, and I'm capable of dealing with it."

After debating all summer whether to even return to the Olympics, Miller is back. And love him or hate him, he's again a multi-medal threat. At 32, he's a father now and has rejoined the U.S. Ski Team after two seasons of training and racing on his own.

"I'm looking forward to the Olympics more this time around because I feel like all the pieces are fitting together better," he said in his blog. "I'm more physically fit, I feel better mentally, my equipment is good."

Actually, the most pressing issue for Miller now might be his fitness after skipping summer training and then injuring his ankle in a team volleyball game in December. Yes, volleyball.

"I would say Bode is not going to be 100 percent physically," U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick said. "He's made a good effort in the last couple weeks to get there, but I don't think he'll be at his best.

"The high-end tolerance, in order to do that type of work, your body has got to feel right. With the ankle the way it was, he wasn't able to do those types of sessions. He wasn't able to lift and do some of the high-end stuff. He's trying to get it in now, but it takes time for the body to adapt. It's not like you do a hard session one day, and the next day, you're fit."

At the 2006 Turin Games, Miller entered as a major focus of attention, as much for his attitude as his talent, after saying on CBS' "60 Minutes": "If you ever tried to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy."

He was coming off his first overall World Cup title and was tapped as a heavy favorite in multiple events — only to leave medal-less. After his final event, Miller told The Associated Press that at least he "got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."

"The Olympics has always been kind of a sore subject for him, and I don't quite know why. Especially since he had an amazing Olympics in Salt Lake," said John McBride, the former U.S. speed specialist whom Miller hired as his personal coach when he broke away from the national team. "He always felt like people had unrealistic expectations of him."

Miller won two silver medals at the 2002 Olympics but now has gone three consecutive major championships without a medal.

In his first season on his own, Miller won his second overall World Cup title. Then with McBride gone for 2008-09, and Miller's buddy and former teammate Forest Carey in charge, last season became the most difficult of Miller's career.

He failed to win a single race for the first time in nearly 10 years and skipped the final four events after again failing to medal at the world championships.

"It did surprise me that last year he was in the hunt to win the downhill title and he decided to skip the last races," McBride said. "That was unusual, because in my experience working with him, he always wanted to win a downhill title."

Over the summer, Miller pondered his future while spending time with his daughter, Dacey, who was born in February 2008.

When Miller visited with McBride in the fall, he had practically hung up his skis.

"If you had told me at the beginning of this fall that he was going to come back and race the Olympics, I would have been like, 'Rrright,'" McBride said.

Some time in September, though, Miller decided on a full-fledged return, rejoined the U.S. team and dedicated himself to racing.

"He kind of wanted to set everything free and see if he woke up one morning in September and the calling was there for him to go out and be a ski racer," said Miller's agent, Lowell Taub.

"Not because there was a train of momentum pushing him to do it or coaches or agents or sponsors or the media. He wanted to do it, because he wanted to do it," Taub said. "If he feels that he is skiing for the right reasons and the right motivation, he is far more successful than if he feels he is skiing for outside forces."

Miller won his first race in nearly two years at a super-combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last month. But a better gauge of his condition came in the grueling Lauberhorn downhill the following day, when Miller was on pace for the podium before his legs turned into jelly within sight of the finish line.

Miller simply was unable to apply the needed muscle pressure on the final turns of the classic course and skidded to a premature stop.

"Generally in years prior, he's been so strong there, even on the bottom — winning the bottom split — so that was pretty indicative to me that he wasn't in the kind of shape he's been in, in the past," said McBride, who has kept tabs on Miller this season in his new position on the Canadian staff.

"But he's not going to see a downhill that long for the rest of the year."

The downhill in Wengen lasts a seemingly eternal 2½ minutes, whereas the Olympic course in Whistler should run about 30 seconds shorter.

Two years ago, Miller flew to Whistler for the Olympic test events directly after the birth of his daughter in San Diego. He didn't finish the super-G and placed seventh in the giant slalom.

As for away from the snow, Rearick said there was no need to lecture Miller about how to behave in Whistler.

"We've talked about every single day giving the effort to achieve greatness, and that's what we're focused on — putting the effort in and the time and dedication to doing that," Rearick said. "We all know what it means to be a professional and what it takes to do that, so as long as we're on that same page, we're charging forward."

Part of Miller's strategy seems to be a ban on interviews, including rejecting a request for this story.

"His whole comeback and his whole approach has been focused on execution and the process of getting faster, getting fit and getting healthy," Rearick explained. "He'll talk to the media about his skiing and he's done a good job with that — at the events in the finish."

Miller could have plenty to talk about if he follows through on a plan that Rearick said includes all five races at the Olympics.

"Whether or not I ski all five events in Vancouver is going to be a matter of how my ankle feels and how well my body holds up," Miller said in his blog on universalsports.com. "I think the most important thing is that now I feel like I have the speed to be on the podium in all five events."

Perhaps. Still, it's hard to shake the sense that anything can happen with Miller, for better or for worse.

Listen, for example, to McBride speak about his former protege.

In one breath, the coach said: "He's so talented, and he's got so much speed. It's really just about putting a run together. I think he'll be a force at the Olympics."

A few moments later, though, McBride offered this tongue-in-cheek assessment: "Put it this way — I hope he's there, and if he's there, he'll be pushing hard. If for some reason he's not, it wouldn't be a shocker to me."

In other words: With Bode Miller, you just never know what you're going to get.

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

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