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Medals in pocket, Miller still pushing

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Finally, the Bode Miller of old!

Pushing it too fast from the moment he left the opening gate. Almost crashing twice before finally hanging it up.

Then skiing away without so much as a wave to the crowd, perhaps in search of a cold one.

Had he done it last week in his first race in the mountains outside Vancouver, we would have written him off as a party animal who doesn't care about winning one for the ol' red, white and blue.

Now about the worst thing that can be said about him is that maybe he isn't the greatest skier ever, after all.

A pocketful of Olympic medals can sure change how we look at a guy. Miller may not care a lot about them, but we sure do.

"I don't really expect medals," Miller told The Associated Press after the race, trying to explain for the hundredth time why he is so ambivalent about the baubles that make other athletes so happy. "I like them. They're fine. But I expect to rise to the occasion."

He didn't Tuesday at Whistler Mountain, but he didn't really have to. Any pressure Miller felt going into these Olympics — assuming, that is, that he ever felt any — dissipated quickly when he won a medal of each color in his first three races.

That gave him five medals in three Olympics, the most for any U.S. Alpine skier. That at least put him in the conversation when the subject is the greatest skiers ever.

And that stopped all the talk of redemption for the disaster that for Miller was Turin.

Or was that revenge?

"I got asked that — if I took revenge," Miller said the other day. "I was like, 'I don't know who you get revenge on. Myself, maybe?'"

If so, consider it done. Unlike the constant analysis of his many faults four years ago — hanging out in bars until the wee hours of morning seemed to be the biggest — Miller's failure to make it down the mountain in the giant slalom was forgotten almost as quickly as he disappeared after hooking a glove on a gate in the second half of the course.

Sure, it could have been a historic day because no man has ever collected four Alpine medals at a single Olympics. But a fourth straight medal was always a long shot because Miller's take-no-prisoners style is so ill-suited to the giant slalom that he has yet to finish a run this season.

"I'm taking more risk than everyone else. That's partly why I'm able to get medals," Miller said. "It looks easy when you make it. When you crash like today, it's like 'oh, huh?"

Indeed, Miller could have backed off the gas, made it down the hill, and said it wasn't his day. The course wasn't that difficult, as evidenced by the fact 89 of the 103 skiers made it to the finish line upright in the first run, including a 51-year-old representing Mexico and a skier from India who was 28 seconds slower than the leaders.

But that's not how Miller races. That's not who he is.

For a while, he wasn't even going to come to these Olympics because skiing just wasn't that much fun anymore. Now that he's here, he's the unlikely star of the games.

Making it even better is that he's doing it in what might be his last Olympics because racing down snow-covered mountains is generally a sport for young men.

Miller is 32 now and would be 36 if he went for a fifth Olympics four years from now in Sochi. There are older skiers — Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein at 38 just wrapped up his sixth Olympics — but there will come a time when his body will no longer do the things he demands of it in his hell-bent runs down the hill.

"To be very frank, we haven't discussed it," Miller's agent, Lowell Taub, said. "I think next season is more the discussion, rather than four seasons away. Bode's enjoying the moment."

Taub made the comment Tuesday as his Blackberry buzzed with new offers and opportunities for Miller, whose brash personality and sport have always been more marketable in Europe than at home in the United States. While Miller has a love-hate relationship with the Olympics and has often condemned the commercialism of the games, he stands to make even more millions off his performance here.

If that's a contradiction, so be it. Even in a sport that celebrates individualism, Miller skis to a different drummer.

Now he's got one more race to make Olympic history, two more runs to establish a mark of greatness he insists he doesn't care about. The slalom on Saturday isn't his specialty, but if he can finish it standing up he's got a chance.

Perhaps more important to Miller, though, is that he's done it all his way, and hasn't had to apologize for anything. He remained stubbornly true to himself even while under fire for his late night antics in Turin, and he's a winner here because he's refused to compromise his style.

Win or lose, his remarkable Olympics will soon be over. If he wants, he can begin partying like it's 2006 all over again.

No one will begrudge him this time.

___

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

(This version CORRECTS Corrects in 20th graf that Sochi would be Miller's 5th Olympics, not his 4th; adds Marco Buechel at 38 in 6th Olympics)