A few sobering thoughts on free-spirited Miller
At any black-tie event, you'll find that one guy who would never dream of having a well-timed belch squelched by a cummerbund. Already leading the early...
Seattle Times staff columnist
At any black-tie event, you'll find that one guy who would never dream of having a well-timed belch squelched by a cummerbund.
Already leading the early race for chief gas-letting honors at the 2006 Winter Olympics is one Bode Miller.
Miller, for the uninitiated, is the reigning World Cup overall ski champion — the first American to do that since Yakima's Phil Mahre in 1983. He also is — and we're speculating here — likely the only American winner of that trophy to have skied at least one race along the way drunk as a skunk.
The latter revelation came Sunday, at the end of a "60 Minutes" piece that probably served as mainstream America's first serious look at the iconoclastic New Hampshire ski star. Miller, giving an entirely new meaning to foggy goggles, fessed up to reporter Bob Simon that he'd started at least one slalom race last season not just hung over, but still inebriated from partying through the night before.
That little brow-raiser came at the end of a lengthy piece shot mostly in and around the New Hampshire mountaintop homestead where Miller was reared, literally and figuratively off the grid, by a couple free-spirited, hippie parents. But the confession, followed up by the predictable, on-camera grimaces of U.S. ski team coaches, was by no means trivial: Its placement at the end of the piece made it clear the producers felt it was highly symbolic of Miller's free-spirited approach to ski racing and life in general.
In fact, it is exactly that. And his follow-up comment — Miller, offered the chance, wouldn't say he'd never do it again — was hardly a surprise to anyone who has seen how the man seems obsessed with staying psychologically outside the box his coaches, sponsors, teammates and even country try to squeeze him into.
Miller, 28, is a walking contradiction: You can see and feel a lot of that off-the-grid, one-with-nature sensibility oozing out of his pores. The problem is that it then is absorbed by headwear and clothing covered with brand names and logos that have made Miller a multi-millionaire — something he says he's uncomfortable with, yet clearly not so much that he's giving it all to a favorite charity.
It almost makes you feel for the guy. It's hard to keep telling yourself you're not a sellout when you have to make the point through press managers paid by your financial consultant. (Donations to the Get Bode A Shrink Fund may be sent to the U.S. Skiing, general delivery, Park City, Utah.)
Not to make light of a serious matter, which this clearly is. Just ask Bill Marolt, the head of U.S. Skiing, who put out a rare statement Monday expressing much verbal wincing at Miller's ill-timed booze talk, which he called "unacceptable" and "dangerously inappropriate." Marolt said he'll meet with Miller personally this week to — do what, exactly? Snatch his motor home keys? Threaten to take away his Spyder-boy suit? (Note to Marolt: Get a call in to Bode's press liaison at least two months early; he might be able to fit you in between his Nike and noodle endorsements.)
Likewise, Gian Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation, told the Associated Press that he "feels sorry" for Miller, adding: "There is no minimal IQ limit within alpine skiing."
We can happily vouch for that last point, and, speaking for legions of fans of dumb-and-fast North American downhill racers, say thank God for it. But in our view, two major pieces of perspective are missing from the Miller image projected by CBS:
• Miller's confession to skiing drunk was highly uncouth, and it makes you want to slap the guy upside the head. He clearly either fails to grasp, or just doesn't care, that like it or not, he's a role model. On the other hand, it truly was Bode being Bode. He's always been the Larry David of skiing: Honest to an excruciating, self-destructive fault.
And this was honest. The truth is that a lot of guys likely would be left at the top of the mountain if the World Cup starting gate at Bormio had a Breathalyzer ignition lock. For better or worse, sudsing and skiing right through the resulting fog is part of the very lore and legend of European mountain sports. If the Euros who run the international ski federation want to change that — and there has been no indication, whatsoever — they've got a lot of work ahead of them.
• If you really believe, as CBS seemed to, that Miller "doesn't care about winning," either on the World Cup or at the Olympics, we've got a used floating bridge to sell you. You don't train like an animal, obsess over details, and cunningly Bogart all the latest and best skis and ski tuners from Austria just to get an extra buzz from carving a perfect turn. Guys who live to ski wind up as fry cooks at Telluride. Guys who live to win wind up on the World Cup tour.
They learn fast that winning means wanting it badly enough to put life and limb on the line, day in and day out.
You would think that even Bode Miller would find that a sobering thought.
Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Ron Judd
Ron Judd's "Trail Mix" column focuses on the Northwest great outdoors -- with just the right amount of real life thrown in for good measure.
email@example.com | 206-464-8280
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