WHISTLER, British Columbia — If Saturday’s slalom indeed was the final Olympic race of Bode Miller’s career — and with Miller, you can never be certain what to expect — it sure didn’t last long.
The raw numbers say it all: 8 seconds and, in typical Miller fashion, zero regrets.
“You bring the noise,” he said, “and hopefully it works.”
That risk-at-all-costs style brought the 32-year-old from Franconia, N.H., three medals in the first three events of the Vancouver Games, making many forget, if not forgive, his 2006 Olympic flop. It also left Miller standing by the side of the course, done for the day, in the giant slalom and slalom, when he had a chance to become the first man to win four Alpine medals at an Olympics.
Still, Miller exits satisfied.
“To come into the games, and perform the way I did,” he said, “and to feel the kind of enjoyment from skiing and from expressing myself on my skis the way I did, is phenomenal.”
It probably didn’t help that Miller hadn’t trained much since the previous men’s race Tuesday, including staying off the slopes entirely Friday. Plus, a mix of falling snow and thick fog made it tough see, let alone ski, and only 54 of 102 racers navigated the course successfully in the first of Saturday’s two runs. Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, who went right before Miller and made it only midway down, called the conditions “kind of nasty.”
Ligety won the giant slalom at Turin but didn’t manage to get in on the celebrating this time, when the U.S. led the way with eight Alpine medals. Italy’s Giuliano Razzoli closed the competition by winning the slalom with a total time of 1 minute, 39.32 seconds. Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic got the silver, and Sweden’s Andre Myhrer the bronze.
Miller consistently insists medals mean nothing to him if they’re not earned with dynamic skiing. When he heads to California now to take a break, he can let his 2-year-old daughter play with three freshly minted prizes: the super-combined gold, super-G silver and downhill bronze.
Add those to two silvers at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, and the five career Alpine medals tie him for the second-most by any man in Olympic history.
“I mean, it’s unique and incredible. The race the other day was just awesome, the super-combined. It was really one of those things that I’ll remember — that feeling and my place in the whole picture — really clearly, I think, for a long time,” he said. “I used to race very similar to that, with that kind of heart and intensity, all the time, when I was younger.”
He’ll be 36 when the next Olympics roll around, and while it seems unlikely Miller would compete, he wouldn’t shut the door on that possibility.
“There’s a lot of priorities that sort of need to fit into place if that was to try to come about,” Miller said. “I don’t know. You never know.”
Not with him, that’s for sure.
He wouldn’t commit to being back next season on the World Cup circuit, where he’s won two overall titles and a U.S.-record 32 races, saying, “I have no idea.”
Nor would he discuss how it was, exactly, that he came to the decision not to retire last year and return to the U.S. Ski Team after training and racing on his own for two seasons.
For what it’s worth, Miller’s agent said last week the topic of next season had been discussed but not decided. Ligety expects Miller to stick around. So does Mike Kenney, Miller’s uncle and a member of the U.S. Ski Team staff. And U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick, whose dialogue with Miller played a key role in the return to the team.
When they spoke before the season, Rearick told Miller he would be welcomed back if he gave “100 percent effort, every day” and helped “keep a tight family that supports and challenges each other.”
And Miller? What was he looking for?
“He wanted to be pushed and challenged,” Rearick said. “He wanted a quality program. One of the things he really wanted from us was — the only thing — was: ‘Who’s going to challenge me? Who’s going to hold me accountable to working hard?’ And the coaching staff did that.”
Miller has acknowledged tuning out at the Turin Olympics, when he only finished two of five races, with a best result of fifth place. He partied hard, proudly so, and failed to live up to the expectations thrust on him by the media, by sponsors, by fans.
Yet the lows of that experience allowed him to build back up to the highs of what he described as an “awesome, awesome two weeks” at Whistler.
Asked whether he harbors any what-if thoughts about four years ago, Miller said: “The skiing was very similar. What was different was the feelings, the commitment and all that stuff. That was very circumstantial. I wouldn’t have been able to do this — this time here — without Torino before.”
That he would fail to finish Saturday shouldn’t come as a shock: Miller did not complete two of four World Cup slaloms this season and last won a two-leg slalom on the circuit in 2004. He did look superb last weekend, however, when he stormed through the slalom leg of the super-combined en route to his first Olympic gold medal.
“I wanted to do everything I could,” he said. “I wanted to go out and ski a hard, 100 percent slalom and see where I stacked up.”
Miller skied about half the length of a football field before things went awry. He paused, hand on hip, and glared at the gate he hooked.
“It was over before I even had much chance to know what my skis were doing on that snow,” Miller said. “I wasn’t pivoting, I wasn’t sliding the ski at all. That’s a little bit indicative of my lack of time on slalom skiing, because I might have known that my skis would do that if I’d had more training.”
It wasn’t until 10 minutes after Miller’s Olympics ended that he finally made his way down to the finish area, after stopping to chat with a U.S. conditioning coach alongside the course.
Perhaps he wanted one last, up-close look at an Olympic slope before calling it a career.
Perhaps he’ll be back.
With Miller, it’s anyone’s guess.