WHISTLER CREEKSIDE, B.C. — It’s a question that has been posed to Bode Miller many times over the past week: Are you getting revenge?
Sunday Miller asked a question back: How do I get revenge? On myself, maybe?
Miller, who came home from the Turin Games four years ago empty-handed and fighting mad at the media, added to his legend on Sunday, winning his first gold medal with a stirring victory in the men’s super combined. The win increases his medal haul to five — including 3-for-3 in the 2010 Games with two events to go — and cements his legacy as the greatest downhill skier in U.S. history.
From the fans reaction of cheering and chanting following his final run to the gushing by his teammates and rivals afterwards, his victory Sunday seemed to be a coronation for the 32-year-old Miller.
“Bode has now done everything in skiing: He’s won World Cups, he’s won World Cup titles, he’s won medals in every color and now he’s got the gold,” U.S. teammate Will Brandenburg said. “He’s one of the best skiers of all time now and no one can discredit that.”
But four years ago all of this was a distant dream. Miller seriously contemplated retirement after the 2006 Winter Games, where his results were below expectations. He talked about not caring about medals and was lambasted by the media for not seeming to care enough. He talked about partying late into the night and thinking more about his next drink than his next race.
During the 2006 Games I remember tuning into a sports radio show and listening to a writer discuss how Miller’s carefree attitude was really a cop-out, allowing him to shrug off poor performances and not risk being disappointed.
Miller seemed to tackle those assumptions head on Sunday.
“The emotional stress of being in the Olympics is a lot less then if you race in the Olympics and don’t commit yourself to it,” Miller said. “You just sort of treat it like another race and don’t let yourself really care about it. Caring about it really is a decision.”
Nobody seemed to care more than Miller this time around. Needing a flawless slalom run after his downhill run left him .76 off the lead and in seventh place, Miller had little left in the tank. “In between runs I was beat up. I was hurting and tired. I was exhausted and hot and hungry.”
But Miller, the same guy who spurned being the fan favorite four years ago, completely embraced the cheering throngs Sunday.
“It feels really cool to not have really anything left in your gas tank and to simply function off the inspiration of the crowd and the Olympics,” Miller said “Usually you don’t get away with that.”
Miller freely admits he’s not the same skier he once was — “My first two races felt like 40” — which makes what he’s doing that much more impressive.
Just don’t expect him to start counting his medals and hoarding the limelight. In one way Miller is the same as he was back in Turin.
“It’s hard to describe in a way that makes sense, but the actual gold medal doesn’t mean that much,” Miller said. “If I’d won it in a way that I wasn’t proud of today, I probably would have resented the medal. The skiing can go either way. You ski the way I did today and you can be fifth place. For me my proud moment doesn’t hinge on (the medals) but the skiing.”
I guess it just sounds so much better after he wins than when he loses.
When Aksel Lund Svindal’s slalom run ended and Miller was the super combined champ, the New Hampshire native gave a brief interview before the flower ceremony. After the final question, someone asked him if he had anything he wanted to say to his young daughter, Dacey. “Papa loves you,” Miller said into the microphone as he was dragged away by a teammate for the beginning of what was sure to be a huge celebration.
Forget revenge. Sunday it was a transformation for Miller, from the petulant kid to the proud papa.
Herald writer Aaron Swaney is in Vancouver covering the Winter Games.