The Sochi Olympics did not start out well for Bode Miller. After failing to medal in either the men’s downhill or super combined, many had given up on him. Sunday, he proved everyone wrong again. Miller finished third in the Super-G event, taking home a bronze medal and breaking an Olympic record as the oldest Olympian to win an alpine ski event.
Bode Miller’s career has been highlighted by both epic victories and disastrous defeats. At 36, he has been a member of Team USA five times in his career. Miller failed to win a medal in his first Olympic appearance in 1998. Nagano was not the place for a 20 year old Miller to emerge as a star, but his dynamic runs and brash attitude earned him quite a bit of press nonetheless.
In 2002 Miller went to Salt Lake City with something to prove. Shrouded by controversy, Team USA needed a hero. Miller responded in style, placing second and winning the silver medal in both the giant slalom and combined events. Now thrust in to the spotlight, he responded by winning four golds and one silver at the World Championships in 2003 and 2005 combined.
As was his pattern, Miller again faltered at the 2006 winter games in Turin. After the huge amount of success he had in 2002, America wanted to use the fiery Miller as their poster boy for Team USA. The plan backfired. Miller failed to medal in any event. Worse still, he angered a lot of fans with his nonchalant attitude. Many believed he did not take the games seriously, and his poor performance only solidified that opinion.
Despite injuries and a lack of preparation, Miller pressed toward breaking an Olympic record in 2010 when he completed the alpine hat trick. Miller took gold in the super combined, silver in the super-G, and a bronze in downhill. With such a strong performance, and a complete change of attitude, Miller became almost a lock to make the 2014 Sochi team. Vancouver teammates acknowledged how different a competitor he was that year. He inspired them to greatness, and the Alpine ski team had one of the best Olympic performances in history.
Unfortunately for Miller, just one year before Sochi, tragedy struck him. His brother, Chelone, was a Sochi hopeful himself. At 29, he had a bright future in alpine skiing. When he died of an apparent seizure, Bode almost fell apart. Despite yet another injury and the hole left in his heart, Miller showed up to Sochi with high expectations.
After failing to place in either the downhill or the super combined, Miller seemed complacent. He blamed the weather, he blamed the snow, and he blamed everything but himself for his failures. Lost was the brash Miller fans had come to love. Some of the focus was taken away from him because the entire alpine team was underperforming, but many still looked at him to lead the way. Sunday, he did just that.
Though winning the bronze medal was not the best finish in his career, it was surely the most important. Not only did Miller break an Olympic record, but he broke the wall that had been surrounding him since his brother’s death. In tears, Bode remembered Chelone, dedicating his performance to the one that gave him inspiration. Miller never really cared about medals, or finishes. He just cared about the race. Today, standing on the podium, the medal finally mattered. Not for him, but for the one he lost.
By Chris Chisam