Bode Miller groaned in agony last Saturday afternoon as he folded his body into a gray minivan that would ferry him from the gold medalist's press conference at the Alpine World Ski Championships in Bormio, Italy, to mandatory drug testing at a small hospital nearby. He had diligently hydrated himself since early morning to facilitate swift production of a postrace urine sample (required of medalists), and now, nearly two hours after having won the Super G, he was suffering and squirming. "Seriously, dude," Miller said urgently to the driver. "I'm going to pee all over your car."
While holding his bladder was unpleasant, it wasn't as painful as the assortment of injuries that had struck Miller in the previous two weeks of his long and ambitious World Cup season. Miller expects to ski in each of the 35 races on the circuit (not including these world championships, which are a separate competition) in all five disciplines in pursuit of the overall points title, which no American has won in 22 years. He is the only skier who has competed in all 25 races to date, and--with six weeks left in the season--he leads the standings with 1,093 points, 95 more than Benni Raich of Austria. But Miller arrived in Bormio in a slump of sorts; he scored just two top three finishes in January after reaching the podium eight times between late October and the end of December.
"Mentally, I feel pretty good," the 27-year-old Miller said after producing the required urine and blood samples without incident on Saturday. "Physically, I'm holding up not as well as I would have liked." He was sitting in the catacombs of an ancient Bormio home, an underground hideaway he used for dressing into his racing gear before his Super G win, blissfully hidden from the horde of fans that chase him across Europe. (He had an escort of four police officers when leaving the race stadium on Saturday.)
"I've had a bunch of little injuries," Miller said. "My right arm is all bruised from when I hit it on the ice during downhill training in Kitzb√ºhel [Austria, on Jan. 20]; then I hurt something in my rib cage pulling out a recovery in slalom [also at Kitzb√ºhel, on Jan. 23]; and the patella tendinitis in my left knee flared up the other day. I've had that since I was 18, but it had been better until I really cranked on the knee in slalom training. I had been in physically awesome shape, but then all this stuff hit in, like, five days."
The sudden accumulation of injuries underscores the weight of Miller's nearly five-month chase. His victory in Saturday's race equally underscores his ability to deliver his best work under the greatest pressure. "The worlds are coming at a very good time for Bode," said U.S. Alpine director Jesse Hunt before the competition began. "He struggled in January, because January is a big slalom month and he hasn't gotten his rhythm going in slalom. But Bode loves big events. He'll be motivated. Watch."
Miller won the Super G gold by .14 of a second over Austrian Michael Walchhofer on a thinker's course that left veteran stars Hermann Maier of Austria and Daron Rahlves of the U.S. flogging themselves for skiing tentatively. Miller erred on a key jump early in the run but recovered aggressively. "It's magic," said former French downhiller Luc Alphand. "A mistake is lost time, and then you lose more time trying to catch up. But Bode, he gains time afterward."
Said Miller, "My history is that I do well in big races, and I can definitely put it on the line. [In the Super G] I put down a good effort, but I don't think I skied all that well, which is a conflict. But at this point, I can process that." Translation: He'll keep the medal.
Miller has four events left in Bormio before the championships end on Feb. 13, and he will be a solid medal favorite in three of them. He could threaten Lasse Kjus's towering record of five medals in a single worlds, which the Norwegian great set in 1999.
Miller was looking to have some fun, too. A lifelong New England Patriots fan, he toyed with the idea of jetting out of Italy after the downhill on Feb. 5 to attend the Super Bowl and then returning for the giant slalom three days after the game. Such a move would have amped-up the discussion on the circuit of Miller's nightlife, an always-simmering topic.
"I'm probably not going to go," Miller said on Saturday. "I can't stir the pot that much. If I didn't win all the races afterward, people would be pointing to the trip. In reality, we have a few days off [in the worlds schedule], and if I stay here, I'll go out and party and I'll be tired. If I fly back for the game, I'll party and I'll be tired, but [I'll have seen] the Super Bowl. But sometimes you have to consider the potential repercussions."
On Top of the Worlds
Bode Miller's win in last Saturday's Super G was his fourth career world championship victory, equaling the record for the most by a U.S. skier, held by Tamara McKinney (below). Here are the Americans who have earned the most world championship medals (does not include Olympics, which before 1984 were counted as world championships).
Tamara McKinney (1985-89) ..... 4
Bode Miller (2003-05) ..... 4
Christin Cooper (1982) ..... 3
Picabo Street (1993-96) ..... 3