Bode Miller's Flying Circus

When the preordained star of the Games tried to fight the Olympic hype machine, he found himself on a very wild ride. SI was aboard
February 06, 2006

"This isgoing to be a tough thing for me to manage. My actions are not consistent. I'msuper-mellow and laid back, but I'm always thinking and running 100,000scenarios through my head. Sometimes I'm disciplined, but I like to be a totalslacker, too. I party hard, but I train hard. People are going to try to figureme out and figure out my motivations, and it's going to be a circus."

--Bode Miller,June 2005, anticipating the buildup to the Turin Winter Olympics

BODE MILLER andeight months of hype: There's a match made in hell. The 28-year-old Alpineskier is forever the petulant teenager, insisting on answering media querieswith sermons that are often delivered without regard to consequences. Fewathletes have been more ill-suited to the biennial role of Olympic icon. ¶ Hispublic image as a loose cannon was cast in January, when 60 Minutes broadcastan interview in which Miller said he skied "wasted" and Rolling Stonepublished a story in which Miller suggested that Barry Bonds and LanceArmstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs. (Armstrong has repeatedlydenied such allegations, and Bonds has denied knowingly using steroids.) Bothinterviews were conducted during a six-week media blitz in October and Novemberbut were held until the Games loomed close, giving the impression that Millerwas becoming increasingly reckless and disdainful as the Olympics drewnear.

In fact Millerhas been skiing faster after a long, mediocre season, and last week he left thespotlight to prepare his mind and his sore body for the Games, joining hisbrother, Chelone, who nearly died in an October motorcycle accident, for a golfvacation in Dubai.

SPORTSILLUSTRATED met up with Miller at various points on his eight-month ride,including one stop at his sister's home in New Hampshire in October. Afterhaving criticized the international antidoping movement in several interviewsthat month, incurring the wrath of international ski officials, Miller sat on acoach parrying attempts at spin control by his agent, Lowell Taub. SuddenlyMiller threw his hands toward the ceiling, laughed maniacally and shouted,"I want to make all drugs legal! I want to race wasted!"

It was hilarious,and clearly a joke--but you had to be there.

JUNE 8, 2005,FRANCONIA, N.H.

Miller lives in aquaint A-frame off Easton Valley Road, south of the village. Hand-letteredsigns nailed to trees alongside the dirt driveway read BEAT IT and SCRAM."That's our high-tech security system," says Cam Shaw-Doran, one ofMiller's two housemates. Inside the house are piles of dirty clothes, a massivestereo, a long row of empty tequila bottles. Outside are dirt bikes, mountainbikes, golf clubs and acres of woodlands and streams.

The 2004-05 WorldCup season ended in March, and Miller is home to rest. "I can go jump inthe river if I want to," he says. The house is across the street from theMiller family's Tamarack Tennis Camp, which is a mile below the no-plumbing,no-electricity home in which Bode was raised by his hippie parents, Jo andWoody. (Franconia friendships are Bode's deepest: On the World Cup circuitchildhood buddy Jake Sereno, 27, drives Miller's RV and cooks his meals, andcousin Chance Stith, 32, will be selling the skier's licensedmerchandise--mostly hats and T-shirts--at event sites.)

Miller's time inthe woods this spring has been minimal. He went to the world hockeychampionships in Austria with his girlfriend, Karen Sherris; jetted toLouisville for the Kentucky Derby, where trainer Bob Baffert (a ski buff whonamed his infant son Bode) let Miller help saddle starter Sort It Out; andchilled in Los Angeles. He has not trained seriously in 10 weeks. "You needto let your body go into full mellow mode to recover from the season,"Miller says.

He tells a storythat he will repeat at a 60 Minutes taping five months later and that willexplode in his face when the tape is aired. It takes place on the night ofMarch 12, 2005, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, after Miller clinched the WorldCup overall title. "It was the pinnacle of my career," he says. "Wewent out, a bunch of us from home, and got super, super s---faced. We stayedout late. I basically went from the bar to the [next day's] race. There was adelay, and I found a place and slept with my ski boots on." He doesn'tdescribe the funky place that exists somewhere between drunk and hung over, andhe doesn't apologize for being there on the morning of a meaningless slalom.(He finished a very respectable sixth.)

The Olympic Gamesare eight months away. "I'm going to race the World Cup," Miller says,"although I don't plan on skiing every race. [He ended the 2004-05 seasonwith a 114-race streak.] Everything will proceed as if it's a normal season,with the Olympics in February. And that would be great if it was just theOlympics--a pure sporting event. But that's an ideal, not reality."

JULY 5, NEW YORKCITY

Taub, a31-year-old Cornell graduate, is only one of Miller's agents. Vermont-based KenSowles negotiates Miller's ski industry contracts, including his currentseven-figure, two-year deal with Atomic. In addition Miller has two financialplanners and an accountant who also handles his estate planning. Taub (thinkAri Gold from HBO's Entourage, minus hugging it out) is part personal assistantand part sidekick, but mostly he negotiates the off-snow endorsements that pushMiller's total income deep into seven figures. The heavy hitters on Miller'sendorsement résumé are Barilla, the Italian pasta company, and Nike, whichsigned Miller for three years in the spring of 2005. There are many other dealsas well.

Taub is in theposition of selling an athlete who professes to despise being sold. "Hedoesn't want to be overcommercialized," says Taub. "He's outspoken, notlike [Dennis] Rodman but maybe like [Charles] Barkley. I'm tempted to say,'Look, go win five medals and let America bother you for autographs andinterviews for a month, and then they'll move on to March Madness. Suck it upfor 30 days.'" Taub will ruminate on this philosophy repeatedly in the nextmonths, wondering how best to market such an unconventional property.

LATE JULY,ENSENADA, MEXICO

Miller spendsseveral days at Milne Ongley's reconstructive therapy clinic in search ofrelief for the painful patella tendinitis that has plagued him since he blewout his left knee in a combined downhill crash at the 2001 worlds in Austria.One result of Miller's bohemian upbringing is that he resists conventionalmedicine. Ongley administers five injections of a solution that he says willstimulate the regeneration of tissue in the joint. "There were people atthe clinic who hadn't walked in five years because of arthritis [and they were]running around," says Miller later.

AUG. 2,FRANCONIA

In the off-seasonMiller trains alone and unconventionally. On this cool morning he is liftingweights in a century-old barn with the aid of a 700-pound squat machine builtsix years ago by his uncle Mike Kenney. The steel contraption allows Miller tosquat down bearing large amounts of weight but assists him in raising theweight. After each set of eight lifts, he bounds like a frog four times over aseries of four homemade hurdles. "The whole idea is to simulate the[challenges] I have in skiing," says Miller. "Concentration, balance,muscle recruitment, decision making. The squat allows me to train my [thigh]muscles to fire smoothly on turns. The hurdles force me to coordinate my wholebody when I'm spent."

Some days he goeson 15-minute runs through the streams near his home. "You jump from stoneto stone, picking the right path at full speed," he says. The parallel toski racing, with its endless instinctive decisions, is inescapable. Another dayMiller pushes a 600-pound roller, sprinting along 200-yard stretches of ruralroad. After each repeat he stumbles to the side of the road, sometimesvomiting.

In the past hehas not cheated on effort in training, and the results have been measurable. In2004-05 he blasted out the blocks and won four of the first five World Cupraces. But before this year is finished, the question will be, Did he doenough? His summer has been filled with business meetings and rounds of golf.It has been a challenge to fit in workouts and to find the desire to fit themin.

SEPT. 9, NEW YORKCITY

Miller says hehates being marketed, yet he is a marketing machine. He was raised withdisregard for material wealth, yet now he basks in it. "He likes the spoilsof winning, but that works against his natural propensity to be anonconformist," says Kenney. "It's a dilemma for him." Millerfights it by trying to control the way he's used. On this morning he examinesthe prototype for a cellphone video game called Bode Miller Alpine Racing.Miller travels the World Cup circuit with a PlayStation2 console. He is agamer, and he is engaged in making the best possible product for his gamingbrethren.

"Splittimes," he tells California-based game creators Matt Saia and JamieOttilie. "You need split times on the screen."

Seven weeks latera crew of more than 30 people descends upon Franconia to film several Nikecommercials and segments for what will become the shoe company's joinbode.comwebsite. Mike Byrne, creative director for Wieden + Kennedy, the advertisingagency that has shaped Nike's image and now shapes Miller's, spends two longdays coaxing Miller to shrink his rambling discourses to 30-second sound bites."I signed with Nike because they give me the best chance to express mymessage," says Miller. Does he think the public will understand it?"Probably not," he says.

OCT. 6, EASTON,N.H.

Chelone Miller,22, a professional snowboarder, crashes his motorcycle on a rural highway notfar from the Miller family's home. Helmetless, he suffers a serious head injuryand is transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. A coma isinduced, and a piece of Chelone's skull is removed.

Bode is in NewYork City and hears of his brother's injury in a call from his father, who wasonce a medical student. Bode does not return to New Hampshire for two days."My father kept me updated," he says. "There was no use in going upthere. It was just going to be a lot of people standing around being upset andworried, and none of that was going to do any good for my brother."

If Miller'sresponse seems cold, it does not surprise his family. "I was surprised thathe showed up at all," says his mother. "Bode has a way of avoiding anysituation that would create a lot of emotion, like not hanging out with mymother when she was dying [in January 1992], when all the other kids spent alot of time with her. He doesn't like getting into that stuff; it's too intensefor him."

Jo Millerconnects Bode's distance to the death of her younger brother, Bubba, 24 yearsago in a kayaking accident. "Bub and Bode were close, and Bode was at avery critical age," she says. "That had a deep impact on him."

Kenney says,"Bode's whole persona is built around this coolness. The life and death ofyour brother, that's pretty hard to treat with coolness. Bode has courage insome ways, but not in others."

Ultimately Bodegoes to Lebanon and stays for more than a week. At the hospital he holds hisbrother's hand. He then flies to Soelden, Austria, and finishes second toHermann Maier in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom. Less than fourmonths later Chelone has cut doctors' estimates of the time it will take him torecover, and he expects to snowboard again by the end of the winter.

EARLY NOVEMBER,PARK CITY, UTAH

During dry-landtesting at the U.S. ski team's training center, Miller scores personal bestsacross the board. Still, head coach Phil McNichol is concerned that Miller'sweight is approaching 220 pounds (last season he raced at 212 to 215) and thatthe skier has changed his mind and told SI.com that he will compete in everyWorld Cup race in 2005-06. "I'm surprised that he flip-flopped," saysMcNichol. "I don't think he's prepared as well as he should have, and he'sgone about as far as he can in terms of separation from the team, traveling inhis RV. The other guys call him T.O."

Miller is notconcerned. At Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado two weeks later, during abreak in training, he says, "I'm stronger than last year, and having alittle chub on me is good for ski racing."

DEC. 3, BEAVERCREEK, COLO.

A year ago Millercame to this Rocky Mountain resort's four-race World Cup extravaganza as thehottest skier on the planet, having won the first three races of the season.Now he arrives after finishing 22nd and 18th in two races at Lake Louise inCanada. He fails to finish the Super G on Thursday and parties deep into thenight at the Coyote Café. He runs second to teammate Daron Rahlves in Friday'sdownhill and parties again. On Saturday he beats Rahlves with a breathtakingsecond run of the giant slalom.

That night helounges on a four-poster bed, watching Kill Bill Vol. 2. "Motivation iscircumstantial," Miller says. "First night here I went out, and we gota pretty good buzz on. Last night we went out again. By the time I got up thismorning, I was pretty beat up. Plus I'm on GS skis that have hardly ever beenon snow. And this is a tough f---ing course. These are things that, for me,mandated an epic effort, digging deep. So I went out and pulled off things thatI'm not sure I could pull off when I'm fully rested and fresh. It's not that Iwas trying to motivate myself, but ski racing is just one component of [my]trying to be happy right now."

His left kneeisn't happy right now. Miller thinks he further damaged the joint landing adownhill jump. Orthopedic surgeon Richard Steadman suggests a quick arthroscopyon Monday, Dec. 5, before Miller leaves for Europe. Miller declines.

DEC. 22,INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA

Miller's searchfor motivation has continued, taking him back in time. Once again he is thewild child of 1998-2001, pushing the boundaries of his sport and skiing ungodlytight lines. The results have not been good: He has been on the podium onlyonce (a third-place finish in a combined downhill-slalom in Val D'Isère,France) in nine races since Beaver Creek and failed to finish three others.

"Right nowI'm just trying to ski in a way that's exciting for me," he says. "Fora while I was skiing in a way that would allow me to win World Cups. Now Idon't have those objective goals. I just want it to be exciting for me. I'm notconfused about how good I am; I race against these guys all the time."(They're not confused, either. "If Bode wants to start winning, he couldstart winning tomorrow, immediately," says Marco Buechel ofLichtenstein.)

Back home in NewHampshire, Kenney, who once trained and coached Miller, is disappointed."The clock is ticking in his body," Kenney says. "He didn't get inthe training [time] this summer, and he stays out late too much. Someday he'sgoing to look back and be disappointed that he didn't maximize his physicalabilities."

JAN. 14, WENGEN,SWITZERLAND

A 60 Minutespress release screaming in bold letters world ski champ admits to being drunkon the slopes was issued late in the afternoon of Jan. 5. The venerable show'sprofile of Miller aired in the U.S. three nights later and presented a lighterversion of Miller's drinking escapades, but the damage was done. The U.S. skiteam issued its own release denouncing Miller's admission, and CEO Bill Maroltand Alpine director Jesse Hunt jetted to Wengen to meet with their franchisebad boy. It was a stunning (or perhaps disingenuous) reaction, considering thatteam officials and coaches have long known about Miller's partying.

"I knew I wasgoing to have to make some sort of clarification," Miller tells SI inWengen. "The way my words were spun by the media clearly had a negativeimpact for a lot of people. I was a little surprised to see the coaches flyover here. But they didn't lay any smackdown on me. They just said, 'What areyou going to do?' and I told them." At a makeshift press conference room ina tiny Wengen elementary school, Miller delivers, without notes, a two-minute,36-second mea culpa to extinguish the firestorm of controversy set off by thepress release. As Marolt and Hunt insisted, Miller makes sure to use the wordapologize.

Miller has hadjust one win and four other podium appearances in the first 25 races of theseason. And now, scarcely a month before the Olympics, he has been turned intoa cardboard cutout: The Party Animal Who Doesn't Care If He Wins Medals. It's aone-dimensional portrait that feeds the Olympic hype machine. The skier shrugs."There was no avoiding it," he says. "I was selected ahead of time.I was the World Cup champion. I'm an American. All along, it was going to be atotal s--- show."

The coachesweren't the only ones who flew to Switzerland. Kenney also made the trip tomeet with his nephew. "I talked, and he listened," Kenney tells SI."He needs to refocus on athletics, and I think that's been accomplished.Things are on the repair."

If the affair isembarrassing to Miller and the ski organization, it also slashes a seasonlongtension. "Everything is better now," says McNichol. "You can see itin Bode's interactions with his teammates. You can see it in the way thestaff's awareness is up. And look at Bode: He's back." Miller nearly wins acombined race in Wengen and then wins the second run of a slalom. A week laterhe runs a strong fourth in the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, Austria.

Miller will neversay that external forces altered the course of his season, or his career."All season long, I haven't paid attention to the little details that makethe difference between winning and finishing, like, eighth," Miller says."I've been bored with that process. Now I've started getting involvedagain."

The skier oncedescribed his thought process in the start house, before racing: "Ivisualize the entire course, start to finish, and then--shoop!--I bringeverything right back to the piece of snow at the tips of my skis andconcentrate on what's right in front of me."

That is hisOlympic year in microcosm. The long wait, with all its annoyances, and now, atlast--shoop!--the Games are at the tips of his skis, right in front of him."Despite everything," he says, "the Olympics are the ultimatesporting event. I would never half-ass the Olympics." Has he a messagethen, for those who would dismiss him after a few months of chaos andmediocrity?

"That,"he says, "would be a bad bet."

SI.COM

For skiing coverage throughout the Turin Winter Games,go to SI.com/Olympics.

"Right now I'm just trying to ski in a way that'sexciting for me," Miller said. "I'm not confused about how good Iam."

"The Olympics are the ultimate sportingevent," Miller says. "I'd never half-ass the Olympics."

PHOTOPhotograph by Simon Bruty LIVEFREE OR DIE
In his native New Hampshire, Miller developed the iconoclastic, speak-your-mindstyle that has caused such a splash in the Olympic world.
TWO PHOTOSBOB MARTIN; RICK WILKING/REUTERS (INSET) UP ANDDOWN
Miller's hell-bent skiing (below, at Wengen in January) has led to big spills(inset, in 2003).
TWO PHOTOSJED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES; BOB MARTIN (INSET) DOWNHILL ACER
Rahlves's training jumps in California (right) helped him win the downhill inWengen (below).
PHOTOSIMON BRUTY (MILLER) FLAT-OUT TOUGH
Miller's 200-yard sprints while pushing a 600-pound roller are so exhaustingthat he sometimes loses his lunch by the roadside.
PHOTOPATRICK LANG/AP (MOTOR HOME) GOINGSOLO
Miller was the first U.S. skier to avoid the fan and media crush at Europeanhotels by traveling the World Cup circuit in a motor home.
PHOTOOLIVIER MORIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (KILDOW) LADYTUCK
At Lake Louise in December, Kildow raced to one of her two downhill wins of theseason.
ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)