Everyone around Miller says “rewrite” but Bode

No athlete probably wanted a medal more or pretended to care

less when it arrived.

But that’s Bode Miller.

Four years after partying like an Olympian in Turin, he finally

skied like one at the Vancouver Games, wrapping up a bronze with a

nearly error-free run down a course that tests every last bit of a

racer’s skill.

“It’s not a gold,” Miller said breezily, “but the skiing was

good.”

The man insists he still skis to please himself, not the clock

or what anyone else thinks. A few fellow competitors who crossed

paths with Miller before the race said they were stunned by how

silent and jittery the normally nonchalant Miller seemed, but there

was no proving that afterward.

What about regrets, redemption, repentance?

Not a chance.

So naturally, when a reporter asked Miller whether he planned to

sample the nightlife in this picture-postcard ski town, which

boasts more temptation on a single block than all of Sestriere and

the neighboring villages in the Italian Alps combined, a grin

slowly creased his lips.

“Will you do anything different this time?”

The grin erupted into a full-throated chuckle.

“The Olympics just started,” Miller said, drawing everyone

into the joke. “You got to give me some time.”

To the same sportswriter who chased down Miller for interviews

at the Turin Olympics – twice – and spent several hours watching

him command the room at the Tabata disco – the only real

full-service saloon in Sestriere, he sounds remarkably the

same.

Still brimming with bravado, still unaware or totally

uninterested in how the sporting public perceives him, still

explaining himself in rambling sentences filled with vague terms

like “overamped,” “excited-nervous, not anxiety-nervous,” and

“emotional state” that offer little insight and more often than

not, wind up providing no insight at all.

The window into his soul, at least the one that’s open whenever

his mouth is, remains as foggy as ever.

So rather than walk back what he says, it might be more

revealing to look at what he does.

Miller has parked the RV he lived in at the Turin Games and is

bunking with the rest of the U.S. team in nearby condos instead. He

even has a suite-mate, fellow skier Ted Ligety, who also happens to

be the same guy Miller took out on the town for a baptism by

firewater several hours after Ligety, then 21, upset the field in

Turin and won a gold medal.

Except this time around, everyone on the team portrays Miller as

the very picture of moderation. Now 32, he has a young daughter he

rarely talks about, but people around him say fatherhood has

definitely made him more responsible. Most tellingly, perhaps, he

is taking direction well from others, the same U.S. coaching staff

he once ignored.

In turn, the coaches have begun holding Miller up as a (gulp)

role model.

“In training, Bode comes out and when he trains, he trains hard

and he pushes hard,” said Sasha Rearick, the U.S. men’s team head

coach. “He pushes the staff hard to make sure that training is

good, he pushes his serviceman to make sure the skis are good.

“He wants guys around him,” Rearick added, “that are

pushing.”

That’s progress, no matter how you measure it, since the pushing

Miller was best known for in the past was in favor of extending

closing hour at the bar.

The moment he sat down for a post-race interview, his zany

legend now burnished by a bronze to go with the two silvers from

Salt Lake City and the oh-for-5 in Turin, someone pointed out that

four years ago Miller was cast as a “disinterested villain” and

now was likely to be recast as “a redemptive hero.”

“Do you feel like either of those are fair?” he was asked.

He rubbed the stubble on his chin and thought about it for a

moment.

Minutes earlier, as Miller exited doping control headed for the

interview room, the team’s press attache asked him to zip up his

red U.S. team ski jacket to hide the scruffy flannel shirt he’d

already changed into. He was clearly trying to be on his best

behavior. That was really different.

“I don’t mind,” he began. “You guys are in charge of that

stuff. I pretty much focus on going out and skiing. It’s what I’ve

always done. I’m hoping I can keep doing it.”

If the verdict is ours to deliver, the answer is neither villain

then nor hero now. Miller was the best skier on the planet four

years ago and what he demonstrated again in the space of just under

two minutes is that on any given day he can be so again.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org