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WINTER OLYMPICS

Different Slopes

Bode Miller is full of controversy, contradictions and talent. Oh, and don't expect the skier to wrap himself in the flag at Turin.

January 25, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

CBS had its "60 Minutes" with Alpine skiing champion Bode Miller on Jan. 8, but there was a lesser-known "30 Minutes, Tops!" episode Miller agreed to -- not quite at the point of a bayonet -- weeks earlier at some ski chalet in the Rocky Mountains:

Reporter: You don't have to do it.

Miller: That depends on your perspective.

Reporter: You don't.

Miller: I'm certainly obligated to.

Reporter: You think you are?

Miller: Absolutely.

And away it went ...

On an interview table was a copy of Miller's autobiography: "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun."

Must be something in there worth discussing ...

Why did he write a book?

"I didn't," Miller said.

But it's an autobiography.

"I didn't write a word of it," Miller continued. "I'm not kidding. I did not write one word. I did sit-down interviews, I had talks with the guy [co-author Jack McEnany] and I just said -- this is exactly what I told him, I said, 'Write a book that encompasses what you know my beliefs are, paints the right kind of messages.' "

You said in your book that you weren't going to read it ...

"There's lots of quotes in there that are quotes," he said. "Apparently, I wrote the book. It says I wrote it. Apparently everything in there, I wrote."

*

Bode Miller's world is different from ours.

It wasn't like this for the ramp-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, before the little-known Miller won two Alpine medals, silvers sandwiched around a Jay Leno appearance, then becoming, in 2005, the first American in 22 years to win the World Cup overall title. That led to more fame and fortune and inspired the autobiography he never read or, apparently, wrote.

It is like this before the 2006 Turin Olympic Games, where the world turns its four-year focus on the likes of Miller and others who can make their countries proud with medal-winning performances.

This whole idea sickens Miller -- a home-schooled iconoclast, raised on a family commune without indoor plumbing in New Hampshire -- this idea that he could somehow be propped up by a capitalist society and be used.

Miller is a massive talent and a mass of ethereal thoughts and contradictions.

He hates the media, yet almost never ducks a direct question.

Jonna Mendes, a longtime U.S. ski team member, says of Miller, "He is totally different from every athlete I've ever seen.... You can tell Bode wants the attention or he wouldn't say the things he does."

Can someone be petulant and engaging?

Miller rants against commercialization but makes commercials.

He is technically a member of the ski team but travels the World Cup circuit in Europe in his own recreational vehicle. (Note: So does superstar teammate Daron Rahlves.) He does not, in the eyes of some, appreciate the bend-over-backward ways the ski program has been tailored to accommodate Miller's individual needs.

"Bode has come to age during this phase," men's Alpine coach Phil McNichol said, "and it would be nice if he actually recognized and appreciated the fact that it's probably one of the only reasons why he's still here."

Miller is all over the slope -- literally, figuratively, intellectually and otherwise.

He says dumb things but is very smart.

And every time he opens his mouth, it seems to set off alarms.

Late last year, he ripped the anti-doping policy, making some salient points, notably about guys getting medals stripped for taking cold medicine, but it just didn't come out right.

"He is a little bit hypocritical right now, for sure, and I think that's part of his struggle," Picabo Street, a onetime ski team renegade and Olympic gold medalist, said of Miller.

Street says Miller, still only 28, is "trying to put the whole puzzle together in his mind" and that it's hard to do on an international stage.

"He's kind of kicking and screaming and making some mistakes, but he's going to learn a lot from it," Street said.

Maybe Miller already has.

His latest bombshell, those "60 Minutes" comments about skiing "wasted," were followed by a contrite apology.

Of course, it took U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn. Chief Executive Bill Marolt's flying to Switzerland to get it -- but maybe this is part of the maturation process.

Like his skiing, Miller takes things to the edge.

You don't converse with Miller as much as you joust.

"I love discussions," he says.

If you say "nice day," Bode is apt to point out the thunderclouds.

There is even a school of thought that says Miller might have set up CBS to prove his point that the media, even the outfit that employed Edward R. Murrow, will celebrate the most salacious sound bites at the expense of greater context.

"It's hard, as a publicly traded company, to stick to your moral high ground," he says in general of media conglomerates.

Not surprisingly, U.S. ski team officials are at tips' end.

McNichol has wondered publicly whether Miller needed to be on the ski team -- he could represent the U.S. independently in the Olympics, as does slalom specialist Kristina Koznick.

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