Miller should ski off into sunset
Before the 2006 Winter Olympics, Bode Miller graced the cover of Outside, Time and Newsweek magazines. He could be seen on “60 Minutes” talking about how he had skied drunk before. He created more controversy with comments made in a Rolling Stone article about Lance Armstrong and performance-enhancing drugs.
Leading newspapers in the country accelerated the media blitz by informing their readers Miller would win five gold medals in five events, even though Miller himself said it wouldn’t happen. Regardless, it was enough media coverage to make any athlete blush, especially one who competes in a non-mainstream sport such as Alpine skiing.
Miller, though, wasn’t exactly a blossoming flower going into Torino, Italy, more like a peculiar specimen that was put under a public microscope for intense viewing.
“They pick somebody every Olympics, someone who is their poster guy,” Miller said at last week’s 17th annual American Century Championship in Stateline. “There is no avoiding it. If it’s you, you don’t have a choice. They are going to put you on the cover of whatever they want.”
I haven’t quite figured out who “they” is since Miller voluntarily agreed to speak with each media outlet. He also had a choice, not necessarily with the expectations that were given to him but to the degree he exposed himself.
And that was Miller’s biggest crime – naiveté.
Instead of using the media – like other professional athletes do – to make himself into a endearing character, Miller thought he could control the system. He made inflammatory comments, then shrugged his shoulders when he needed to absorb the weight of his remarks.
The Olympics weren’t what everyone expected. In five events, Miller didn’t win any medals. He finished fifth in the downhill and sixth in the giant slalom. If not for straddling a gate in the slalom portion of the combined, he probably would’ve won the gold in that event.
The results would’ve been commendable had he kept his mouth shut. But Miller didn’t help his cause by acting indifferent when he was asked about not winning any medals.
Then the same media outlets that built him up before the Olympics systematically tore him down after them. He was labeled a failure and a jerk, among other expletives.
“I wasn’t surprised by it, but if things would’ve gone differently, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal,” Miller said about the media scrutiny. “I’m not to judge. To me, it just didn’t matter that much. I didn’t even really care about whether it was fair or unfair.”
History has always been the most accurate judge. However, I believe the verdict will be that Miller never fully understood the game he was playing. Skiing is a sport hinged to unpredictable characters, and nobody should have expected its wildest cowboy to behave responsibly.
Professional basketball, football and baseball players are groomed for the media because they’ve had years of apprenticeship. Miller was given a tool belt one day and asked to build the Empire State Building the next.
So what will happen to Miller? He won two silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and earned his sports’ biggest honor in 2005 when he won the World Cup overall title. There’s simply not much left for him to accomplish.
On the hill, he’s achieved what precious few in his sport ever will. Off the hill, he’s suffered a public relations nightmare he will never wake up from. Miller will go down as one of the most talented skiers the United States has ever produced, but now he needs to just go away.
“I doubt I’ll be doing it much longer,” Miller said.
That’s the smartest thing I’ve heard him say.
Jeremy Evans is a sports writer at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or by E-mail at email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.