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U.S. has best skier, but he may skip Olympics

Jeremy Evans

When he’s in Europe, he’s treated like a rock star. He has his own tour bus that makes frequent stops in clubs. Once he’s inside, the word spreads quickly. Fans swarm him. After their initial sighting, they rarely leave him alone.

When he’s in the United States, he’s barely recognized, just another 27-year-old with a brash bravado. If he’s in a ski town, there’s a good chance someone will recognize him. But that person might not give more than an abbreviated stare.

Such is the life of Bode Miller, who increased his fame this past winter by becoming the first American skier since 1983 to win the World Cup Alpine overall title. He started the season on an unprecedented run – winning six of the season’s first 10 events – and finished with a combined 21 top-10 finishes in all four disciplines.

Miller was in Lake Tahoe last week for the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. But despite having accomplished one of sport’s most difficult feats, he went relatively unnoticed in a theater filled with megastars such as Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

“It’s nice being able to come back,” Miller said. “It’s for sure one of the things I like about skiing. You get both sides of it. If I had to live in Europe all the time, I think I wouldn’t like it at all. It takes away a lot of your freedom. It limits what you can do in your life, unless you don’t mind being attacked and going to the bars and having to chill like that.

“In the U.S., it’s fine. If I go to New York or L.A., nobody knows me from anybody.”

Miller’s paradox is that he’s the world’s best skier. He has expectations coming from all angles. Friends, family, sponsors and television executives. They all expect him to win not just one gold medal but several gold medals this winter at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

“It’s always the same thing,” Miller said. “Everybody is always telling you when you should be happy, when you should be psyched, what was the great job you did and what was the bad job you did. (Winning the World Cup overall title) was good. It was totally legit. But it’s tough for me because I can’t do any physical training during the season because I’m too busy. And skiing for me right now is a lot more fun when I’m fit.”

With those expectations, people want him to keep racing for years. That’s where the problem rests.

Even though he’s in his prime age and seemingly at the top of the world, Miller has considered retiring.

“I have been considering it for awhile now,” Miller said. “I always consider that (stuff). It’s a pretty tough sport on your body. I’m not one of those people who wants to be 40 years old and not be able to walk 18 holes of golf. I see those people all the time. Half of the athletes that become the very best in the world at what they do end up that way after finishing up. That’s nothing I’m interested in at all.”

The enigmatic Miller also has flirted with the idea of skipping the Olympics and just racing on the World Cup circuit. It would be a bold but not shocking move from a guy who grew up on a 500-acre farm in New Hampshire without running water or electricity.

Truckee Alpine skier Daron Rahlves, who teams up with Miller on the U.S. Ski Team, feels for Miller. He thinks the grueling World Cup scene, coupled with the frenzied European scene, plays a big role in Miller’s comments.

Rahlves believes skiing will ultimately decide his future, not fans or other people’s expectations.

“Bode did a good job this year,” Rahlves said. “We support each other and we’re always pushing each other, maybe a little bit too much. It was taxing for him this season. You have the media and all of that stuff and that’s always kind of like you’re getting attacked.”

Perhaps playing a more important role in Miller’s Olympics decision is his chances of winning. The Olympics start in February and Miller said he’s in peak shape at the beginning of the season. By the end of the winter, his body isn’t cooperating.

“At the beginning of the season, I am in really good physical shape then because I had trained super hard leading up to that,” Miller said. “I was in better shape than anyone else in the world and I can use that to really abuse what skills I have over the other guys. Then by December, I’m in great ski shape still because I ski every day, but my physical conditioning stuff is gone. So the whole rest of the season, I ski good and I like it, but I can’t use my skills the same way I can when I’m actually in better physical shape.

“I would say there’s a better chance of skipping the Olympics and racing another year of World Cup than there is of racing the Olympics and not racing (World Cup) anymore. I really disagree right now with a lot of what the Olympics scene represents. I love the Olympic idea and being able to be an Olympian. But it’s way more corrupt than you would imagine. And it’s at the cost of the whole idea behind it.”


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