|ESPN.com: Olympics||[Print without images]|
VAIL, Colo. -- Bode Miller moves like a big cat and has had the appropriate number of lives. The fact he's back to race in 2010-11, emerging for an encore after one of the most dramatic seasons of a dramatic career, shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has paid attention to him for the past 12 years.
Miller, unimpressed by authority and indifferent toward the trappings of athletic success, is now an elder statesman on a powerhouse squad, a two-time overall World Cup champion and the most decorated American Olympian in his sport. He rebuilt his burned bridges with the U.S. Ski Team last year and both parties have benefitted. Miller wiped out the memories of his desultory 2006 performance by winning gold (super combined), silver (super-G) and bronze (downhill) medals in Vancouver -- to add to the two silvers he won in Salt Lake City -- and actually appeared to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. The team got additional hardware via a unique, occasionally maddening and always fascinating personality.
But Miller is not, to paraphrase a line from "Bull Durham" protagonist Crash Davis, one to hit his dinger and hang up his boots and bindings. The one consistent thread in his abstract tapestry -- aside from talent -- is his stubborn refusal to proceed along what most people would consider a normal narrative arc. His fourth Olympics might have seemed like the perfect happy ending, but the notion of quitting while he was ahead would be foreign to Miller, who doesn't keep score the way the rest of the world does. He's remarkably sound for 33, he still loves racing, he likes the staff and his young teammates, no one barks at him any more about sleeping in an RV instead of the team hotel, so why shouldn't he keep going?
Miller has become increasingly impatient with attempts to analyze his motives over the years. He kept his enormous ink-black goggles on while he spoke to a small group of reporters after training Saturday morning and parried most inquiries about his competitive psyche by making broad generalizations about an insatiable media. He looked far more at ease interacting with kids in an autograph line later that day, offering a word or a smile or bending down for a snapshot with each one.
Conquest has never been what drives Miller, even though he's mastered his share of courses, so perhaps we should take his cue and stop asking what more he desires to accomplish. Still, his old friend Mike Day -- appointed head men's coach for the technical events, slalom and giant slalom, last spring -- ventured to say that Miller might want to show he can still excel in the races in which he first made his mark on the world scene.
Day, a former student and coach at Miller's alma mater, Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine, first met Miller when the skier was 17. He said Miller's trademark high-risk style has evolved over the years to a still-aggressive but more tactical approach. "He's skiing in a fashion where he's within himself," Day said.
That may convey serenity, but Miller is constantly in motion, shifting his weight on skis, shifting from foot to foot during an interview, shifting his thoughts toward the next problem to solve, whether it's his equipment or his environment.
"[Ski racing] wasn't fun before, a couple times, and I've changed it and made the adaptations I needed to do to keep myself really excited and fired up about it," he said. "That gets more and more difficult as you run out of things to change or you've done what there is to do."
How has such a restless soul managed to stick around this long? The secret may be as simple as this: He's still interested.