I called Bode Miller from my pants last week. While I was on a ski lift. I can’t explain it: It’s not like we’re buds, or anything. His home number (or, probably, his mom’s number) has been in my phone since 2003, when I visited the Miller tennis camp/family compound in Franconia, NH, for this piece in Outdoor magazine. My butt just happened to hit the “B” key. How embarrassing.
I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, how everyone was surprised that he came off the couch in July and proceeded to win three Olympic medals in Vancouverino. He’d had a crap early season, rarely finishing in the single digits; but on the other hand, he had shown flashes of brilliance in downhill, combined, and Super G — the three events where he medaled. Having written about him twice now, once on the way up (for Outside), and again last year, for Men’s Journal, on what seemed like the way down, I was still surprised he pulled off three medals.
Not like he doesn’t have the ability; even when he’s “bad,” as in Torino, he’s still good: in 2006, when he supposedly “flamed out” at the Games, he still notched a 5th in downhill, 6th in GS, and was winning the Combined when he missed a slalom gate. He was on pace to medal in Super G as well when he pasted a gate and wound up flying down the course on one ski. Anyone else’s career would have been over. This time, he scored a first, second, and a third, plus two DNFs, and he was a hero, even though he was a quarter-second away from no medals at all. The margins in Alpine skiing are so narrow that sometimes I think it really does come down to how much you want to cross the line first.
Interviewing Bode is an interesting experience, to say the least. (Check out MJ photographer Chris McLallen’s account of our 2009 meeting, for example.) He likes to question your questions, turn things around on you. Especially in 2003, when he was just 26, he came across like an overgrown teenager, defiant and anxious to prove how much smarter he was. He knew it, too: I’ll never forget one thing he said then, the infamous “Mow the Lawn” quote:
“It’s like if you’re gonna go out and mow the lawn, but then your brother or sister says, ‘Hey, go mow the fuckin’ lawn,'” he told me, back in 2003. “Then you’re like, ‘Fuck you—I’m not gonna mow the fuckin’ lawn!'”
In Torino, the world expected him to mow the lawn. So he didn’t.
After that, nobody much cared if he was going to mow the lawn or not. He went off on his own, and it appeared that, two years later, he’d figured it out:he had his private staff of coaches, his own living quarters, his own team really, and he won the World Cup overall in dominant fashion. From afar, it looked like there was no stopping him yet again, when I went to visit him in Franconia, his life seemed in disarray. Both his key coaches had quit on him, including his uncle and lifellong mentor, Mike Kinney; that left him with a high-school buddy to, basically, set gates for him. True to form, Bode claimed he didn’t really need a coach anyway. (And true to form, he was a major pain in the ass interviewee, as MJ shooter Chris McLallen testifies.)
That December he proceeded to stuff it into the nets at Beaver Creek, a race he’d won in the past, and it was downhill from there, so to speak, until he finally pulled the plug in February (proving my story pretty much completely off-target, in the process). He’d told me that he’d probably quit skiing if he got hurt, and I figured he’d be good to his word. The Olympics don’t mean anything to him, he insisted over and over. He wasn’t about the gold medal; he was fine without it.
But when the Olympics finally rolled around, Bode Miller decided that he really did need to go mow the lawn after all.