Alpine skier Bode Miller poses for a portrait during the 2013 Team USA Media Summit on Sept. 30, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
|Bode Miller skis during a training run at the Audi FIS Alpine Ski
World Cup on Feb. 9, 2012 in Sochi, Russia.
PARK CITY, Utah — Bode Miller is back.
Back from microfracture surgery on his left knee. Back after a year off the FIS World Cup circuit. Back for his fifth run at an Olympic Winter Games. And he is back with a smile and a playful sense of humor.
“I’m motivated entirely by money and medals,” he joked to a room full of journalists at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2013 Team USA Media Summit when asked what drove him to return to ski racing at age 35. Sidelined by a knee injury in February 2012, Miller has long held that winning trophies or medals does not motivate him.
What has brought him back for one more year — and possibly longer — of alpine ski racing is pure enjoyment of the sport.
“To not continue doing something I love as much as ski racing at the level that I love doing it under the circumstances would be crazy,” he said. “It’s what I love to do, and I’m good enough at it, and I bring a lot of joy and pleasure to other people when I ski.”
But he is cognizant of his age. In two weeks, Miller turns 36 and calls the life of a ski racer “a perishable process.”
“Until you’re all rotten or shriveled up, you should keep going,” he said, then paused, smiled, and added, “I’m pretty shriveled up, but I’m not all the way rotten.”
And Miller is back for one more Olympic Winter Games. Assuming he makes the U.S. team, it will be his fifth Games. But as always, for Miller the process and the experience of skiing well supersede medals. As he did at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he wants to know that when he crosses the finish line, he has nothing left to give. In Vancouver, his performance yielded three Olympic medals, bringing his total count to five — more than any other American ski racer in history.
“I would never devalue the importance of an Olympic medal because I know it’s important in the bigger scheme of things, but it’s not what motivates me,” he said. “It’s not what you judge yourself by at the end of the day.”
Thinking back to his first Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 when he was 20, Miller said he was unprepared. With only a dozen world cup starts leading up to his first Games, he pointed to the crowd of journalists and joked, “It was like one of you guys showing up.”
“But at the same time, it is the Olympics,” he added. “I’ve always thought of myself as the hero who was going to do something amazing, and that’s the way you need to feel about yourself.”
In the giant slalom in Nagano, he recounted “cart-wheeling” three times out of the course, then finishing “to the raucous applause of the whole Japanese fan base there.” He didn’t finish either the GS or slalom.
And in 2002, when he was favored to win an Olympic medal in slalom, Miller recalled dealing with “that humbling and demoralizing experience of hiking up when I should be skiing down and coming into [the finish and hearing] ‘oooooh’ instead of ‘yay!’”
He came away from the Salt Lake Games with two silver medals in GS and combined.
Sixteen years after his Olympic debut, Miller said he is a much different person and now has a solid support team, including coaches, technicians, friends, family and his wife.
“I have so many more of the pieces in place that make me feel stable and solid and capable of putting together the exact performance that I’m going to need on a given day,” he said.
Miller is also cognizant of his legacy and the fact that he doesn’t get to pick what his legacy will be. But he is happy where he’s at right now.
“I‘ve made plenty of mistakes, I’ve done tons of stupid things, I’ve had plenty of awful races, and I’ve had a bunch of really amazing races,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
Except maybe give himself some encouragement when the spotlight’s glare wore thin, as did the demands of being one of the top guys on the U.S. Ski Team and FIS World Cup tour. But whether from time off racing or the fact that the U.S. Ski Team now has more stars, those days seem a memory for the sometimes cantankerous, always quotable Miller.
Calling ski racing “the love of my life up til now,” he wants to leave the sport in a good place, with the right energy, and “an example of how to be” — or one example of how to be inspirational.
At the Media Summit on Monday, he helped launch the Gateway to Gold program to help identify new Paralympic athletes, citing inspiration “as a fuel we all function on.”
With the Soelden World Cup races less than a month away, Miller seemed downright excited for the season to start. He’s more fit than ever with no knee pain while training in Portillo, Chile, the past two weeks. He’s also 20 pounds lighter.
“I figured if I wanted to beat Ted [Ligety] in GS, I had to be a little slimmer, a little quicker on my feet in my old age,” he said, again laughing, then added, “I’m really happy to be in the place I’m at. The plan is to kick ass.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.