- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

TURIN, Italy — Bode Miller’s new autobiography, written by someone else, is called “Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun.”

How about one out of three?

Miller, battling a bum knee and a world of distractions he brought upon himself, has not been going very fast lately. His World Cup season paled in comparison to his 2005 championship year.

Be good? Be real. His comments, lifestyle and overexposure have triple-teamed Miller into a new role — bad boy of the ski world, if not the entire sports world.

But at least he still seems to be having fun.

Today has been described as “put up or shut up” time for Miller. Meaning, if he fails to back up all his talk and win the downhill event, his first competition in this Winter Olympics, he is obliged to quit yapping, maybe even retreat to the New Hampshire woods and assume a quiet, contemplative life away from the spotlight.

Don’t count on it. Miller has four more events after this one, allowing more chances at redemption if he flops. But mainly, the idea of Miller clamming up seems as remote as the Sestriere Borgata itself, the ski venue located high in the Italian Alps nowhere close to the Olympics’ host city.

Miller has his fans, many right here in Europe. But he generally has tumbled, head over skis, on the slope of public opinion. A lot of folks want to see him fail. In Salt Lake City in 2002, he entered the mainstream by winning two silver medals and climbing back up the course after he fell in a third race. He was a new, fresh face.

His was a sweet story — the sap-tapping, home-schooled kid whose hippie parents built their house minus plumbing or electricity making it big. People like that sort of thing. Today, though, teammate Daron Rahlves gets called the “anti-Bode Miller” as a means of high praise, and Miller gets asked at a pre-Olympic news conference if he believes he is a hypocrite.

What the heck happened here?

The “hypocrite” question sort of sums it up. It referred to how Miller has carefully cultivated his presumed anti-authority, “rebel” image, ripping the Olympics’ commercialization and cozy partnership with corporate interests, while at the same time holding out his hands for millions of dollars in sponsor money.

“Whether I’m a hypocrite because I grew up in a cabin without electricity?” he responded last week. ‘I’m not here with bling diamonds and a fur coat and driving around in a really expensive car. You all probably have nicer cars than I do. If you think that, wait until you see how I raise my children, and then make a judgment.”

It was a good answer, albeit irrelevant to the question. Miller at the same news conference said, “If athletes are honest, they get punished for it.”

Miller has, in fact, been punished by criticism for his “honesty.” There was the “60 Minutes” interview in which he confessed to the joys of skiing while “wasted.” There was the Rolling Stone interview where he virtually accused Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs. There are Bode’s many comments attacking the anti-doping measures used in international competition, not to mention his overall cockiness.

But in some of these cases, Miller, who has appeared on countless magazine covers, including Time and Newsweek during the same week, has claimed to have been misquoted. Or, he has used the oldie-but-goodie defense that his remarks were “taken out of context.” Or, he apologized, and so much for rebellion.

But, as usual, he had a ready explanation for that.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but none of that bothers me much,” Miller said about the criticism. “I wasn’t caught by surprise, because when I said it, I knew what I was getting into. I would be lying if I said I had massive regrets about the things I have said. When I’ve said I was sorry, it wasn’t for what I said but it was more of an apology for making other people deal with it.”

About his endorsements, Miller said, ‘I’m not going to change. When I was young, I worked hard to be able to do what I loved. It’s the same now. People say I got a big deal with Nike, but it’s not a lot of money. It’s more about a platform to hear the athletes’ voice.”

Whenever an athlete says it’s not about the money, mass eye-rolling ensues.

In Miller’s case, such apparently disingenuous comments do not help.

His family and close friends have been quoted saying they believe Miller has changed as a person and that his intensity seems to have waned. His relationship with his teammates seems tenuous, at best. While they publicly take a “That’s Bode” stance, Rahlves, who won three World Cup races this season, made a telling statement lately: “If you go by the results, I’d have all the [magazine] covers right now,” he said.

Rahlves has a chance to escape Miller’s shadow starting today. Considered better in the downhill event than Miller, he is so confident that he skipped a training run on Thursday and has been proclaimed the favorite by several of his competitors.

“The race comes down to me,” said Rahlves, who has clocked the fastest practice times. “I’m my biggest challenger. If I allow myself to ski well and relax, I have a great chance to win. This is a great hill for me.”

But Miller remains the primary object of attention and scrutiny. At least for now.


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