Posted: Monday February 13, 2006 11:34AM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 9:59PM
Bode Miller finished fifth in Sunday's Olympic downhill race, which was won by Antoine Deneriaz of France.
TURIN, Italy -- In the matter of The People vs. Bode Miller
Evidence before the court:
On the night before Sunday's Olympic downhill, Miller went out to dinner and drinks with his cousin (Chance Stith), his agent (Lowell Taub) and his Nike rep (Curtis Graham). They ate, had a few beers, and according to Taub, called it a night at 10:30 p.m. Taub is Miller's friend. I'm guessing it was a little later than 10:30.
On the morning of the downhill, Miller slept late in his RV, arising at 9:45 a.m., too late for the 9:30 course inspection that most racers consider important.
Miller finished fifth in the race, .11 of a second outside the medals and 1.13 seconds behind the stunning gold medal run by Antoine Deneriaz of France.
This is not the first time Miller has missed inspection. Last January he skipped race day inspection for the storied Lauberhorn downhill in Wengen, Switzerland. He revealed this information post-race to European ski media who revere the routine of the race and they were aghast. He finished third in that race.
I talked to U.S. men's head coach Phil McNichol on Sunday night after the Olympic downhill. He was disappointed -- I wouldn't say angry -- that Miller didn't show up for inspection. But he was convinced that Miller wasn't sleeping off a bender.
Miller skied well. Using Atomic's new capped skis that carried him to a scorching training run on the day before the race, Miller was fast on three early intervals, but 25th or worse on the bottom two. He said he got pulled out of his tuck low on the course and lost valuable time when his torso was exposed to the wind. Fair enough. It looked on video like he got a little too high and in a sport decided by hundredths of a second, that is costly.
U.S. downhiller Bryon (Free Dog) Friedman wrote in his blog on yahoo.com that Miller looked "fatigued'' on the last three turns, and that fatigue will make a racer stand up. (If you are a skier, you know this; fatigue will make a recreational skier stand up, too, to relieve the screaming pain in his thighs).
What brings on fatigue? A few beers on a Saturday night? How about a long offseason in which Miller never quite got into his training routine, started the year overweight and has been chasing fitness every since? Back during the 60 Minutes brouhaha in January, Miller's uncle and former coach, Mike Kenney, told me that the single biggest factor in Miller's struggles this year was a lack of base training. That's not as sexy as nightlife or philosophical dislike for Olympic hype, but it makes a hell of a lot of sense.
Look at Miller's season in downhill: Seven races, one podium. His average finish is ninth. Throw out his outlying 22nd in Lake Louise on Thanksgiving and his average finish is still no better than sixth. All season long he has linked occasionally sick turns, won splits and hinted at greatness past while falling short. Blame it on the beers if you like. Blame it on the belly. Or blame it on the brain. Truth is: Miller's Olympic downhill was precisely what his entire season has been. Nothing more and nothing less.
He has four races left. I will be shocked if doesn't win at least one medal (probably in Tuesday's combined event) and surprised if he doesn't win two. But it wasn't happening in the downhill.