Posted: Saturday February 18, 2006 5:45PM; Updated: Saturday February 18, 2006 6:15PM
Bode Miller was among seven of 63 starters in Saturday's super-giant slalom who did not make it to the finish.
Four years ago, Aamodt added a Super-G gold to his combined. Then while training on an Austrian glacier in the fall of 2003, he broke and tore ligaments in his right ankle. At the age of 31, he might have been finished. He missed an entire World Cup season and finished only 26th overall last year, his worst ranking in a decade and a half. He has been better this year, with five World Cup top-three podiums, but no victories.
"He brought out the tiger," said Norwegian teammate Aksel Lund Svindaal. "He's brutal."
U.S. skier Scott Macartney, who was seventh in the race, said, "It's incredible. He comes and brings his game when it means the most."
This brings us back to Miller, who has said -- oh, I don't know, about 10,000 times in the last 12 months -- that he is not motivated by medals, but only by competing in a way that inspires people. I would dare say that few journalists have recorded more verbiage from Miller than I have and he has been absolutely unwavering in this conviction. So there is no denying him his stance. (I will say this: On Friday night I ran into Miller's friend and Nike contact, Curtis Graham, a smart, mellow Californian-turned-Oregonian. "His approach is really different during the Olympics," Graham said. Which made me think "Hmmmm.")
At this point, however, I'm wondering exactly who Miller is inspiring. His Olympic downhill was solid, but not good enough and certainly less inspiring than the once-in-lifetime run laid down by French gold medalist Antoine Deneriaz. His single, gate-straddling combined slalom run was, in his words, "bad." In the Super-G, he was fast on top, but nailed a right-footed gate leading into a quick, steep turn and lost his left edge, nearly repeating his memorable one-ski run from last year's World Championships in Bormio, Italy.
He did not stick around to talk about his performance.
Aamodt did. And his language was not so different from Miller's. His 19 Olympic and World Championship medals were stolen (and since replaced). "They're just pieces of metal," he said. "It's the experiences. It's the memories. The feeling of finishing a race, when you get to the finish and you're happy with your performance ... whether you're first or fourth, that's what you treasure."
Miller has spoken like this so many times. He has spoken about rejecting "subjective" measures for his performances. In a way, Aamodt was saying the same thing, but he was saying it with eight Olympic medals -- figuratively -- hanging from his old, thick neck. People listen better when the speaker has all that hardware.
Bode Fever happened. He has won 20 World Cup races, second in history among U.S. racer to Phil Mahre. He won the World Cup overall title last year and five world championships in four disciplines. He partied with aplomb and didn't apologize. He could leave now and be remembered.
Yet, I can't help recall a January conversation I had with Miller's uncle and friend, Mike Kenney, who was disappointed that his nephew had trained so little in the summer and that he was partying so much. He understands Miller's ethereal approach to competition, but still he wondered: "Is Bode going to look back in two years or five years or 20 years and wonder what he could have done?"
Bernard Russi, the 1972 Olympic downhill gold medalist and now a prolific downhill course designer, told me in December: "He's a genius and maybe the most gifted skier, ever, but what is he doing now?"
Perhaps Miller will torch the Sestriere giant slalom on Monday. Perhaps he will ski 10 more years on the World Cup and two more Olympics. (Don't bet on any of this with one penny of your hard-earned money). If he doesn't, he will leave his sport with a terrific record and some other measure of success that only he understands. That's his privilege.
Aamodt will leave with all of that, and much more.