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Character study (cont.)

Posted: Sunday February 26, 2006 7:54PM; Updated: Monday February 27, 2006 12:28PM
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By Tim Layden
Bode Miller was a bust in Turin, but another former skiing gold medalist was a hero just for finishing 26th.
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A month before the opening ceremonies, I sat down with Miller in a hotel lounge in Wengen, Switzerland. This was just days after the 60 Minutes skiing "wasted'' controversy. I had been chronicling Miller's Olympic year since late in the spring and this would be the last chapter. He had no desire to do any more interviews, but he honored our agreement and talked with me. Props to him for that.

Something else he said that day: "I would never half-ass the Olympics.''

Here's my theory. (And lord knows, there is enough Bode analysis out there to fill Dr. Melfi's appointment book for 10 seasons of The Sopranos.) I think he meant that at the time. He worked hard for a few weeks, re-engaged in his profession and planned to roll into the Olympics and win multiple medals. In essence, throw the on switch. He would win races and prove to the world that he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

On the first Sunday of the Games, Miller skied his eyeballs out in the downhill. He got a little upright in the last 20 seconds, but in general, it was a hell of a run. He hit the finish line -- exhausted, because he's out of shape -- and looked up at the scoreboard. I am convinced that he expected a "1'' on the board next to his name, indicating that his time was the fastest yet. Instead, he saw a "4.''

The "4'' meant that Miller couldn't possibly medal in the race. I'm reasonably sure that at that moment, Bode thought to himself, "I'm f-----.'' In that instant, he realized that all the training he didn't do in the summer and fall, all the time he didn't spend working with his wax techs on getting the right setup for his skis, all the nights he spent drinking bottomless beers, were too much to overcome.

So he threw in the towel and decided to turn the Olympics into his own personal bacchanal. In essence, he half-assed the Olympics, precisely like he said he would not. He disrespected the biggest stage in his sport and then hid behind his worn-out "I don't care about medals" mantra.

(On that subject, catch this: Miller was out very late one night at a Sestriere dance club. He ran into somebody he knows, who is also a good friend of mine. As soon as Miller recognized this person, he launched into a discussion of why he doesn't care about medals. It was the same old speech, and he really felt like somebody would want to hear it at a club in the middle of the night.)

Here's a more pertinent speech: Miller didn't care enough about the Games to get out of bed in the summer or go to bed in Italy. Montillet-Carles cared so much about the Games that she climbed out of bed to honor them.