Conventional wisdom has it that Bode Miller, the U.S. Ski Team's former wild child, has become the hottest ski racer in the world by putting aside his crash-prone style in favor of more conservative tactics. Don't believe it. This guy was raised in a house without indoor plumbing and electricity on the northern edge of New Hampshire's White Mountains. He earned his racing chops not only on skis but also on skateboards, and he is beating the best skiers in the world while racing with a ligament in his left knee that was torn last February and never reconstructed. Conventional wisdom doesn't apply to Miller.
"I haven't changed at all; I'm skiing the same way I always have," Miller, 24, said last week after winning a World Cup giant slalom on Dec. 9 in Val d'Isere, France, and a slalom the next day in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, the first slalom and first back-to-back Cup victories by a U.S. male skier since 1983. Exhibit A in support of Miller's contention that he hasn't changed his approach: He fell all the way to his hip about 20 yards into his winning run at Val d'Isere. "Totally hip-checked the first gate," he says. "Not exactly conservative." Indeed, last Sunday, Miller fell early in his second run in a giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy.
Other factors have helped Miller-a 1998 Olympian who hit the national stage at 18 with a precocious third place in slalom at the U.S. nationals—emerge as an Olympic favorite in at least two events.
Maturity: He still skis a direct, aggressive Herminatoresque line, but according to U.S. technical coach Jesse Hunt, "Bode has been skiing better tactically, going straight when he has to and not so straight when he doesn't have to. He's always been fast, but now he's tactically more sound."
Equipment: Like many slalom and GS specialists on the World Cup circuit, Miller is using short, more maneuverable skis, only 161 centimeters long. His ski company, Fischer, also tweaked the design, moving the narrow waist of the hourglass-shaped slalom ski closer to the tail. "They created a shorter turning radius, and it's been awesome because I get earlier pressure on my edges than most guys," says Miller.
Confidence: "Before the season, I skied fast every day with the Austrians," he says. "Now I'm skiing faster than anybody else."
Miller isn't one to doubt himself. Even in his early teens, splitting his time among skiing, snowboarding and radical skateboarding, he never lost sight of his priorities. "I always wanted to ski race," he says. "I always wanted to go to the Olympics, and I always wanted to be the best ski racer the United States has ever had."