VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- What Bode Miller did today puts to rest the question of what could have been. The story is what it is.
Had Miller come to Vancouver and skied well but out of the money, it would have been hard not to dwell on the wasted potential of his DNF/party debacle in 2006. Instead, his story arc has become the classic trilogy. Part I, Salt Lake City: Young Maverick Takes On The World. Part II, Torino: He Briefly Visits The Dark Side. Part III, Vancouver: Mature Warrior Triumphs.
With his gold medal in the super combined, silver in super-G and bronze in downhill, Miller has hit for the cycle here and become the most decorated U.S. Alpine skier in the Olympics. He did it after resuming serious training a mere six months ago, burying past history with maturity and humility, and coming back to the U.S. team fold.
Even if Miller had been in peak physical and mental condition four years ago, he might not have come away with the medal haul everyone was predicting. Weird things happen on the course and Miller isn't the only skier to have had phenomenal success on the World Cup circuit only to struggle when casual fans are tuning in. Corny as it may sound, it's possible he had to go the way of that rough passage in Torino to be where he is now. Miller was always an innovator, picking out his own path down the slope with equipment and coaching, and it should be remembered he started out stronger in the slaloms than the speed events. It only makes sense his career would zig-zag.
I first met Miller in December 2001, the day before he won his first World Cup race, a giant slalom in Val d'Isere, France, after years of erratic results. I'd been standing in the mixed zone at the foot of the run for a couple of hours, asking more prominent skiers for a little extra time and not getting the time of day. When I approached Miller, he said, "Sure. Come to the hotel." We talked for two hours.
"I'm not afraid of blowing out," he said then. "A lot of guys are. If they blow out, it means that they failed in some way or another. You can try to win without going 100 percent, but as soon as that starts to come into your psyche -- 'Oh, I'm going to try to win going 80 percent' -- that just ends up screwing you. No one has success that way."
In the same interview, he gave a blunt description of his working conditions. "Huge risk for injury, barely any money, no fame, it doesn't leave you anywhere, the ski team politics are ridiculous, especially for someone like me," he said. "But at the same time, it's always something I've wanted to do.
"I've always done it just the way I want to do it, not the way anyone else wants to do it. And when that all works, it might look [bad], but the feeling inside is perfect."
Congratulations for putting it all together.