KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Bode Miller skied his first Olympic race at the 1998 Nagano Olympics when he was 20 years old. His body is 16 years older now, weighed down by age, injuries and more Olympic and World Cup medals than any other American male skier in history.
And Wednesday, Miller likely skied the final Olympic race of his career. He aggravated his injured right knee during the first run of the giant slalom, finished 20th, then announced he was withdrawing from Saturday's final Alpine event, the slalom.
"I wish it went better," Miller said. "I see this as a missed opportunity. I know I have the speed in the GS, but that's one of the challenges of being a five-event skier. I just had no time coming in here to test and dial in my equipment. I kind of came in here after a hard crash in St. Moritz; that was the only GS I've skied.
"It's tough to have my last race look like this, but I feel really good where I'm at. I came back really strong. I did a lot of work and put in the time. That leaves me with a really positive feeling. I feel like I did my best."
Miller also took home a bronze medal in the super-G, becoming the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympic history.
"Obviously, I feel like I was capable of doing more, but my effort and my intensity was as good as I could possibly put out there," Miller said. "It's tough. Ben Raich [of Austria] said to me the other day, 'It's always tough. It's never easy here.' The Olympics are super-challenging. You want to come here and do everything you can, but only one guy wins. And I feel like I did what I could, and I came out with a medal. I'm happy."
In addition to his Olympic successes (and failures), Miller has won more World Cup races (33) and been on the podium more times (78) than any other U.S. male skier. He also is one of only five skiers to win World Cup races in five disciplines. And his World Cup career isn't over -- Miller said after these Olympics, he plans to finish out this World Cup season. He did not comment on next season.
"He's meant a lot for U.S skiing, but also for the ski world," U.S. ski team coach Sasha Rearick said. "The fanatics of skiing love watching Bode because he's such an inspirational skier. He's brought fans to the sport. They absolutely love him because he brings charisma and inspiration in the way he skis, and it's fun to watch him."
Asked what eventually not having Miller on the U.S. team would mean, Rearick said, "Maybe I'll lose a few less gray hairs when that happens."
That brings up the other aspect of Bode Miller. He draws attention not just by his great skiing but also by his comments and behavior. Before the 2006 Torino Olympics, he told "60 Minutes" he had skied while drunk, then had a terrible Games that was known more for his excess partying than his skiing (no medals). He lived and trained apart from the U.S. team for a while, as well. Although he has undoubtedly matured and progressed over the years, controversy continues to shadow him. He made headlines this winter because of a paternity case with a former girlfriend.
His attitude toward the Olympics has changed, as well. Simply skiing was always more important to him than any medal count, and he has expressed mixed feelings over what the Olympics mean because of the widespread corruption and abuse surrounding them. But when he won three medals at the 2010 Games, including a gold medal in the super-combined, his feelings seemed to soften and he expressed an appreciation for the sporting aspect of the event.
Miller won his first Olympic medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where he took silver in the GS and combined. Despite missing all last season while rehabbing his right knee, he won his last medal Sunday in the super-G.
Or perhaps it wasn't his last, even though he will be 40 when the 2018 Games come around. As Rearick said when asked whether Wednesday was definitely Miller's last Olympics, "If you had asked me that in Vancouver, I would have said yes."
In other words, with Bode, you just never know.