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Bode Miller's take: Building heroes, then tearing them down

Bode Miller’s take: “Building heroes, then tearing them down”{mosimage}As I write this, the latest Bode Miller firestorm is at full burn. And if you perused some of the headlines on skiracing.com recently, you know what the fuss is about: ‘Miller tells ‘60 Minutes’: Skiing drunk is a challenge’ wrote The Associated Press. What followed the next day is a great study into the world in which Bode Miller now lives.

The word ‘firestorm’ was how the profile’s producer, Cathy Olian, described the day after the headlines that lifted quotes from the “60 Minutes” press release. She spent it fielding calls from Miller’s agents, sponsors and various other news organizations. I suppose we all wanted to know the same thing: Is this true? Is this really what the piece is about?

I’d actually called Miller earlier in the day, before I’d seen the headlines. The conversation centered on his waning motivation. This was not new for Miller, but the degree of his dissatisfaction with the obligations of fame seemed at a high.

‘I no longer live the lifestyle that I signed on to’ he said. ‘It’s gone away.’ Part of the joys of traveling, training and enjoying the ski existence ‘are impossible’ he added. ‘[Fans, media, etc.] don’t relent. That’s 95 percent of why this is happening.’

I should add he’s being very pleasant as he explains this. While Miller has become increasingly impatient, almost defiant during the usual postrace media scrum, he’s usually friendly and remarkably forthright in a one-on-one situation, so long as he doesn’t feel he’s being led. Somewhere mid-conversation I can tell the phone has gone from hand-held to the ear-shoulder squeeze.

‘Are you signing autographs?’ I ask.

‘Yeah.’

I don’t call Miller more than I have to for this reason; he’s simply slammed. It’s why he hides in his RV more and more, even though he says it’s bad for him and his skiing. But, after reading the headlines, I feel I should call back to get his take. He picks up, obliges, and is, again, pleasant.

He explains that the incident at issue was the final race at the ’05 World Cup Finals, the day after he’d clinched the overall title. Some of the previous night’s celebration hadn’t worn off by the time he stepped into the final and what might be perceived as an inconsequential slalom (one of two he finished all season).

If this is all there is to it, it seems to be much ado about very little. Perhaps that makes me old-fashioned, because this story pales in comparison to the many more spirited tales of the 1970s and ’80s.

In any event, Miller said he’d floated the story by “60 Minutes” for one reason: ‘To see how the most prestigious news program would handle it.’

After hearing of the headlines, his low opinion was confirmed: ‘All media are the same’ he said. ‘It’s about selling the story … building heroes, then tearing them down.’

Only this time Miller might have broken one of his own rules: never believe the headlines, and always know the context.

According to Olian, her entire crew very much enjoyed Miller and are converted ski fans. They found him charming, genuine and refreshingly thoughtful, much to the contrary of how he’s been portrayed of late, she explained.

‘He was really terrific to us and spent a lot of time with us’ she said. “We tried to be really true to him. The incident he described, we weren’t fishing for it at all. It’s a cute little anecdote at the end of the story, and there is nothing in it that suggests this happens all the time.’

Given what is already known about Miller, and what’s already written in Miller’s autobiography, she was very surprised that the headlines created such a stir.

But she obviously cared that it did (I received three communications from “60 Minutes” within 10 minutes of my query — ending in a call from producer Olian.). The organization that regularly diets on the world leaders wasn’t dropping its standards for what’s likely regarded as a puff piece in the CBS circle.

A typical “60 Minutes” team of producer and associate producer takes on about four stories a year. One like Miller’s, which takes place in multiple locations, tends to be the most time consuming, she said. The 15-minute profile will air Sunday on CBS as the third segment between 7 and 8 pm EST.

‘I’m very curious to see what happens after the story’ Olian added.

Meanwhile, back in Miller’s world, comments he made months ago, crafted into sexy headlines, will probably dominate his weekend in Adelboden, Switzerland. Maybe longer since no one in Europe will see the piece.

A quick Google as of this writing brings up these choice interpretations of the “60 Minutes” press release or subsequent headlines:

MSNBC: ‘Bode Miller, ever the maverick, is clearly freaking out about the Olympics and trying a bit too hard to be outrageous. His latest revelation, that he enjoys skiing downhill drunk, has all the sophistication of a frat hazing.’

San Diego Union Tribune: ‘And he implies, according to the transcript, that he also drives drunk. ‘Talk about a hard challenge right there. … If you ever tried to ski when you’re wasted, it’s not easy. Try and ski a slalom when … you hit a gate less than every one second, so it’s risky. You’re putting your life at risk. … It’s like driving drunk, only there are no rules about it in ski racing,” said Miller, who is racing in Switzerland this weekend.’

So it goes in Miller’s world.

But as Miller’s coaches have rightly noted, you reap what you sow. If he was a little tighter lipped, they say, he’d save himself a lot of the attention he claims to hate. Maybe then he wouldn’t stay squirreled away in his RV and might enjoy himself a little more. It does seem he’s using his fame as a bully pulpit now more than ever.

On the other hand, it’s what makes Miller so undeniably alluring. He is refreshingly candid, interesting, unafraid and unpredictable, if a little hard to follow at times. That goes for his skiing, too.

To his credit, fame seems not to have changed who he is. Or maybe that’s to his detriment.

Stephen Porino is a former ski racer, Ski Racing staff writer and a current OLN ski racing commentator.

What do you think?

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