Miller skipped last season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee. It is a relatively new procedure, and athletically it requires a lengthy recovery time. With wisdom, Miller set a conservative return date and stuck to it.
“Being away from the sport was really healthy for me,” he said. “I’ve been in it so long with so little time away that I was definitely taxed, to a point that I was getting frustrated at times. If you are going to do it, the process deserves better than that. Now I think I’m in a place where I can participate fully and not put as much strain on myself.”
With the self-imposed deadline passed, he has trained on-snow with no pain and begun a pre-season fitness regime that has included jumping over badminton nets.
He’s lighter, by 20 pounds, more fit and cognizant that at 35 — two weeks shy of his 36th birthday —he’s just about reached the end of the rope. Racing at the highest levels where he has held domain for a decade or more he says, “is a perishable process.”
Miller’s mellowed a bit in temperament since the early days. He’s got the full picture framed in his mind. The man loves ski racing; has since he was a young tot, and does now as he approaches the end of the skein. That is what drives him.
“It’s what I love to do and I’m good enough at it,” he told a room full of journalists at the Team USA Media Summit.
Good enough that people want to watch him race, want to see just what magic he can muster up. With 33 World Cup wins, two overall titles, four world championships in four different disciplines, and five Olympic medals, there has been plenty of magic to witness, and much of the very best magic came in races he didn’t even finish. The one-ski run on the Bormio downhill is possibly the purest example. He was well known by frustrated coaches for refusing to back off on a second run regardless the size of a first run lead. It just isn’t in his makeup to back off, which makes last season all the more remarkable.
Miller has enough ego to be a world class athlete. “To not continue…would be crazy. Until you’re all rotten or shriveled up, you should keep going,” he said. Then, he cracked a smile and continued, “I’m pretty shriveled up, but I’m not all the way rotten.”
Not even close. If anything, Bode Miller is at the top of his formidable game. Fitness has been a Miller hallmark since growing up at grampa’s tennis camp in Franconia, N.H., and he realized well in advance that he needed to drop weight in order to contest races on the new ski dimensions.
The Olympics have long held an awkward place in Miller’s heart. Of those five medals, just one is a gold, the combined from 2010. He caught great ridicule in 2006 by saying the wrong things and talking about his partying. (Mind you, he still finished a very creditable fifth in downhill and sixth in giant slalom).
“I would never devalue the importance of an Olympic medal because I know it’s important in the bigger scheme of things, but it is not what motivates me. It’s not what you judge yourself by at the end of the day,” he said.
By the same token, at the last Olympics in Vancouver, he said he was able to utilize the energy of the Games to lift that motivation another notch.
“I’ve made plenty of mistakes, I’ve done tons of stupid things. I’ve had plenty of awful races and I’ve had a bunch of really amazing races. I wouldn’t change anything.”
But he is now aware of the legacy he will leave, and he would rather it not include the stupid things. He would rather provide “an example of how to be.” Miller’s got the bits and pieces lined up to go after another gold, or maybe even two.
The Olympic courses at Sochi also played a role in his decision to come into the season a little lighter than he has raced in the past. “Fitness is going to be a huge component,” he acknowledged.
“I have so many more of the pieces in place that make me feel stable and solid and capable of putting together the exact performance that I’m going to need on a given day.”
“You don’t get to pick your legacy,” he said. “It’s a compilation of your life’s work.” And now he’s got the chance to add more positive aspects to that life’s work. “Going into the microfracture surgery, I was certainly aware I might not recover enough to race again.”
Photo: Miller speaks at a HEAD press conference last Oct. (credit: GEPA/Christian Walgram)
This article was amended on Oct. 1 to include an additional quote from Miller.