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Bode Miller was more fun to watch when he was a wild child

Updated: February 10, 2014 11:25AM



KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — I miss Bode Miller. I miss the crashing, the burning, the winning, the scowling, the hard living, maybe even the
dry heaving.

He’s different now, we’re told, no longer the bad boy who cut a path through mountains and bars alike. He was wonderfully careless when he skied, and he couldn’t have cared less what you or I thought about how he lived his life. He won often on his terms, though no one was exactly sure what those terms were — something to do with being a free spirit on the slopes and a freer spirit away from them, consequences be damned.

That happened in the Turin Olympics in 2006, when he had a chance to win five gold medals, showed up out of shape and didn’t medal. He quit one event and was disqualified in another.

He’s 36 now, and being more even-keeled is the responsible thing. But, sorry, a five-car pileup is much more interesting.

Finishing eighth, as he did in the men’s downhill Sunday, then calmly saying course conditions didn’t favor him is about as interesting as lint. I don’t know what’s worse, that Miller was the favorite to win the race and didn’t or that there weren’t a few new amputees after reporters stuck tape recorders in his face afterward.

‘‘I would have loved to win, obviously,’’ he said. ‘‘This is the premier event, and it’s something I’ve thought about quite a bit. But when it’s out of your control, that kind of takes the disappointment away, more or less. I don’t think I would change much about the way I skied. I think I skied well enough to win, but it just doesn’t happen sometimes.’’

The downhill is the macho event of the Winter Olympics, a wild ride on a razor’s edge, and Miller had been the wildest and bloodiest for a long time. He has had huge successes and spectacular failures as a skier. He loved the chase but hated the attention that came with it. He’s a five-time Olympic medalist but has only one gold medal — in the super-combined in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. For all the noise that follows him, there should be more Olympic substance.

That’s why Sunday was so disappointing. This new Miller, the responsible husband and father, seemed primed to win in the biggest moment. It was his kind of course: a technical, dangerous run with big jumps on a hard ribbon of ice. Everything was set up for him except for the light. A cloudy day made it difficult to identify the contour of the course. He couldn’t see where to make his turns, leading to a few mistakes that left him .52 seconds behind winner Matthias Mayer of Austria.

To sum up, the guy who hated the spotlight but couldn’t get out of it struggled because the natural light wasn’t bright enough.

‘‘I ski a bit more on the edge than most guys, so I don’t have as much tolerance for not being able to see the snow,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I need to know where the snow is in the beginning of the turn, middle of the turn. I need to know where the bumps are because I’m right on the edge.’’

He had won two of the three training runs in the days heading into the medal run. It was his race to win. He knew it. His competitors knew it.

But in a sport in which a sliver of a second can separate gold from silver, the term ‘‘favorite’’ carries as much weight as a handful of powdery snow.

‘‘Ski racing is such a fickle sport,’’ said U.S. skier Travis Ganong, who finished fifth. ‘‘It’s a matter of hundredths and tenths of a second after skiing two, three miles down a 3,000-vertical-foot hill. There are so many bumps, so many rolls, so many tough little sections. There are so many variables. You can’t have a perfect run.’’

You can have a perfect ending, though. That would have been Miller winning. Or that would have been Miller downing a few adult beverages, oversleeping and missing the race. I know, it’s totally inappropriate to wish for such a thing. But this guy was a reality show before there were reality shows, and we liked it. We watched to see what would happen next. If it was bad, well, bad can be good, too.

He has settled down, a good thing. But maybe the old Bode will reappear. He has two races left here. A columnist can hope, can’t he?

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MorrisseyCST



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