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By Clay Latimer, Rocky Mountain News
January 29, 2005

BORMIO, Italy - Is Bode Miller for real?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

He was born in a cabin without electricity or running water, and his hippie mother picked his unusual name because it popped into her head.

A crash waiting to happen on the slopes, he instinctively tears down icy tracks at 85 mph, arms flailing, leaving hardened mountain men soft in the knees.

“He has the confidence of an idiot,” a coach once said.

Miller, a natural jock, was a New Hampshire state tennis champion, considered pro careers in soccer and tennis, can dunk a basketball with a 360-degree twist, perform front flips and backflips from a standing position and score in the low 70s on the toughest golf courses.

And that’s the mundane stuff.

Nothing in Miller’s unorthodox background, not even his medal harvest at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and 2003 World Championships, could have prepared his rivals for the 2004-05 World Cup season.

In Beaver Creek on Dec. 13, the scruffy 27-year-old American became only the second man (Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg was the other) to win races in all four disciplines - slalom, giant slalom, super-G and downhill - in a single season.

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But the heady stuff might be only starting. Going into the 29th World Alpine Ski Championships, which begin today in the ancient village of Bormio, Miller is not only the best skier on the World Cup circuit, he’s also the No. 1 draw. By striking gold here and at the 2006 Winter Olympics, he could jump-start alpine racing in the United States, where it has fallen on hard times, and help restore its luster in Europe, where transcendent stars have all but faded.

Little time to chill

But there’s a problem with Miller’s celebrated career: He’s tired of celebrity life, the relentless whirl of European news conferences, sponsor parties and autograph lines that leave him little time to chill out.

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that my job is not to be a celebrity. . . . My job is ski racing. I’m a ski racer,” Miller, who will begin his gold-medal quest in the super-G today, said at a Jan. 20 news conference in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

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“It gets frustrating. Everyone wants a little piece, and at some point there’s nothing to give. Nobody gives anything back either. There’s very little reciprocal action. It’s all take. Even with journalists.”

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“He likes his private time; he always has,” U.S. alpine director Jesse Hunt said Friday. "He needs it to gather strength, to go out and do what he’s doing on the hills. Certainly, he needs to find a balance.

“He’s got a lot of demands from sponsors and the media now that he’s a superstar.”

Going against the flow

Miller has turned a cold shoulder to convention from Day One, when he separated himself from the World Cup pack with his radical style, which is now the benchmark for the sport. Racers master technique traditionally and then gradually build up speed; Miller went for speed first and then, by trial and error, developed a technique to accommodate it.

But deciding to compete in all four disciplines - slalom, giant slalom, downhill and super-G - was his most radical move.

Speed specialists such as America’s Daron Rahlves rarely attempt technical events; technical specialists such as Erik Schlopy usually keep their distance from downhill tracks. In fact, only four racers have won all four events.

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“I think he is (special),” Jean- Claude Killy told Ski Racing. "He has fooled a lot of people, thinking he is a fantasist. He’s not.

“We all thought Bode was not concentrating on it, or just not committed to it. But he was probably so much more than people thought, Plus he’s tasting the magnificent taste of victories. When you’re winning, you want to win more.”

Miller long has fascinated Europeans, especially in his younger days in the backwoods of New Hampshire.

“His Tarzanlike upbringing empowered Miller with unusual athletic attributes,” a European columnist wrote about Miller’s childhood.

Actually, Miller comes from a line of athletes: His uncles were elite racers, his mother, Jo, is a former racer, and her father owned a tennis camp near Franconia, where she met Will Miller, son of a prominent Vermont surgeon.

Weary of a “consumer culture,” Will dropped out of medical school and moved to the backwoods with Jo, where they built a cabin by the edge of a creek. Jo gave birth to four children in their remote sanctuary, vowing to raise independent thinkers. Bode virtually lived on Cannon Mountain, zooming headlong and headstrong down icy slopes.

Miller, home-schooled until third grade, eventually enrolled at Carrabassett Valley Academy, where students attend classes early in the morning and late in the afternoon - and ski in between. In high school, he refused to write his final English paper, received a grade of incomplete and didn’t receive a diploma. Miller disagreed with the “structure” of the assignment.

Breaking in

Miller burst onto the elite racing scene in 1995, winning a couple of national junior races, though he quickly earned a reputation for botched starts, crazy landings and bad endings.

At the 2001 World Championships in St. Anton, Austria, for example, only a safe downhill run stood between Miller and a medal in the combined. But less than 30 seconds into the race, with the fastest first interval time, he lost control of his left ski and crashed into a fence.

Miller not only lost a medal, he suffered cartilage damage and a tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament and was shipped back to Vail.

After four mediocre seasons, Miller found his groove in 2001, winning his first World Cup race, at Val d’Isere, Switzerland, after recovering from a midcourse stumble.

But his ultimate high came in Salt Lake City at the Olympics. After winning a silver medal in giant slalom, Miller turned his attention to the combined. In the downhill portion, he crashed at 55 mph but managed to pick himself up and finish.

He made two big mistakes in the first slalom and scolded himself afterward for poor tactics. Entering the final slalom, he trailed the leader by 2.44 seconds, an insurmountable margin even for a World Cup champion. But in one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of ski racing, he came though for the silver. The sheer gall of it inspired racers and fans everywhere.

Pinning hopes on Miller

“We are trying to put skiing back into prime time. . . . We need to interest bigger sponsors. And having Bode Miller is promising. Lance Armstrong put (cycling) on ABC,” Killy said.

Added Kalle Palander of Finland: “(Miller is) great for alpine skiing, really good for the entire World Cup. We really need heroes. We’re missing people like Alberto Tomba.”

As Hermann Maier started dominating World Cup events, other racers rushed to duplicate his style; when Miller made his move, the Austrian team invited him to their training sessions, intrigued by his seat-of-the-pants nimbleness and nonchalance.

A switch to Austrian-made Atomic skis, along with increased confidence and maturity, helped key Miller’s remarkable season. But his passion for the perfect race, even the perfect turn, remains his enduring strength.

“Bode enjoys the performance, being a performer. He likes showing people what he can do, but more importantly, showing himself,” former teammate Chris Puckett said. “He believes he can do it. That’s why he likes golf, too. If you play golf, you know the most satisfying thing is to see a shot in your head, try to do it and actually do it. That’s what’s so fun about it; to actually execute a difficult task. Ski racing is like that.”

Earlier in his career, after he had blown a potential victory, Miller rushed to his coach, barely able to contain his excitement.

“God, I was having so much fun,” he said. “I was going as fast as I could; I could feel the speed in my skis. I forget about winning.”

No one will let him forget about it in Bormio, one of the oldest mountain resorts in the Alps. For centuries, Romans often traveled here to enjoy mud baths and thermal hot springs. The main square was built in the 14th century.

In 1985, in Bormio, Swiss legend Pirmin Zurbriggen won his first world championship medals; in 1995, 20,000 screaming spectators watched Tomba cruise to victory in the World Cup finals.

A few days ago, Miller rolled into Bormio in his custom-built motor home, which he shares with a friend who does the driving and cooking. Equipped with a television, high-tech kitchen and electronic games, the Bodemobile is a perfect sanctuary for skiing’s newest superstar.

“(It’s) been an amazing improvement,” he said at a recent news conference. “It keeps things balanced.”

Bode Miller file

Things you might not know about the brightest star in U.S. skiing:

• Unusual training methods include uphill unicycle rides and single-legged tightrope squats.

• Rocks out to the Allman Brothers.

• During one stretch, failed to finish 14 of 21 World Cup races. World Cup racers used to gather around a television when Miller raced, anticipating his next crash.

• Made his first breakthrough at the 1996 Junior Olympics, winning the giant slalom and super-G. He used a pair of “carving skis” - the hourglass- shaped skis that recently had been developed to help recreational skiers turn more easily.

• Won silver medals in giant slalom and combined at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

• At the 2003 World Championships, won gold in giant slalom, gold in combined and silver in the super-G. He was sixth in slalom and 16th in the downhill.

I’ve seen brief mentions of him using “uphill unicycling” as a training method in a few other places. I wonder how seriously he takes it.

Re: from Rocky Mountain News online…

You could have <<snipped for length>> some more. That was a l-o-n-g
read to find just one unicycle.

Klaas Bil - Newsgroup Addict

It’s impossible to get old when you ride a unicycle - John (what’s in a name) Childs

I did a Google news search on “unicycle” and found this article about Bode Miller from last month (Jan 9, 2005):

San Francisco Chronicle: It’s not all downhill for Bode Miller

It’s not all downhill for Bode Miller
American skier is dominating in other Cup disciplines as well

  • John Crumpacker
    Sunday, January 9, 2005

He was raised in a cabin in the New Hampshire woods without running water or electricity. His exercise routine includes log rolling and tightrope walking and riding his unicycle uphill. Yes, his unicycle.

When the world’s best skiers put away their skis for the 2004-05 season, Bode Miller figures to be the first American to win the overall World Cup championship since Phil Mahre in 1983 and the first non-Austrian in six years.

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A year ago there was an entertainment show with the norwegian downhill skiers competing against some other norwegian celebrities. Then the downhill skiers rode unicycles, they use it for balance training.

Rusty, Norway