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Miller Time
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Forsyth County News
Sunday. Vancouver. Miller Time.

Until Sunday, all that glittered was not gold for Bode Miller. The best alpine skier in U.S. history might have won four Olympic medals, 32 World Cup races, and four world titles in four different events. But he had never won an Olympic gold medal.

Not that it bothered Miller. He has always marched to a different drummer, or skied on a different line, if you will. Winning has never been as important as the quest to perfect his craft.

The search was never for the gold medal; it was for the perfect race. “I wouldn’t have been happy winning gold if I hadn’t been happy with my run,” he told Christopher Clary of the New York Times.

Miller found his Holy Grail Sunday afternoon in the slalom portion of the super combined. The morning half of the event, the downhill, found
Miller in seventh place after a race that never threatened perfection.

Miller had finished third in the men’s downhill last week, just nine hundredths of a second out of first. Sunday morning’s run paled by comparison.

Since the slalom remains the only event in which Miller has never won a world title, the prospect of seeing Miller on the podium Sunday afternoon seemed remote at best.

Leave it to Miller to surprise one and all. He attacked the course with a fury, without fear of failure, making every cut precisely, knocking down each gate with a knee or shin. Right on the edge, but never out of control. Slicing through the course like a hot knife through soft butter.

“The way I executed, the way I skied,” Miller told Bill Pennington of the New York Times, “is something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life. It feels amazing.

“It was absolutely perfect.”

That notion was seconded by Miller’s teammate, Ted Ligety. The defending Olympic champion in this event, Ligety told Pennington after his own fifth place finish, “I think what he means is his resume is perfectly complete. There is nothing left Bode hasn’t won: world championships, World Cup overall titles, Olympic medals of every color.

“Perfect? It was today.”

Pretty amazing, especially when you consider how Miller felt Sunday morning. “He was pretty banged up,” Ligety told Pennington. Sunday’s downhill didn’t help.

“In between runs, I was beat up,” Miller told David Leon Moore of the USA Today. “I was hurting and tired and exhausted and hot and hungry. It just feels really cool to feel like you don’t have anything in your gas tank and then just simply function off the inspiration of the crowd and the Olympics and my teammates.”

Whoa, hold on a minute. Was that Bode Miller talking about feeding off of the Olympic spirit? Come again?

“When you’re at the Olympics, the energy and everything else, you can use that to bring your game up,” Miller continued. “To be able to do that a few races in a row, it feels absolutely amazing. The level I skied at today is right at the very, very top. For my first Olympic gold, it was absolutely perfect.”

There’s that word again. One we never heard associated with Miller in Turin. The massed media ordained Miller the King of Mount Olympus heading into the 2006 Games. He was coming off of silver medals in the giant slalom and super combined at Salt Lake City, and was predicted to tote home a neck full of medals from Turin.

He didn’t win a single one.

“I was incredibly conflicted,” Miller said after Sunday’s slalom. “The Olympics is definitely in my mind a two-sided coin. It has all the best things in sport. It has amazing energy, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration. It’s what changes lives, and I think in that sense, it’s the pinnacle of what sports and camaraderie and all that stuff is.

“And on the flip side of that is the opposite. That’s the corruption and the abuse and the money. And I’m not pointing fingers, but that’s what was bothering me. And being thrust into the middle of that, and being the poster boy for that when it’s the absolute thing I despise the most in the world is, was, really draining on my inspiration, on my level of passion, and those are the things I function on primarily when I’m racing.”

“Everyone wanted him to win five medals in Turin,” NBC’s Steve Porino told Clancy. “So, suddenly, it wasn’t his destiny anymore. And now, he made a very deliberate choice to not communicate with people, so he didn’t have to deal with expectations. And the results are magical.”

“I’m not surprised,” rival Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway told Clary, “but I’m definitely impressed.”

“I never know what to make of Bode Miller,” Austria’s Benjamin Raich told Pennington, “because he is crazy. I’m serious. He is so hard to understand.

“But I know this: when he is on, he is the perfect skier.”

Ah, perfection. Good as gold.