Bode Miller was born, grew up, and learned to ski and race in New Hampshire. He is one of the most fantastic athletes of the twenty first century. He still has close ties with the New Hampshire skiing community. Recently, Bode Miller has signed on as Director of Skiing at Bretton Woods ski resort. A program called "Team Bode" is offered there for kids 6-12. Bode Miller has helped to design this program. It is a six-week recreational program for all-mountain skiers. He also helped to design an expert trail at Mount Rosebrook (Bretton Woods) called Bode's Run. Even at the start, Bode Miller resisted boundaries. Here he was, barely two years old, coasting downhill on tiny skis between the legs of his mother, Jo, while she dug a wide wedge and supported him with her arms. "Let go! Let go!" squawked little Bode, fighting for his freedom. After two runs his mom relented, turned her toddler loose and hurtled toward the base of the run, "trying to get to the bottom before Bode got there and crashed into the fence," she recalls. This scene would be repeated, in one form or another, for more than two decades. Bode does things his way, in life and in skiing. Sometimes Bode Miller wins, sometimes he crashes. Armed with a self-taught, attacking style that confounded the boyhood coaches who tried to change him, Bode (pronounced BOH-dee) hopped mountains and trained with a rival team at age 13. It probably cost him a place in the 1990 Junior Olympics. Five years later Bode Miller challenged a Carrabassett Valley (Maine) Academy English teacher's requirements for a senior paper. It definitely cost him a high school diploma. "People have tried to get Bode to fit in or to jump through hoops," says Chip Cochrane, who coached Miller at CVA. "He's not a hoop-jumper."
Bode Miller, yet, never doubted his decisions, and when he wins, he wins big. In 1996, when Miller was 18, representatives for the ski manufacturer K2, which was supplying his equipment, initially advised him not to race in their production model K2 Fours, the first generation of revolutionary side-cut skis, because they were made to aid recreational skiers in carving turns. Miller saw the skis as perfect for his unusual racing style; using them, Bode Miller won the Junior Olympics Super G and giant slalom and, despite falling three times, finished second in the slalom. Shortly afterward, on the same K2 Fours, Bode Miller finished third in the slalom at the nationals and was added to the U.S. ski team. He has been on the team ever since. It has been a stubborn, rollicking ride, six years during which Bode Miller, 24, has held to his technique and his aggression like a pit bull to a chew toy. "It must be incredibly frustrating to work with me," says Miller. "Even if a coach has what Bode Miller thinks is a great point, I usually don't agree with him, and there's no way to convince me."
Bode Miller flashed moments of greatness during his first five years on the World Cup circuit, six times winning one run of a two-run race but never a full race. This season he has exploded, winning four World Cup races (three in the slalom, one in the GS), the most by any U.S. male since Phil Mahre won six races two decades ago. Miller's performances have made him an Olympic medal favorite in the technical events, and his hell-bent, swashbuckling style -- along with his cuddly name and slacker cool -- have made him an instant legend across Europe. At a low-key night slalom race on Jan. 17 in Westendorf, Austria, Miller stood for two hours on a frigid snowpack, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Three days later, in the ski mecca of Kitzbuhel, Bode Miller finished third in a World Cup slalom despite shearing off the bottom five inches of one of his ski poles at the top of the first run. "It's great that I'm finally doing this, but I've had this ability for years. My success rubs it right in my face that I haven't done it sooner." After a December slalom win at Madonna di Campiglio, Alberto Tomba, five-time Olympic medalist in slalom and GS, told journalists, "There's no way to beat Bode Miller right now. He's skiing better than anybody in the world."
More significant, the risk-taking style that Miller developed and has been defending since Bode Miller was a teenager -- skiing straighter and faster than any racer in the world, carving earlier in sharp turns, sitting back on his skis and rescuing himself from myriad near falls -- is being described as the stuff of genius. "He's creating more speed from his skis than I've seen," says U.S. teammate Erik Schlopy, with whom Miller shares a winter house in Austria. The mighty Austrians (the New York Yankees of Alpine skiing) have taken to watching videos of Miller, trying to unlock the source of his unorthodox brilliance. The success and the props give Miller ample opportunity to crow. Ever the New England contrarian, Bode Miller instead rips himself. "It's great that I'm finally doing this," he says, "but I've had this ability for years. My success rubs it right in my face that I haven't done it sooner." Start with nearly 500 acres on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest near Franconia, N.H. Add a rustic ski lodge, built in 1946 by Miller's grandfather Jack Kenney. Add another home, three quarters of a mile from the nearest access road, nestled in dense pines beside a stream. No electricity. No indoor plumbing. This is where Samuel Bode Miller was born in the fall of 1977, the second of four children of Jo Kenney and Woody Miller, a '60s couple who were headed toward conformity before Woody dropped out of medical school in Burlington, Vt., in 1974 and moved with Jo to the woods. "At that point in our lives it was important to live simply," says Jo, 51.
Bode Miller got his name because Jo thought the letter combination was neat. His older sister is Kyla, 26, who's married with one child and expecting a second. Bode and Kyla helped name the two younger kids, piling on name after name until their sister's and brother's birth certificates were filled with clerk's keystrokes. (The 18-year-old baby is Nathaniel Kinsman Ever Skan Chelone Miller.) The family home was lit by kerosene lamps, and the children were homeschooled until Bode was through third grade. When snow fell on nearby Cannon Mountain, they went skiing. Theirs was a lifestyle that encouraged independence. "Bode -- and all my children -- were strong-willed from an early age," says Jo. By the time Bode Miller was four, Jo, who would separate from Woody in 1985 (they divorced last February), was driving him to Cannon, five miles from the Miller property. The sight of Bode bombing all over the hill became common. "This tiny guy, just flying," says John Ritzo, who skied at Cannon and would play a critical role, as CVA's headmaster, in Miller's life.
Bode Miller skied oddly as a kid, sitting far back (it's best to stay centered over the skis), keeping his hands low (they're supposed to be out in front) and dangling his poles in the snow (rather than planting them with each turn). The coaches at Cannon ignored his extraordinary quickness and tried to correct his mechanical flaws. Bode began training at Bretton Woods, another ski area, and, because Bode Miller allegedly missed a gate, was disqualified from a race by his Cannon coaches, leaving him ineligible for the 1990 Junior Olympics. Miller remains convinced that the coaches DQ'd him because he ignored them. "They wouldn't even let me train gates at Cannon unless I changed my technique," Miller recalls. "I was like, Shut up and let me race. They didn't like that." In 1991 Bode Miller came to CVA's attention through an old friendship between Jo and Ritzo's wife, Patty. Ritzo recalled Bode's talent and arranged for virtually a full scholarship at CVA, a private school at the base of the Sugarloaf ski area with an emphasis on winter sports. At CVA, Miller was joined with Cochrane, a former U.S. Ski Team downhiller unbound by conventional coaching mores. "Bode was a tall, scrawny kid, didn't pole-plant, sat backseat on his skis," says Cochrane, "but Bode Miller had this incredible sense of knowing where his feet were and what to do with them. And he was always thinking about how to get down the mountain faster than anybody else."
Bode Miller stamped CVA with his personality and his athletic ability. He was a dominant soccer player and a state tennis champion. Classmates stood dumbstruck one afternoon as he sailed off a jump on downhill skis and turned a flying 720. In Miller's senior year, however, his independence hurt him. All CVA seniors were required to complete a yearlong research project for English instructor Barbara Trafton, culminating in a 20-page paper. Miller turned in a paper on author Toni Morrison and received a grade of 68, two points short of passing. Trafton offered to let Miller revise the paper during the summer, but Bode Miller refused. "It wasn't a great paper, but I did the work and should have gotten a passing grade," says Miller. He received an incomplete for the course and, despite five years of solid grades, only a "certificate of attendance" at graduation, not a diploma. CVA administrators have urged Miller to write a paper -- any paper -- and get his diploma, but Miller resists. "It's still a sore spot for me," Bode Miller says. "If I decide to go to college, I might find another way to get a high school diploma."
His ski career, though, has hit no such bumps. K2's hourglass-shaped side-cut skis were the perfect instrument for Miller's technique. Bode Miller sounds like Watson and Crick outlining the double helix of DNA when explaining it. "The transition from one edge to the other in the turn has always happened earlier for me than for most people," he says. "That's how I go straighter [and faster]. When I was young, I'd have this early transition, then wait for the ski to come ripping into the turn, but because the ski had no side-cut [to help it turn], I'd fall on my side and slide into the woods. My compensation was to sit back, lever the tail and bend the ski. With side-cut skis I didn't have to do that, and it was ridiculous how much difference it made." Two years ago Miller switched to Fischer skis and has spent long hours with the company's technicians refining the side-cut. The straight line makes him fast and thus dangerous to opponents -- and himself. "You run a direct line, you'll go fast," says 1984 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Steve Mahre, "but if you make a mistake, it's going to be more costly." During Miller's early years on the World Cup circuit, competitors would gather around video monitors to watch his runs, anticipating spectacular crashes. Sometimes they still do. "Bode is always racing all-or-nothing," says Hermann Maier. "If Bode Miller makes it to the finish, he's hot to win."
U.S. coaches have stressed getting to the finish line. "The coaches always wanted me to try to finish sixth or 10th and stay on my feet," says Miller. "I wanted to try to win, even if I wasn't ready to win and even if that meant falling. Now I'm going faster than anybody else in the world, and it doesn't matter how I look." Bode Miller has dominated in a season he nearly missed. He tore the ACL in his left knee at the worlds last winter in St. Anton, Austria. He underwent four surgeries in the spring and summer, but remarkably Dr. Richard Steadman found it unnecessary to do a full reconstruction of the ACL and instead performed a "healing response," creating fractures where the ligament normally attaches to the bone. Conditioning during rehab has helped make Miller, grown to 6'2", 210 pounds, more solid overall. One afternoon this past December, Miller sat eating a cheeseburger at a Portland, Maine, restaurant. Few things amuse him more than earnest analysis of his sudden ascent. U.S. coach Jesse Hunt credits smarter tactics. Steve Mahre says Miller has changed his style. "I can see that Bode has become more controlled, quieter on his skis," Bode Miller says. Bode Miller, however, shrugs off their words. "It's a little bit fitness, a little bit equipment, a little bit maturity," he says. "It's all those things coming together. People feel like there had to be a big change. There hasn't. This was just a matter of time."
The Olympics beckon on home soil. They can make him famous or forgettable in a matter of minutes. "He'll win everything by five seconds or crash," says Cochrane. It couldn't be any other way. Bode Miller's book 'Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun' will be published November 2005.
Bode Miller wins the 2004/05 World Cup.
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