Easton, New Hampshire native Bode Miller has had an alpine skiing career as unlikely as his upbringing. Through third grade, he lived in a log cabin in Franconia, N.H. with no indoor plumbing or electricity. When his parents divorced, he entered the public-school system (it’s safe to say that this is one kid who never would have made the Olympics had it not been for a fractured family) and was soon a scholarship student at a ski academy in Maine.
Miller’s professional career has been not sinusoidal but bipolar. To sum up, he’s the best male American alpine skier ever; you can look into his staggering World Cup record on your own if you want. I’ll look only at his Olympics efforts.
In Salt Lake City in 2002, Miller, who has excelled at all five downhill disciplines (downhill, slalom, giant slalom, Super G and super combined), won silver medals in the slalom and the super combined, a great effort for an American under any circumstances (remember, it wasn’t until Bill Johnson’s 1984 blaze of glory in Sarajevo that an American won a gold medal in the downhill at the Olympics) and a testament to the young skier’s promise. He excelled on the world circuit right up until the 2006 Olympics in Torino–where every one of his five medal attempts ended in failure, at some points embarrassingly so. He was renowned at this point more for his partying than for anything he did on the slopes, rather like an Alberto Tomba without the flair or the accomplishments, although in a 60 Minutes interview he admitted mixing the two. His was surely the bitterest U.S. Olympian pill since Dan Jansen. At 28, he was legislated by some to be a permanent non-contender for Olympic gold.
Fast-forward to the present. Miller, coming off the worst season of his professional career (he did not train in the summer and considered retiring), nevertheless qualified for the Vancouver Games. Facing suggestions that he was burned out, Miller took the bronze medal in his first event, the downhill, a harbinger of things to come. He then took silver in the Super G, and yesterday, finally reaching the pinnacle of his career and completing an unlikely comeback, he won the gold medal in the super combined (seventh in the downhill and third in the slalom). I’m not certain of this yet, but he is probably the first New Hampshirite to win Olympic Gold.
Miller still has the giant slalom and the slalom to compete in, but regardless of the outcomes of those races, Miller has already won more Olympic medals (five) than any American male skier in history and has laid to rest whatever demons may have haunted him after his pratfall in Italy four years ago. New Hampshire is not exactly a hotbed of elite athleticism, and everyone here is going nuts today over his win yesterday.