Ray Duckler: Touched by tragedy, Bode Miller lets his guard down for all to see
With the speed of a downhill run, after years of interviews that cast him as selfish and indifferent, Bode Miller struck gold Sunday by not saying a word.
His tears did the talking for him.
NBC reporter Christin Cooper, herself a former Olympic skier, refused to backpedal once Miller referred to his late brother, Chelone, who died last year after suffering a seizure.
Cooper should have known – or accepted – that Miller had nothing left to give during the interview, nothing left to say. Fresh off a bronze medal in the super G, Miller choked up, cried, bowed his head, then dropped to his knees.
The world watched and related to an Olympic champion who grew up near Cannon Mountain, skiing for the Franconia Ski Club and thumbing his nose at conformity.
So while Cooper made headlines for being a media shark, sensing blood and moving in for the tabloid kill, Miller emerged as a sympathetic figure.
Finally, at age 36, after winning more Olympic medals – six – than any American skier ever, and after becoming the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympic history, a different take on Bode Miller surfaced.
His image, already rebuilt, improved further yesterday when he defended Cooper on NBC’s Today.
“I’ve known Christin a long time, and she is a sweetheart of a person,” Miller told host Matt Lauer. “I know she didn’t mean to push. I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she sort of realized it, I think it was too late, and I don’t really, I don’t blame her at all.”
Miller’s relationship with the press and the public has, at times, been icy. He’s been a media magnet for decades, a colorful story wrapped in an independent streak.
He grew up in Easton, raised by counterculture parents, with no electricity or running water.
He angered parents when he admitted on a national news program that he sometimes skied buzzed, a leftover feeling after a night of partying.
He angered his teammates and the World Cup community when he announced that he was leaving the U.S. Ski Team to compete as an independent skier.
He angered Olympic fans when he said that medals meant nothing to him, that he was skiing for himself and no one else.
He even managed to anger baseball purists when he played in a game with the Nashua Pride, an independent professional team.
Then, in vintage fashion, in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,000 fans 7½ years ago at Holman Stadium, Miller made a tumbling catch in left field that was so amazing it led ESPN’s video coverage that night.
A sports columnist back then, I covered the event and spoke to Miller that day in Nashua. I thought he was thoughtful and funny, but I knew I could never capture who he really was simply from a 20-minute press conference.
Could he be as nice as he seemed? Could he be as indifferent and selfish as he’d been portrayed by the media?
Fair or not, baseless judgements are made about celebrities all the time.
We think we know them.
We want to know them.
But we don’t know them.
John Devivo, the general manager at Cannon Mountain Ski Area, where Miller groomed his skills, said as much yesterday.
“I wouldn’t say he’s been treated unfairly,” Devivo said. “I just think people like Bode are misunderstood. (The media) take a snippet and they run with it. I think anyone under that much public scrutiny is going to be misunderstood.”
Devivo sees Miller each spring at Cannon Mountain’s BodeFest, a fundraiser for the Turtle Ridge Foundation, which supports athletic activities for underprivileged kids.
Miller’s sister, Kyla Miller, is the director of the program and still lives in the area. Devivo said this year’s event is April 5, and Miller will be there.
“He’s very intelligent, outspoken,” Devivo told me. “He tells you what he wants. He tells you what he’s looking for, and he goes after it.”
Devivo said he doesn’t know whether Miller will compete in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. He’ll be 40, so it’s doubtful.
He’ll race in the giant slalom tomorrow and the slalom Saturday.
Then, if he retires from Olympic competition, a softer, gentler Miller will now be remembered.
Perception, after all, is reality.
“It was just a lot of emotion for me,” Miller told Lauer yesterday morning. “You sometimes don’t realize how much you contain that stuff until the dam breaks, and then it’s just a real outpouring.”