Sports

The ups and downs of Bode Miller

BEAVER CREEK, CO - DECEMBER 02: Bode Miller of the United States skis the course with a 3D point of view camera prior to downhill training for the Audi FIS Ski World Cup on the Birds of Prey on December 2, 2015 in Beaver Creek, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/File 2015

The tragic death of his 19-month-old daughter added another twist to the life of the US’s most accomplished male ski racer, Bode Miller.

From his outspoken criticism on a range of topics to some highly public spats to incredible success on the slopes, Miller’s life has been filled with ups and downs. Here’s a look:

Man of the mountains

Miller, who is from Easton, N.H., is the greatest US men’s ski racer of all time, claiming 33 World Cup victories, two overall World Cup titles, six Olympic medals (one gold), and four World Championship titles. After making his professional ski racing debut in 1998, Miller went on to compete in five Olympic Games.

Speaking out against anti-doping tests

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In 2005, Miller said he felt like he was being tested more often than normal for performance enhancing drugs. He said that he was to be tested three straight weekends in late October into early November that year, one of which he missed because he was on the road. He told SkiRacing.com that the frequency reminded him of the 2002-03 season when he believed he was tested so often that he and his attorney thought about taking legal action.

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“It’s incredibly insulting to be drug-tested over and over and over again,” he said. “Your pride is important, and when people come up to you any time and tell you you have to pull down your pants to your knees and piss in a cup.”

He spoke out against anti-doping practices a lot that year, saying that some PEDs could help in terms of skier safety and that he was “surprised it’s illegal.”

“Because in our sport, it would be pretty minimal health risks, and it would actually make it safer for the athletes, because you’d have less chance of making a mistake at the bottom and killing yourself,” he said in October 2005.

Further, he wrote this in a diary for The Denver Post: “I think our drug-testing policies are ridiculous and need to change.”

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His support of legalizing doping caused the IOC’s athlete commission to dispatch Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden to chat with Miller.

“What he said goes totally against what we as an athletes’ commission are trying to accomplish,” said Wiberg.

And it also caused Dick Pound, then head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, to call Miller “irresponsible.”

Party boy image

The 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, marked an interesting stretch for Miller, who won two silvers at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. In the leadup to the 2006 games, he talked on “60 Minutes” about how skiing drunk was “not easy.” “It’s like driving drunk, only there are no rules about it in ski racing,” he said that January. He was asked if that meant he wouldn’t ski drunk again, and Miller replied: “No, I’m not saying that.” He also said he has frequently “been in really tough shape at the top of the course.”

That sparked an impromptu trip by the then-president of US Ski and Snowboard Bill Marolt to Europe to have a chat with Miller, who also unsettled donors and sponsors with his comments. His head coach said at the time: “I think the question Bode has to answer is ‘Do you still want to be a part of the United States Ski Team?’ ”

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Miller eventually apologized, saying, “The message that came through was not something that I would promote or that I’m about in any aspect of my sporting career. I don’t put anything in front of taking ski racing and sports seriously.”

His results in Turin went like this: fifth in downhill, DQ on the latter half of the combined, DNF the super-G, sixth in the giant slalom, DNF in the slalom.

“I just did it my way. I’m not a martyr, and I’m not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here,” he said after.

“It’s been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”

Split with the US ski team

With sights set on his desire to train his own way, use his preferred equipment, and generally have more control over his ski career and sponsors, Miller split from the US ski team in 2007, skiing on the international circuit as an independent for two years, self-funding his Team America. He won his second career overall title in 2008, but had a terrible 2009 season, finishing no higher than 15th in four of five disciplines in the overall standings. (He finished seventh in the overall standings for downhill). He eventually rejoined the US ski team in late 2009.

Alessandro Trovati/AP/File 2012

Criticism of international ski rules

In December 2005, he was fined for refusing a boot test after a World Cup slalom race.

“There’s no logic to these rules,” said Miller. “I don’t even want to participate if it’s going to be like this. It’s certainly not worth me allowing them to abuse their power.”

In 2011, Miller spoke out strongly against an impending equipment rule change that affected size and radius of skis. Miller called the rule change by FIS “a complete joke. It’s going backwards every time they do a regulation.”

“This is another step back in time,” Miller said. “Next year you will see people walking into a ski shop and buy better skis than we can race on in the World Cup. That’s a really bad situation.”

Lawsuit with ski manufacturer

In 2007, Miller began using Head skis. In late 2015, he terminated his contract with the company early, signing an agreement that he, at the time considering retirement, would not compete in any World Cup or World Championship races for two years from the day of the agreement. Around that same time, Miller struck a deal with Bomber Skis, becoming a part owner as well.

When Miller began to train for his return to ski racing in 2016, he filed a lawsuit against Head in California that basically argued the agreement violated part of the state’s business and professions code that states no agreement can be reached that would prevent someone from lawfully pursuing a “profession, trade, or business of any kind.” In December 2016, a judge ruled that Miller had jurisdiction in the lawsuit. Miller announced his retirement from professional ski racing 10 months later.

Miller family tragedy

In April 2013, Miller and his family suffered an excruciating loss. Miller’s brother, Chelone, died at age 29. Chelone, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a dirt bike crash in 2005, was aiming for a spot on the US snowboardcross team for the 2014 Sochi Games. Three days before he was scheduled to leave for a trip to Alaska for a snowboarding challenge, he was found dead in his mobile home, a van he had parked in a friend’s driveway, in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. He died of an apparent seizure.

Chelone, who was nicknamed “Chilly,” resisted taking the medicine doctors said would help with the seizures in the aftermath of the dirt bike crash.

“He loved life so much. It made him easy to love and easy to be around. I’m going to miss him a lot,” Bode told the Ski Channel.

That wasn’t the only tragedy the Miller family had to endure. From a 2013 Globe story: “In 1981, his uncle Bubba Kenney, a nationally ranked collegiate skier, died at 25 kayaking in nearby Echo Lake. In 2007, his cousin, Liko Kenney, 24, was shot and killed near the family compound, seconds after he fatally shot a Franconia police officer with whom he had feuded. In January [2013], Bode’s wife, professional volleyball star Morgan Beck, who had previously announced she was pregnant, tweeted, “We lost the baby :( Brokenhearted but getting through it together.’’”

Jonathan Selkowitz/Handout/File 2015

Calling out Russia for anti-gay laws

Ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games, Miller firmly spoke out about the host country’s anti-gay laws, calling it “ignorant.” His comments came at a time when few US athletes were directly answering questions about the laws.

“It is absolutely embarrassing that there are countries and people who are that intolerant, that ignorant,” he said. “But it’s not the first time we’ve been dealing with human rights issues since there were humans.

“I think it’s crappy that we don’t have a better system dealing with that stuff. Asking an athlete to go somewhere and compete and be a representative of a philosophy and all the crap that goes along with it and then tell them they can’t express their views or say what they believe I think is pretty hypocritical.

“If they let me make the rules I will switch it for you immediately, I can solve a lot of stuff really quickly but unfortunately no one has elected me or given me that kind of power.

“My main emotion when I hear about stuff like that is embarrassment. As a human being I think it is embarrassing.”

Marriage comment at the 2018 Winter Games

Miller said that marriage was bad for ski racers.

Miller, who was an analyst for NBC in PyeongChang, offered up this when talking about Anna Veith during her giant slalom race: “I want to point out, she also got married. It’s historically very challenging to race on World Cup with a family or after being married. You know, not to blame the spouses, but I just want to toss that out there that it might be her husband’s fault.”

He quickly apologized on air.

“That was an ill-advised attempt at a joke. I was an athlete that competed after marriage and I know how beneficial it is. I know the support team you need. I relied on my friends and family. And if you have the luxury of relying on a spouse I know they are inevitably your biggest supporter. And on Valentine’s Day I didn’t mean to throw spouses under the bus. Certainly, I’m going to be hearing it from my wife, I know.”

From ski racing to horse racing

Miller purchased a barn, Perfect Sky 1 at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, in 2015 with the hopes that, when he does get his license as a trainer, that he can change how horse training works. “It’s basically implementing sport science and the lessons we’ve learned in training for human sports over the last 50 or 60 years,” Miller said.

From Blood Horse in 2015: “Miller envisions himself and partners owning about 15 horses in a training program that he will oversee along with about 15 horses from other owners interested in participating. Miller will use traditional horsemen to carry out daily exercise programs and Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen will use a sport science approach to monitor the horses.”

He has purchased stakes in a few horses: Fast and Accurate, which raced in the Kentucky Derby last year, En Hanse, who won the 2017 WEBN Stakes at Turfway in Kentucky, and Carving, which won the 2012 Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park.