Upon exit from Sochi stage, Bode Miller remains contradictory figure

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It has been 12 years since Bode Miller won his first Olympic medals, in Salt Lake City. He is 36 now and these are surely his last Olympic Games.

He is at once one of the most accomplished and one of the most complex figures ever to make his way across the American and international sports landscape.

No question he is the best ski racer the United States has ever produced. He has six Olympic medals, including a bronze in the super-G here. He has two overall World Cup titles, 33 World Cup wins, 78 World Cup podium finishes. He is also one of only five skiers to win World Cup races in five disciplines.

As Miller has often maintained, he doesn’t ski for the medals.

And it is here that the contradictions of Miller clash, often visibly, sometimes — as in Torino in 2006, when he wasn’t feeling it — to his great detriment. This can be no surprise. Great artists come layered with rippled currents of contradiction that play out to powerful effect and in different directions.

“It’s part of the story,” said Bill Marolt, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. “When the final piece of art is finished, it will be a masterpiece.”

RELATED: What makes Bode Miller great after all these years?

Marolt also said of Miller, “You talk about talented people. In my mind, in my eyes, he’s a phenomenon in the truest sense of the word. He has this incredible athletic ability. We say that a lot. But in his case, it’s really true. He has athletic talent, ability and at the same time he has got that will to focus in the moment and to make things happen.”

After the controversy, for instance, over his tears amid the super-G bronze, Miller was asked Wednesday after finishing in 20th place in the giant slalom about his emotional state.

He said, “I’m good. Those days don’t really seem to rock me too hard at the moment. It’s incredible. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Afterward, you move on. You focus. Bad result, good result. In skiing, the next day comes whether you are ready for it or not. I knew I had races I wanted to be prepared for and wanted to be ready for.”

To even try to understand Miller, and his station not just in skiing but in American and international sports, it helps to think of him, truly, as a performance artist. His canvas, as it were, is the mountain. He does things there that nobody — repeat, nobody — has done before and likely nobody will do again.

RELATED: Bode Miller – Life in the fast lane

On the race course, he gives it 100 percent, always. He recovers from near-disasters like no one else.

As he said in winning that super-G bronze, “Missing opportunities, unfortunately, is just what it sounds like. It’s just missed opportunities. I don’t feel like it can compensate for something I missed in the past. The mistakes I’ve been making are costly. It cost me again today,” because but for an error on the last jump he might well have had gold.

“But, you know, they are mistakes born of intensity and focus and probably pushing too hard, which, you know, I have dealt with a lot in my career. If there is a fault I can accept, it’s that I push too hard in these big days, these big moments.

“I don’t like to think that I came down and skied 80 percent, even though on these days with the conditions like this, for me 80 percent would probably get me more medals. But it just doesn’t feel right. So I go out and ski as hard as I can and deal with the consequences.”

RELATED: Through the lens – Bode Miller

It has been that way since he was little.

The story of how Miller grew up in the backwoods in New Hampshire is well known. It need not be revisited. Except for this:

“I was sort of born into it,” he said here. “I had no babysitter or anything. I spent most of my childhood on the mountain, just doing my own thing. I think it was more the independence, the freedom I fell in love with. The skiing grew on me over time.”

The inherent contradiction, of course, is that skiing is rife with rules. Arcane rules. Incredibly minute details, in fact, that matter intensely in a sport in which hundredths of a second make the difference between winning and losing.

RELATED: Bode Miller – I’ve got Games

Miller, acknowledging Wednesday after that 20th spot, “It’s tough to have my last race here look like this,” quickly said nonetheless, “I feel good about where I’m at. I came back really strong,” from a knee problem that kept him out all last season. “I really did a lot of work. I put in the time. That’s a really positive feeling. Yeah, I feel like I did my best.”

It’s double knee problems that are keeping him from racing the slalom. He missed all of last season after enduring microfracture surgery on the left knee. He twisted the right knee in a bad crash in a GS race in St. Moritz, Switzerland, a week before the Olympic downhill.

On the one hand, Miller absolutely put in the time and got himself into peak condition.

On the other, after rocking the three downhill training runs — finishing first, sixth, first — Miller came in eighth on race day. The training runs had come on bright, sunny days. Race day went down in cloudier conditions. Miller said after the race that he was supposed to have had laser eye surgery before Sochi but somehow didn’t find time to fit it into his schedule: “I haven’t won in five years when the sun is not out,” he said.

RELATED: Vancouver flashback – Bode wins gold

At 36, the man couldn’t take care of that sort of essential business? Really?

Perhaps this is why Miller has always preferred to riff about skiing for the essence of it rather than chasing victory.

And yet — he for sure wants to win.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Because, yes, no one can or should doubt he is in it for the transcendent moment when he tests himself against the mountain, when he willingly pushes fear to the side, throwing himself down a river of ice to see what might happen. It just might be great. This is why wherever he goes the crowds chant his name.

RELATED: Emotional Bode medals in race that mattered most

“We have all had our moments,” Marolt said. “As you see him now, today, what he has done not only for himself and his family but for our organization and the entire Olympic movement — we are sitting here in Russia and Bode Miller’s picture comes up on the screen and people cheer like hell. They know him and they love him. You don’t see that but for a very few athletes.

“And in my experience — none where he so captivates the public and the audience where they see his name and his face, and it happens everywhere.”

At the same time, let’s not be naive. When he is in the start gate, Miller is in it to win it.

Here he finally said so.

Before the downhill, his first race here, he said, “The idea is to be unbeatable,” adding a moment later, “I’m going to be ready. I want to win.”

RELATED: Bode defends interviewer, says he was ‘super-emotional’

After the giant slalom, his last race, he said, “Obviously, I feel like I was capable of more. My effort, my intensity, I think was as good as I could possibly put out there. It’s tough. Benny Raich,” the veteran Austrian skier, “said to me today, he said, ‘It’s always tough. It’s never easy out there.’

“The Olympics is always a super-challenging situation because you come in, you want to do everything you can but only one guy wins. That’s, you know, I really feel like I did what I could. I came out with a medal. So I’m happy.”

Germany goes 1-2 at bobsled worlds; Kaillie Humphries breaks medals record

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Kim Kalicki and Lisa Buckwitz gave Germany a one-two in the world bobsled championships two-woman event, while American Kaillie Humphries earned bronze to break the career medals record.

Kalicki, who was fourth at last year’s Olympics and leads this season’s World Cup standings, edged Buckwitz by five hundredths of a second combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Humphries, with push athlete Kaysha Love, was 51 hundredths behind.

Olympic champion Laura Nolte was in third place after two runs but crashed in the third run.

Humphries, 37 and a three-time Olympic champion between two-woman and monobob, earned her eighth world championships medal in the two-woman event. That broke her tie for the record of seven with retired German Sandra Kiriasis. Humphries is also the most decorated woman in world championships monobob, taking gold and silver in the two times it has been contested.

Humphries rolled her ankle after the first day of last week’s monobob, plus took months off training in the offseason while also doing two rounds of IVF.

“I chose to continue the IVF journey through the season which included a Lupron Depot shot the day before this race began,” she posted after her monobob silver last weekend. “My weight and body fluctuating all year with hormones, it was a battle to find my normal while competing again. I’m happy with this result, I came into it wanting a podium and we achieved it as a team.”

Love, who was seventh with Humphries in the Olympic two-woman event, began her transition to become a driver after the Games.

Worlds finish Sunday with the final two runs of the four-man event.

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.