NEW YORK — Bode Miller, the most decorated U.S. Olympic skier of all time with six medals, discussed the possible resumption of his career and its memorable moments while sitting in a hotel room on the 28th floor of the Viceroy hotel overlooking dreary Midtown Manhattan on Monday afternoon.
Here are excerpts from the interview with the 37-year-old, five-time Olympian who was in town to unveil and present a box of Jose Cuervo’s Reserva de la Familia tequila to his father, Woody.
OlympicTalk: You said after your World Championships crash (video), ‘I’m leaning pretty heavy towards’ not skiing anymore. Where do you stand now?
Miller: I’m certainly going to be a part of the sport and be involved with the [U.S.] ski team. … They [The U.S. Ski Team] haven’t really utilized the experienced athletes the way they should have to perpetuate the success that’s been there. Right now we have a group of athletes who are, more or less, towards the end of their career — myself, Lindsey [Vonn], Ted [Ligety] still has got some good years left in him — but I think they’re starting to understand that they need to incorporate that component in there to bring that next group of guys, the next generation, more or less, in and have them be able to transition onto the world stage and be successful. I believe that. I’ve helped them to try to understand that, and I want to try to activate that process.
OlympicTalk: So are you not going to try to ski competitively again?
Miller: We don’t have any plans yet. I certainly have the speed still to do it, which is good for me and exciting. But I have some different things going on business-wise that I’m excited about also, that I have to put some priority into. And my family is my top priority. I would say it’s unlikely that I race at least a full circuit this coming season because my son and my wife [wife Morgan gave birth to son Nash on May 18]. Those are the things that I need to put energy into right now. You can’t really go halfway with World Cup ski racing. It’s just too dangerous to not be 100 percent committed to it. But, honestly, even though it sounds funny to most people, there’s a chance that I would commit to a season after this coming season and race. I still do love the sport. There’s a lot to give, still. But whether or not I race again at that level, I do think there’s a real responsibility to share some of my knowledge.
OlympicTalk: Is it possible you could shoot for a partial season this year, such as just Kitzbuehel?
Miller: Yes, but like I said, it’s one of those things that’s hard to juggle because you’ve got to be fit. Otherwise, it’s not safe. That’s a top priority for me.
OlympicTalk: How’s your leg?
Miller: It’s good. You don’t find out until you really test it, which I haven’t had a chance to do because the circumstances you get tested under are pretty rare, but in terms of everyday life, I don’t even notice it. It feels strong. My legs feel strong. I haven’t done a lot of hard work, but I’ve done some, and it feels good. I think I’d be fine to get back and be prepared.
OlympicTalk: Have you been on skis? On snow?
Miller: I was on skis this spring for my Turtle Ridge Foundation event up in New Hampshire [on April 4]. I skied pretty hard, not racing hard, but we have a course, and I run the course full speed. But it felt fine doing that. But again it’s a different thing when you’re racing World Cup. Even regular World Cup would be no problem. It’s when things get crazy or you have to make an extreme recovery or a real bad crash where you would really see the deficiency. Because we’re talking about probably a five percent difference with that hamstring cut the way it was. Hopefully you never come in contact with that.
OlympicTalk: Did you watch the Belmont Stakes and talk to Bob Baffert after? [Miller and Baffert are friends, Miller has said he wants to get more into horse racing in retirement and Baffert named his youngest son Bode]
Miller: I watched it, and I talked to him just via phone and text, congratulating him and sort of celebrating a bit with him. … It was one of those things that has been a goal of mine for the last 10 years that I’ve been trying to get into the business. I just didn’t have the time, really, to do it. Now I do. Not that I feel like he stole my thunder by doing it after 37 years [ending the Triple Crown drought], but I do make fun of him about that because only the last two or three years have I really been on him. I mean, he had my horses that I was training. I was on him every day, calling him and telling him, “What are you doing? You’ve got to use a little bit of common sense in terms of sports science and some of our methodologies that we’ve worked on for the last 30, 40 years we know are proven fact.” And then he goes and wins the Triple Crown.
OlympicTalk: What do you remember about doing the Grandpa Bode commercial?
Miller: The casting was tough, when they make the cast for it [for Miller’s aged face]. They essentially seal you in a big rubberized cast from the mid-chest up. They only leave two little breathing holes for your nose, and the thing weighs 30 pounds by the end. It’s a big rubberized thing. And if you’re claustrophobic, which I’m not, but I think every human being has the seeds of claustrophobia in there. And if you start to realize that there’s no way you could get that thing off. And they rub alcohol on it. So then you breathe in the alcohol fumes, and you can’t breathe. And you’re asphyxiated. You can’t say anything, because your mouth’s sealed. You can’t see anything, because your eyes and ears sealed. Everything’s sealed. You can’t say no, and they’re rubbing alcohol on you and you can’t breathe through these tiny, two little holes. They said that Steven Seagal just went apes***, started doing karate on everybody because he was stuck in the thing. They had to like pin him down and cut him off, because he was freaking out. As soon as panic sets in, you realize you can’t open your mouth to get a good breath, and you start to totally freak out. I can imagine it’s just terrifying. [They’d have to cut it off] as fast as they can without cutting you up. I bared through it and managed to pull it off. That’s something that I wouldn’t like to do again. I wouldn’t recommend for anybody if you can avoid it.
But it was super cool to see [the finished commercial], and it was great. I had my son there, and he got to hear my voice with all my makeup on. It kind of showed you how resilient kids are, because he heard my voice and he could tell by my mannerisms it was me, even though it looked nothing like me.
OlympicTalk: What’s the favorite race of your career?
Miller: Probably the World Championships in St. Moritz in the combined [in 2003, one downhill followed by two slalom runs]. It was one of those races where everything kind of came together in terms of the effort that I put out there. The situation was so challenging and was so far above my pay grade, I guess. I wasn’t expected to win, and then I put myself in even more difficult situations by the way that I was skiing. I was [2.95] seconds down after the downhill portion [and in 17th place], which I was expected to be right in the mix after the downhill portion. I still didn’t know if I could win.
So to come back from three seconds down and win by seven hundredths of a second, after three and a half minutes of racing, to have it be that close, and to beat Lasse Kjus and [Kjetil Andre] Aamodt and the guys who were the kings of the sport at the time. Mostly, it felt like will. I was so committed to it, that the seven hundredths could have gone either way. The fact that I made it go the way that it did was one of those things that you don’t have that many opportunities, where things conspire that dramatically. You need the environment to test yourself against, and that environment was perfect for me.
OlympicTalk: If you could have one race back, what would it be?
Miller: Probably the 2014 [World Cup] downhill in Kitzbuehel [Austria]. I was skiing so well. The Olympics in Sochi were tough as well, because I had won the training runs by so much, similar to Kitzbuehel that year [Miller finished eighth in the Sochi Olympic downhill]. [In Kitzbuehel] I won the first [and only] training run by [.96] over Aksel [Lund Svindal], but it was even more [2.35 seconds] to the rest of the field. That was unheard of margin at the time. I was skiing so much, within myself, but at the very highest level. I felt like I had earned it. I was skiing within myself, but pushing the limits, right at what I was capable of. I just wasn’t erring on either side. I was right there. It was a great feeling. I felt like I’d earned it over my career.
Then, on race day, had one little slip up, where I was in my tuck in a place where I shouldn’t have been and just got unlucky [race video here]. Nine times out of 10 that goes fine, and the one time that I had the chance to win Kitzbuehel the way that I really would have liked to, which was skiing at the very highest level, not holding anything back, and the weather was perfect, and the conditions were great, and the competition was as fierce as it can get. I just made a mistake at the wrong time. That cost me. I was second and third in those two races [a downhill and super-G that weekend in Kitzbuehel], and that was just a brutal outcome considering what the possible outcomes could have been and at this point in my career where you don’t have many more chances at it.
OlympicTalk: If you had won the Hahnenkamm [Kitzbuehel downhill] in 2014, or even before that in your career, would you have retired after the Sochi Olympics?
Miller: I don’t think so. I’ve never been so stuck on one particular result or accolade. It’s more when I’m ready to be done. That wouldn’t change, whether I had won or not. I don’t think that has any bearing on it at all. I think it’s more outside stuff — family stuff, business stuff, health.
OlympicTalk: But you’ve said in interviews that that’s one [race win] that you really want.
Miller: It certainly is one of the things on the list of accomplishments that any ski racer knows about and can feel the pressure to perform there. I have for years, and that’s why I’ve continually tried to step my game up. It’s not a race I would feel good about had I won it at 80 percent. I could have won it several times skiing at 80 percent. I refuse to do it. I think the hill itself, the history, the sport demands more respect than that. You have to give it everything you’ve got when you’re there. Even if you know that winning could be done at a lesser level of intensity.
OlympicTalk: Who do you consider the greatest Alpine skier of all time?
Miller: It’s definitely debatable. [Sweden’s Ingemar] Stenmark, to me, was the most artistic. He was clearly a league above everyone else in terms of his athletic ability and his mastery of the sport, but the fact that he didn’t race downhill, I think he was also smarter. His skiing IQ, if you will, was higher than anybody else, which is a different level of excellence. [Stenmark holds the World Cup record of 86 wins that Vonn is chasing]
And then probably [France’s Jean-Claude] Killy was overall, I think, the best five-eventer. He was one of the only guys who won in five events [downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, combined; but Killy never won a super-G because it wasn’t contested in his era] and was just untouchable when he was on. I probably admire him because he had a little bit the same style as I did. He really sent it most of the time.
And then [Austria’s Franz] Klammer, obviously, for downhill. I think he still has the most downhill wins and was one of those guys who raced with all heart and passion. Not a lot of ability necessarily, but raced way above his pay grade all the time. And I liked his lifestyle, too. He was a partier. He believed in that you have to enjoy what you do, and he lived by that motto well. That was impressive.
And then [Austria’s] Hermann Maier. [Italy’s Alberto] Tomba was great, but Hermann Maier was one of those guys when I was at my peak, he was right there. I could see that it was one of those humbling moments where you’re like, he would win, and I would be like, “He’s better. He’s better than me.” I might beat him sometimes, but overall he’s just better. He did that to a lot of racers. It’s like, guys were competing for second place, which is a unique thing to see in sports. We all have egos. We all train hard, and we all worked hard. In a lot of ways, I worked harder than he did. But he was just better.
OlympicTalk: What do you make of Lindsey Vonn’s career?
Miller: What she’s done is incredible. She’s the best our sport has ever seen, man or woman. I don’t think that’s debatable, really. The only thing that she didn’t do was win in five events [she actually has, with two slalom wins, three giant slalom wins and five super combined wins]. When I knew her when she was young, she was best in slalom, and then she transitioned into the speed events. So I’ve seen her compete at every level, and I’ve seen how she approaches the sport and her level of intensity and her focus. She’s definitely one of a kind. That’s once in a generation, or less, when you see those people. When they stay around as long as she has, she has to be lucky, too, because she’s taken some wicked crashes. She got hurt, but she’s taken way more crashes than that where she hasn’t gotten hurt. That’s a remarkable accomplishment as well, because it’s a testament to her fitness and her mental fortitude.
Upcoming milestones for Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin