Bode Miller provides update on possible return to skiing

Bode Miller
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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.

source:
Grandpa Bode.

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.

source: Getty Images
Bode Miller and Hermann Maier in 2005. (Getty Images)

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

With career records in view, Mikaela Shiffrin knows nothing is promised

Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images
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Sometime in the coming weeks, U.S. alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin will presumably —  presumably being a very loaded and problematic word here  — win her 83rd race on the World Cup circuit, the highest level of her sport, thus passing fellow American Lindsey Vonn for the most career victories by a woman. Not long after that, she will presumably win her 87th race, one more than Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, who won his 86 races from 1975-89. With that win, Shiffrin, who will turn 28 in March, will have accumulated more career victories than any ski racer in history, and will have ended a chase that has been ongoing and presumed for the better part of a decade. She will be deservedly celebrated for this achievement.

That celebration will undersell the moment and give Shiffrin a lesser form of praise than she deserves, because that is what career records do, just by existing. Career records compress the pain and struggle of an athletic career into a single, antiseptic number: the most this, or the most that. Touchdown passes, base hits, goals, sub four-minute miles. It will be said that Shiffrin’s record is the result of sustained brilliance, and that is manifestly true. It will be said that she packed her victories into a shorter period — 12 seasons — than either of the final two racers she passed; Vonn raced 18 seasons and won No. 82 at age 33, while Stenmark raced 16 seasons and won his last race at age 32. So this will also be true.

But these descriptions will soften the toll of Shiffrin’s work, because that is also what career records do. They simplify the complicated and sand down the rough edges, in service of the myth that the chosen number was inevitable. This was particularly true with Shiffrin: She was a prodigy, whispered — and then shouted — about across the breadth of the sport when she was barely in her teens, as the next big — and possibly biggest — thing. She won her first World Cup race at age 17 and an Olympic gold medal at 18 (the 2014 slalom in Sochi). She won a remarkable 17 World Cup races in the season that ended on March 17 of 2019, just four days after her 24th birthday. At that point she had won 60 World Cup races and seemed likely to blow past Vonn and Stenmark in as little as two more seasons. Hosanas were readied.

It has not played out exactly like that. In the three-plus seasons since that remarkable 2019 campaign, Shiffrin has won a total of 16 races (40 of Shiffrin’s 76 wins were crammed into three hyper-successful seasons from 2017-’19). She has changed since then, and she has been changed — by personal tragedy, by injury, by the realization of personal and professional mortality which young athletes deny successfully and older athletes either deny unsuccessfully or accept and fight against. What seemed easy has become much more difficult. (Of course, it was always difficult, Shiffrin just made it look easy, which is what the exceptional among us do.) And she has endured, most of all.

“For the last two years, I’ve had a note with something I wrote down,” Shiffrin said last weekend from her World Cup base in Europe. “It says, basically, what I would like most in life is to go back, like two-and-a-half years. I want to go back to where I was at the start of the year right after that 17-win season. It was my greatest season ever, and I was so happy. And I’d give anything to go back to that feeling.” She does not say this as if saddened, but as if enlightened, a very different thing.

The arc of Shiffrin’s life and career following that 2019 season is well-known to ski racing fans and even to a broader audience that witnessed her struggles in the 2022 Olympics. (More on that upcoming.) Just before the start of the 2020 World Cup season, Shiffrin’s 98-year-old grandmother, Pauline Condron, died. It’s reflexive to diminish deaths of the very old, but loss is loss and Shiffrin was very close to her grandmother. Shiffrin won six races from November to late January — not the pace of her previous season, but not shabby. On Feb. 2, 2020, her father, Jeff, died from an injury suffered in an accident at the family’s home in Colorado, while Mikaela was racing in Europe. From that moment forward, Shiffrin has carried extra weight.

As we talked last week, I suggested to Shiffrin — and again, this is not revelatory in tracing the life of an athlete, or a human being — that what had been a certain kind of innocence had become significantly more complicated in the last few years.

“When I was 16, 17, 18 years old,” says Shiffrin. “I didn’t know many people who had passed away. Since then, two of the five most important people in my life have passed away. They’re not here anymore. And that number is not going to get smaller as I get older.”

After the death of her father, Shiffrin did not race for over 300 days, much of that time during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which World Cup racing continued with relatively few cancellations (although with many interruptions and absences, and of course, no spectators). She returned and won three races in the 2021 season, pushing her total to 69. Content that highlighted her status in that moment often noted that she was “back.” She was not back. She will never be “back” in that simplistic, sports-centric way.

“Coming back to racing after my father passed,” says Shiffrin. “So many people said, ‘Well, you’re back.’ And then I won again and people said, ‘Wow, you’re really back.’ Actually, I was still really struggling.”

At the end of the 2021 season, Shiffrin won four medals at the World Championships, including a gold in the combined downhill-slalom event. She won four more World Cup races before the ’22 Olympics, but did not perform well in Beijing. She skied out early in both the giant slalom (stunning) and slalom (jaw-dropping), and then, after finishing– but not contending — in the speed events of Super-G and downhill, skied out in the slalom portion of the combined. It was an inexplicably poor performance that was endlessly analyzed in real time, including by Shiffrin herself, because she does not shy from public self-analysis, however painful.

Since then, on the one hand, she acknowledges that the experience left scars, because of course it did. At the same time, “I mean, people ask me about it,” she says. “Less and less on a daily basis, but I try to get the message out that I’m moving on.” Some of it will always be a mystery. “In the slalom and giant slalom and the combined, I went out at the fourth gate, the fifth fate, the ninth gate, but I skied those gates exactly how I wanted to ski them. I’m not one to DNF, usually. And in those races, I did not picture myself skiing out of the course, that’s for sure. But I did.”

Ten months have passed since that experience; three years since the deaths of her grandmother and father. This year she won World Cup slaloms in Levi, Finland, on consecutive days, Nos. 75 and 76. And then on Thanksgiving weekend at Killington in central Vermont, a home game on a hill where she had won five slaloms in five starts, she finished fifth (and 13th in giant slalom).

In all of this, the personal tragedies and the racing struggles, her relationship with her sport has evolved. The giant slalom finish in Killington she assigns to training too little this year in the discipline. The rest is more ethereal, more mental. “I’m in the middle of this whole, season-long epiphany, and maybe the Olympics sparked it, of how hard it is to not only win a ski race, but to make it to the finish. That’s not something I’ve struggled with for most of my career, but when you think about it, in ski racing, and you add up the changing conditions, the amount we care, it’s mind-boggling to me what I’ve done for the last 12 years.”

If that sounds like a lack of confidence, maybe, but that’s too simple. Consider it both a mature appreciation and a return to her roots as a racer. Jeff Shiffrin taught his kids — Mikaela and her brother, Taylor — to embrace the process of skiing artfully and to let the wins flow from that. “Any time I’ve started a race trying to win, instead of skiing my best, I have not won that race. But there is such an adrenaline rush to our sport, before you even win the race, and I’m still here for that. If I was here just for the winning, I would have retired by now. Because I’m close to 82 and 86, people find that hard to believe, but it’s true. I’d be done by now.”

She’s not done. Shiffrin thinks about what might come next, and concludes what most athletes conclude: “Anything else I do in life is probably going to be hard, but most other things are not going to give me as much back as ski racing has.” The 2026 Olympics will be jointly hosted by the city of Milan and the mountain resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, an iconic ski racing venue. “Anything could happen, and I could decide to retire,” Shiffrin says. “But I don’t see it happening before the [next] Olympics.”

Unfinished business? (And to be fair, despite Beijing, Shiffrin has three Olympic medals; the only U.S. woman to have won more is Julia Mancuso, with four.) “Not medal-wise,” she says. “But the last three Olympics have been in places that have nothing to do with alpine skiing, normally.” [Boy is that right: Sochi, PyeongChang, and Beijing.] “Cortina is a place that I love. I’d like to experience an Olympics there.” Pause. “And of course if I’m racing, I’m going to want to be a medal contender, and there’s all that goes along with that.” A mouthful.

Before that, 82 and 86 await. Shiffrin will race a giant slalom and slalom this weekend in Sestriere, Italy, site of the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic alpine races. From there, the World Cup grinds on, with 13 more slaloms and giant slaloms beyond that, and numerous speed races, should Shiffrin decide to race those as she often has in the past. There are plenty of opportunities to finish this job, as it were.

Yet she understands, most of all, that nothing is promised, not even life, and certainly not ski race wins. “In one way, I know I’ll win another World Cup race,” she says. Presumably. “But I also know you can’t be certain.” And that is the lesson that will make the records most meaningful.

Jamie Anderson, Olympic snowboarding champion, announces pregnancy

Jamie Anderson
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Jamie Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboarding champion, announced she is pregnant.

“The most precious and beautiful I’ve ever felt,” was posted on Anderson’s social media. “So incredibly grateful.”

Anderson, a 32-year-old who is engaged to 2018 Canadian Olympic snowboarder Tyler Nicholson, plans to return to competition in late 2023 and try for one more Olympics, a fourth for her, in 2026, according to People, which reported she is seven months pregnant.

A rep for Anderson later clarified that while she is planning on the 2026 Winter Games in Italy, she will take her competitive future on a season-by-season basis beyond that.

“I wasn’t planning on retiring with or without the baby, but I’m just so excited to be able to share this experience with our family,” Anderson said, according to the magazine. “I can see Tyler at the bottom of X Games with the little one. I think that would be really sweet.”

Anderson won the first two Olympic women’s slopestyle titles in 2014 and 2018. She placed ninth this past February after a tearful run-up to the Games.

Anderson also took silver in the first Olympic women’s big air event in 2018. Her 21 career X Games medals across all sites are tied for the record with Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris.

New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, 21, won Olympic slopestyle gold and big air silver in February after sweeping the titles at January’s X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Austria’s Anna Gasser, 31, repeated as big air gold medalist.

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