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SOCHI, Russia — The last time Bode Miller failed to medal at the Winter Olympics, he took his younger brother, Chelone, to Dubai. They spent a week and a half there, playing golf and basically just keeping Miller’s mind off skiing.
Chelone, a snowboarder, had recently recovered from a motorcycle crash that sent him into a coma for 11 days. In the month after the accident, he temporarily lost his memory. Miller wished he could have the 2006 Turin Games erased from his thoughts, and Chelone would do his best to help.
“Torino was a really disappointing Olympics,” Miller said. “We talked a lot about that, and it was just one of those really cool times to get some perspective from someone that is so close to me. We’re very different people, but it’s like looking in the mirror. That was a very important post-Olympic time for me.”
Miller found the desire to put in four more years of training, and he won three medals in 2010 in Vancouver, including his only gold, in the Alpine super-combined. With five career medals, he would be in position to tie or eclipse speedskater Bonnie Blair’s record of six if he went to Sochi. So, he dug deep into the well again, despite the insistent march of time and having to take time away from skiing to nurse a knee injury, with an eye on history and defining his legacy.
The best thing about it would be possibly sharing the Olympic stage with Chelone, who was a candidate to qualify for Sochi in his own right.
In April, 2013, an unthinkable tragedy struck Miller and his family. Chelone, who had battled seizures since his 2005 accident, was found dead from an apparent seizure in a van close to his home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
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Heartbroken, Miller still pushed on for Sochi. When he arrived, his training runs were so good that he was anointed the favorite in the downhill race. Only, on the day of competition, he finished eighth, and he bombed out in the super-combined, the race he won in Vancouver.
Miller entered Sunday’s super-G facing the specter of another Olympics without a medal, and if it happened this time, he wouldn’t have his brother to console him. So to ski down the mountain in Krasnaya Polyana and finish a course that admittedly gave him a real fight, it was enough to make Miller expose the depth of his hurt to the world. Waiting for the rest of the skiers to come in, his tears flowed freely. His wife, volleyball player Morgan Beck, came to help him keep his chin up.
This was all before Miller found out that his time of 1:18.67 would earn him a bronze medal, tying him with Blair for the American Winter Olympics career record of six and making him, at 36, the oldest skier to win a medal.
“Losing my brother was really hard,” Miller said, “and I just kind of attached emotion to this. He wanted to come to these Games, and I thought that he probably had a chance at making it. For him to pass away the way that he did, it sort of connected with my journey in coming back [from injury], and today, I felt like that was all very connected and very raw and emotional for me. And in the finish, it just all kind of came out.”
That Miller has made it to five Olympics as an Alpine skier, given the physical toll the sport takes on its competitors, is basically a miracle. The sport is so brutal and unforgiving that even the best racers might not win an event in a given year. Miller feels he is near the top of his game, and yet he hasn’t won a race this season.
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Fellow American Andrew Weibrecht, who claimed silver in the super-G with a time of 1:18.44, has medaled only twice in his career in any event — here, and in the super-G in Vancouver, where he took bronze.
For Miller, who is intensely critical of each run down the mountain, there is regret in just about every race, and it was that way Sunday, even with his record-breaking medal. He couldn’t stop talking about how he could have accomplished so much more in these Olympics. How long can he keep this up?
“I’ve been in 430 World Cups, and I’ve regretted probably three-quarters of those,” Miller said. “But the ones where you stick it are incredible. It’s unfortunate the ratio isn’t more friendly, like 50-50 or 80-20 in favor, but at the end of the day, I don’t make up the ratios. I deal with the consequences.”
With revelations like that, Miller let people into the mind of a fierce competitor. He said he will continue to ski next year, but past that, he does not know what the future holds. Sunday, he just lived in the moment.
“You get older and you always have those moments when you want to just quit,” Miller said. “Especially since you have a lot of accomplishments. It’s a scary process to go out there, to put yourself out there again. When you have that sort of resume, people expect the best every time you’re out there. Today was disappointing on the one end that I didn’t ski better, but under the circumstances it’s a miracle I skied the way I did.
"I’m absolutely happy with it. Most of the results go that way for me. It’s always a mix.”