Bode Miller Needs a Hug

And I'm about to give him one—along with a good, swift kick in the ass

Bryan Curtis

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HEY, BODE! Thanks for coming over. Sit down, please. Can I get you something to drink? What—you’re skiing later? So beer, right?

Wait, wait—don’t leave! Bad joke. Sorry. Dude, I’m here to help you. You’re facing a crisis, my brother—a sorry descent into jock purgatory. You could have been the next American ski god; instead you’ve become the gate-bashing equivalent of John Daly, minus the endearing haplessness. You didn’t just blow it in Turin, Bode. You blew it ingloriously.

I know it sucks to hear all this again at the beginning of a new season, but I’ve put together a highlight reel from last winter to help us isolate the root causes. Hit play on the DVD, will you?

That’s you on December 3, 2005, the reigning World Cup champ, winning a giant-slalom race in Colorado. Listen to all your fans, man! Now check this out: I took this shot at a Rite Aid magazine stand on the eve of the Olympics. There’s your stubbled mug on the cover of Outside, Time, Sports Illustrated… The media couldn’t get enough of you. The rural New Hampshire childhood—no electricity or running water. And you were like Yogi Berra, serving up charming metaphors in your new book, Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun: “Racing is like sex,” you wrote, “you can make all the plans you want, but when it actually happens, it just sort of unfolds the way it wants to.” Brilliant! You were in your maverick prime.

Now—sigh—here’s where the meltdown began. Let’s review that 60 Minutes clip from January 8.

[Competition footage] BOB SIMON, NARRATING: Look at him here in Switzerland, the day after he won the World Cup. He wasn’t as much hungover as still drunk.

MILLER: Talk about a hard challenge right there. I mean, if you’ve ever tried to ski when you’re wasted, it’s not easy… It’s like driving drunk, except there’s no rules about it in ski racing.

Bob even gave you a second chance.

SIMON: Are you saying that you’re not going to do it again?

MILLER: No, I’m not saying that.

Wow. I mean, wow. I don’t have to tell you what happened in Turin a month later. Here’s you not finishing the super-G. Or the slalom. Or the slalom portion of the combined. Your flameout actually wiped the smirk off Bob Costas’s face. Still, you could have made like previous Olympic losers—speed skater Dan Jansen, say—and offered homilies about getting ’em next time. (He won gold in ’94!) Instead we hear reports about you going all Lindsay Lohan between runs. Then you say this to the Associated Press: “I just want to go out and rock. And, man, I rocked here… I’m comfortable with what I accomplished. I came in here to race as hard as I could… I got to party and socialize at the Olympic level.”

“Party and socialize at the Olympic level”?! Dude, who are you? The most gifted American skier of your generation, that’s who. But you came off as though you either didn’t care about winning in Turin, which seems highly bogus, or—worse—you were too cool to admit that you cared about winning, so you were posing as if you came to the Games merely to party. Which is about as ungracious as a loser can get.

Here’s some tough-love wisdom from your book, page 130. Ahem. “Spectacular failure clings like a hobo’s fart.” Well, you know what, Bode? You reek.

OK, I see you getting that “Whatever” stare on right now, so stop it—because I want you to know something: I’m not giving up on you. I care. And, deep down, I think you care, too. And I know what you need in order to turn things around. For starters, you need a hug. Come on, you can do it. Come on over here! That’s right. Good. Feels good, doesn’t it? Let it out, bro. Let it alllll out. OK. All right. That’s enough. Dude, let go.

Now listen up: Your repackaging program begins right here. First, the painful truth. How you do on the World Cup barely matters to Americans. Most of them won’t care much about ski racing again until the 2010 Games, in Vancouver. Of course, you still have to win, but first we need to rebuild Public Bode.

Step One: Privatize the boozing. It’s a bad rap, being a tosspot—an easy joke that Jay Leno is just getting around to forgetting. If you want to throw back a few cold ones, fine, but do it on the deck of your New Hampshire manse—and keep the Kegerator where the cameras can’t see it.

Another banned topic: doping. You’ve said athletes should be able to use EPO to avoid injuries. And—this is just nuts—you told Rolling Stone you were sure Lance Armstrong was doping. The guy is a sports saint—don’t tear him down. In fact, avoid all media interactions. No more cover stories. You’re just not ready to pull off the delicate press massage that rebel jocks like Andre Agassi and Charles Barkley mastered. Bro, you’re closer to Terrell Owens. If reporters should ask why you’ve gone silent, tell them you’re refocusing, rehabilitating, on a vision quest. Tell them anything; just don’t tell them anything else.

When you do venture before the public eye, be humble. Playing outfield for your home-state minor-league team, the Nashua Pride, in July was perfect. Donating $5,000 from the profits to Lance’s cancer foundation was even more perfect. And you made a dazzling, head-over-heels catch near the left-field warning track—Bode Mays!—then got mobbed by your teammates.

That’s right, teammates. Remember them? In the skiing world, they’re the guys who secretly wish you’d disappear into a Labatt’s can. Show ’em some respect. Ditch the ridiculous private RV and travel with the team again. You’ll miss PlayStation 2 on your flat-screen and all the love-machine shag sessions, but you’ll win back the most important fans you’ll ever have.

You will be the new and improved Bode. Confident but decent. Snide but not a motormouth. Happy but not self-destructive. Do as you say in your book: “Lose any baggage, personal or otherwise, go ninja, and wipe your mind clean of the negative thoughts.”

Americans are always hungry for a rebel hero, Bode, and they’ll take you back. They have no choice—they can’t name any other Olympic skiers.