Bode Miller's Olympic career is over. The kid who came to the 2002 Salt Lake Games full of moxie and miraculous saves, left Torino with a bad attitude and nary a medal, only to rise from the ashes in Vancouver to become America's most decorated Olympic skier, has officially left the building.
As far as stories go, Sochi proved a fitting conclusion, the feel-good character arc to Miller's own myth. He might not have walked away with an Olympic gold in downhill (as his own lightening quick training runs portended) and fell short in the super-G, but seeing him — at 36 — satisfied with a bronze, smiling in the arms of his new beautiful bride Morgan, dedicating his skiing to his kids and shedding heartfelt tears for his late brother Chelone, was enough to satiate American fans. We'd seen the once brash kid from New Hampshire finally grow up just before he bowed out.
And isn't that all we ever wanted? Let's face it, in America, we're only fair-weather fans of Olympic sports, glued to the TV (or web or phone) every four years, equally enamored by the personality, the story, as we are the athlete.
Miller's story paid in spades. The son of off-the-grid hippies, he burst onto the Alpine scene with big results and an even bigger mouth, confounding traditionalists with his ragged, win big or crash out technique. Not only did Miller do it with speed, but he also did it with style, sitting back when you were supposed to dive forward, flailing his arms when you were supposed to remain composed. For Miller, there was never a middle ground, every run a high-wire act that kept spectators on the edge of their seats.
Often, Miller's chaotic skiing and candid comments eclipsed his consistent — as in, consistently brilliant — results. Beyond his storied Olympic career, Miller has won 33 Alpine World Cup races, the most of any American man, and collected the coveted overall title twice. On top of that, he's a four-time World Champion and ranks as one of only a handful of racers to have won a race in all five of Alpine's disparate disciplines. In the 2004-2005 season, then arguably at the height of his powers, Miller made history by winning a World Cup downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom in the record-setting span of 16 days (again, only a select few skiers have ever done this, and it took most an entire career to do so). By the time the World Championships rolled around that February, he lit up the races with two gold medals, but made an even bigger splash by losing a ski in the downhill portion of the combined and skiing the rest of the way down on one leg — a typically non-traditional move from the American that further endeared him to his already fawning fanbase (at the expense of royally ticking off his U.S. Ski Team coaches).
With all that behind him, Miller could have easily retired in 2012 as a legend. Instead he opted for knee surgery, sat out the 2013 season and returned this year a full 20 pounds lighter with a new wife and eyes on a final Olympics. Not even a controversial custody battle for his son could derail his focus, but critics wondered if he was past his prime in a sport that favors the quickness, agility and energy of far younger men.
True to form, Miller defied the odds. By the time the Alpine World Cup tour hit Beaver Creek, Colo., in December, the 36-year old rallied to his first podium, finishing just behind Sochi gold medalist Ted Ligety in a giant slalom. The result silenced doubters and ratcheted up expectations, but the big win never came. Just as he did in the downhill at these Sochi Games nearly two weeks ago, Miller often dazzled in World Cup training runs only to come up just short on race day. At Kitzbuhel, Austria's Hahnenkamm downhill (the most feared stop on the circuit and, some would argue, more important on a racer's resume than Olympic gold), he scorched the sole practice run by nearly a second before finishing third. The race remains one of the few Miller has failed to win.
Which leads to one last question: While Miller the Olympian is finished, is Miller the ski racer done, too? Unlike the ambivalence he showcased in Torino, Miller came into Sochi telling the press he wanted to win, but was forced to settle for bronze. Sure, he was happy, but just as the rest of his World Cup season suggested, there could have been so much more. Not exactly a note a competitor — even one with a bum knee and new family — wants to end on.
Fortunately, redemption, as it were, could be right around the corner. With the 2015 Alpine World Championships taking place in Beaver Creek — a venue Miller has won a record three downhills in — next February, here's betting there's one more encore left in the Bode Miller Show.