WHISTLER (Reuters) - Bode Miller left it to others to sing his Olympic redemption song after returning to the biggest stage of all on Monday with a bronze medal in the opening men’s downhill.
Four years before, he had arrived at the Turin Games as the blue-eyed boy for U.S. Alpine skiing and left empty-handed with catcalls reverberating behind him as an over-hyped under-achiever.
This time, with the Canadians and Europeans more fancied to win on Whistler’s Dave Murray run, the maverick American who grew up free skiing in a carefree childhood in New Hampshire delivered the goods behind winner Didier Defago.
In Turin, as he was reminded by one U.S. reporter at the post-race news conference in Whistler, he was cast as the disinterested villain after being spotted by a Reuters employee out late in a nightclub before racing.
If that was too simplistic a portrait for one of the sport’s more original thinkers, then so too was the role of redemptive hero.
“I don’t mind. You guys are in charge of that stuff,” the 32-year-old said when asked about the transformation. “I pretty much focus on going out skiing and enjoying myself.
“It’s what I’ve always done, I’m hoping I can keep doing it. It’s great. Today was amazing and I’ve had a lot of fun.”
One of the finest all-round skiers of his generation, and a double overall World Cup champion with 32 career race wins, Miller arrived at his fourth Olympics with only two silver medals to his credit from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
He had been accused in Turin of not taking the job seriously, of being more attracted by the local nightlife and partying as if he had already won a gold.
On Monday, fresh off the hill, he declared he had never lost his motivation and had not changed much as a person over the years either.
At the same time, nobody present could have any doubt that these Games mattered to him.
“One of the things that was important to me when I decided to continue this year was to race in the right fashion,” said Miller. “To race with some inspiration and allow myself to be inspired and to try to inspire the other guys and everyone else.
“There’s a difference when you take it really clinically, like a job, and just execute because you are the best in the world and have the best skis and all the experience,” he continued.
“Compare that to when you go up there (to the start hut) and you feel the Olympics, and you get the chills and are nervous and you get a little bit scared but then you get positive.
“You go through the emotional roller-coaster of what it is to compete at the Olympic level and you let that run through your whole body, and you let yourself get built up by it and go out and give it everything you have absolutely got.”
On Monday, Miller said he had no plan. He was nervous, had almost thrown up, but when the time came he stood up and was counted.
“It was pretty much go out and race as hard as you can and hope that you win,” he said. “When I came back, that was a big part of it.
“I didn’t want to race the way we raced world championships last year. Take nothing away from the guys who won ... but I didn’t think racing was pure there. What I have seen this year has been phenomenal.
“Coming in here, I wanted to let myself get involved and be emotional about it and race as hard as I could ... it was good to have some success early.”
Editing by Jon Bramley