PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - There have been Winter Olympics in which Bode Miller seemed more focused on claiming a gold medal in partying than reaching the top of the podium.
But the American skier, who can infuriate and inspire in equal measure, heads to the Sochi Games looking to “kick ass” and put the finishing touches to a complicated legacy.
Now 36 years old, married with children and on the down slope of a thought-provoking career that spans five Winter Games, Miller’s notorious partying days have given way to sober reflection.
And there is a mountain of work and controversies to reflect upon.
“As you get older legacy starts to come into your mind a little bit,” Miller said.
”I would never devalue the importance of an Olympic medal because I know it is important in the bigger scheme of things but it’s not what motivates me and it’s not what you judge yourself by at the end of the day.
“Legacy is a strange term and it’s hard to think about in terms of how it applies to reality because it is the compilation of your life’s work, unfortunately you don’t get to pick your legacy.”
The most successful American male alpine skier of all-time, Miller’s body of work is both impressive for its breadth and scope.
One of the few skiers to stand atop the World Cup podium in all five disciplines, for a decade Miller was the ironman of the slopes and rarely took a race off.
Miller’s results alone, 33 World Cup wins (76 podiums), two World Cup overall titles, four-times world champion, five-times Olympic medallist, highlighted by a gold in the combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games, mark him out as one of the sport’s greats.
But it is the rebellious American’s daredevil, all-or-nothing approach to racing that has made him a fan favourite wherever the White Circus pitches its tent.
A mix of instinctive talent and fearless aggression, Miller races on the edge of calamity, each run a hair-raising adventure that leaves spectators in breathless awe or gripped with terror.
For Miller, ski racing has always been about the journey not the destination, his results meaningless unless accompanied with worthy performance.
Even now, approaching the twilight of his career, skiing’s tortured artist is still competing by his own rules, still chasing the perfect run.
”It’s always a bigger picture thing,“ explained Miller. ”There are all the different components there but if you come down and you win a gold medal and you feel shitty about how you raced there’s just no sugar coating that.
“A gold medal might smooth over a little bit, everyone wants a gold medal but the fact is the process and the experiences supersede the medal by far.”
After sitting out all of last season recovering from knee surgery, a refreshed Miller has returned as hungry as ever.
Before the start of the current World Cup campaign, he declared himself in fighting trim having dropped 20 pounds and as cocky as ever, firing a warning shot across the bow of his team mates at an Olympic media summit.
”I‘m going to kick ass,“ declared Miller, drawing a nervous laugh from his fellow skiers. ”That’s the gist of it, I‘m prepared, I’ve been training hard for a year basically since I didn’t race last year.
”Obviously, it is a perishable process being a ski racer and I think until you are all rotten and shriveled up you should keep going.
“I‘m pretty shrivelled up but I‘m not all the way rotten yet.”
Born and raised in the back woods of Franconia, New Hampshire, in a cabin with no indoor plumbing or electricity, Miller remains alpine skiing’s free-spirited deep thinker.
He has long marched to the beat of his own drum, on and off the ski hill, a non-conformist often at odds with the ski racing establishment.
Miller’s feuds with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) are legendary.
Unhappy with FIS and the way the World Cup was being run, Miller once threatened to start his own breakaway circuit.
When the USSA resisted Miller’s attempts to work outside the team framework, he walked away and started Team America travelling around Europe in a mobile home that became known as the “Bodemobile”.
Miller confronts issues the same way he attacks the piste, straight on and at full speed, stubbornly standing behind his beliefs.
He has courted controversy throughout his career, once admitting in an interview to racing while “wasted” and suggesting some performance enhancing drug should be legal.
”It changes as you get older,“ said Miller. ”Everyone looks for these big epiphanies or whatever it is that changes people.
”But I have spent a lot of time and energy being a ski racer and I’ve earned the right to compete at a high level and I have spent a lot of pain and energy trying to develop these skills.
“It’s an amazing sport, it’s what I love to do...it’s how I share with other people.”
No matter what his results in Sochi, Miller’s place in ski racing’s pantheon of greats is secure.
But titles, like medals, hold little meaning to Miller without considering how they were earned.
“You are just renting a title until someone else takes it away from you so if you’re too attached to it you’re going to be bummed out when your rental agreement runs out,” said Miller.
”I think I’ve done well. I‘m proud of what I’ve done, I’ve put a lot of effort into it.
”I look back on it and I wouldn’t change very much.
”It’s been the love of my life until now to be able to leave it in a good place and leave it with the right energy...that is important to me.
“If you do that, it is about as much as you can ask.”
Editing by Ed Osmond