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Olympics / Sports

A more mature Bode Miller chases Olympic gold

Some athletes sum up the years of Olympic preparation in stopwatch readings, mounted podiums or world standings.

Bode Miller, being Bode Miller, can point to the troubles he's endured.

The 2014 Winter Olympics will be Miller's fifth, a record for an American skier. But in the long run-up to the Sochi Games, life tested the Alpine veteran as not even the most treacherous mountainside could.

He endured microfracture surgery and 20 months of rehabilitation after a 2012 knee injury so severe it jeopardized not just this Olympic quest but whatever skiing future remained.

He lost a younger brother in April when Chelone "Chilly" Miller, just 29, succumbed to a brain seizure, eight years after suffering serious head injuries in a motorcycle accident.

The father of two children with two women, neither of whom is his wife, Miller spent much of 2013 in a nasty custody fight. A temporary truce, brought about by Miller's desire to allay the distraction, was reached in December when he and the infant boy's mother agreed to share custody for the near future.

In the midst of all that, the free-spirited son of New Hampshire hippies married volleyball-playing model Morgan Beck. Even that joy had its dark side. Beck miscarried their unborn child and, later, Miller accidentally hit her in the eye with an errant shot as the two golfed.

Talk about a downhill run.

Despite it all, in Sunday's downhill at Sochi, Miller, who has won a gold, three silver and a bronze at previous Olympics and is eligible for all five men's events at these Games, will be among the favorites.

"Dealing with those kind of tough situations," said Miller, now 36, "it's obviously part of growing and being a grown-up."

As part of that maturation process, the sport's Bad Boy is looking to become a Good Dad. His now 1-year-old son, Nathaniel, will accompany him to Sochi. It's a side of Miller, better-known for his partying, the world has not yet witnessed.

Outspoken and reclusive, Miller surfaced as a unique figure at the '98 Games in Nagano when, after sliding off the downhill course, he cartwheeled over the finish line.

Since then he has defied the stereotype of the earnest, humble Olympic athlete. His professional life has played out in tabloid headlines as often as on the sports pages.

It was the partying and turmoil that got the blame in 2006 when the skier then widely conceded to be the world's best failed to earn a single medal at Torino.

"When you're under the magnifying glass like that, there's no way to really judge yourself too harshly in hindsight," Miller said. "Obviously, I could have said things differently. I could have done things differently. A lot of other people could have done things differently, too.

"I had chances to win, I was prepared. I don't think I did anything dramatically as evil as it was portrayed. But I think that's part of being under the microscope that way, and I'm fully capable of dealing with it. It didn't really ruffle me as bad as I think a lot of people would have expected. I just don't seem to get bothered by that stuff that much."

But even Miller struggled when the death of an unborn child was followed by his brother's sudden passing.

After his 2005 crash, Chilly Miller had been in a coma for days. He recovered sufficiently to become a snowboarder with Olympic aspirations of his own.

Then in April, he died from a seizure in a California van.

"It was a shock," Miller said. "He had his head injury and that was something that was overlooked at the '06 Olympics. That really affected my process of preparing for the Olympics that year. ... I took a little time off to spend with him after the Olympics and, you know, it really changed our relationship.

"Once he recovered from that injury, you know, we sort of thought things were looking obviously good. He was snowboarding again. He had a hundred percent recovery and then, you know, for something like that to happen, it just really knocked us all on our (butts) pretty good."

As long and scintillating as the custody dispute has been, Miller said he's dealt with that much more easily.

Nathaniel was born last February in the midst of the skier's custody fight with the child's mother, Sara McKenna.

"It's really a super normal thing," Miller said. "It's the natural process that happens when two people aren't together or if you get a divorce."

While he originally planned to sit out the 2013 World Cup season to get ready for Sochi, Miller, 20 pounds lighter than at the time of his injury, made a few late appearances that showed he was ready.

In a two-day span in Austria last month, he finished third in a downhill and second in a Super-G.

"My skiing is generally pretty solid now," he said. "I feel good. My fitness is good."

Confident and daring as ever, Miller pushes on, he said, because it is the only worthy way to treat the sport that has been his life.

A memorable showing at these Games would be a fitting send-off for the most decorated American skier ever. In addition to his five Olympic medals, his World Cup record includes 33 career victories, six season titles in various events, and two overall championships in 2005 and 2008.

"(Hanging on at 36) isn't so much about my legacy as it is about ski racing in general," he said. "Ski racing deserves what you can give to it. It's been the love of my life."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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