Philip Hersh: In finishing 12th, Bode Miller adds to legend
Bode Miller showed again why he is the greatest and most charismatic skier in U.S. history.
And he did it by finishing 12th in Tuesday's Super-G at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
(Yes, at times -- notably the 2006 Olympics -- Miller also has been the most annoying and petulantly infuriating great skier in history, but we all saw a more mature, reinvented Bode at the 2010 Olympics, and his attitude does not appear to have changed.)
Anyway, Miller added another amazing chapter to his oft-picaresque biography when he lost his right pole after hooking his arm on a gate two-thirds of the way into Tuesday's race. He still gained time on the leaders in the next 25 seconds before he could no longer control his line.
(For Universal Sports video of the race, click here.)
He motivated Christoph Innerhofer of Italy to make a run that would end with his winning a first major title.
"I saw Bode Miller and I told myself that's how I had to race too," Innerhofer was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report. "Simply give your best, then you can't reproach yourself at the finish."
With what would have been about 16 seconds left to ski in this Super-G, Miller had the fastest interval time, 0.03 seconds ahead of Innerhofer. Five seconds later, Miller went off line so badly he chose to stand up and coast to the finish.
"I wasn't out of the race when I hooked my arm. It was a matter of making it to the finish without a big mistake and I probably couldn't have avoided that mistake with a pole,'' Miller said. "You saw Aksel [Svindal] blow out right there too, and Aksel is one of the best in the world.
"It's not the way I wanted to start it (worlds), but the speed is good. It's encouraging to see that I have the right tactics. I just need to hang on to all my equipment until I get to the finish."
This episode recalled his one-ski adventure at the 2005 worlds. My story on that race, which I saw firsthand, is below:
February 4, 2005
One-ski feat only adds to Miller legend; American stays upright, on course for 90 seconds
By Philip Hersh, Tribune Olympic sports reporter.
BORMIO, Italy -- When Bode Miller was halfway through his run, an Italian TV commentator told his audience Miller's performance was going to be the highlight of the day.
Some would call what Miller did in the downhill portion of Thursday's combined at the World Alpine Championships a highlight for the ages--or at least several "SportsCenter" cycles, which define a sporting eternity these days.
After all, it isn't often a racer goes more than a mile down a precipitous, bumpy and icy mountain at speeds near 50 m.p.h. . . . on one ski.
"It was just a little bit weird," Miller said.
Miller lost his left ski after only 15 seconds but stayed upright 90 seconds more. He made it nearly to the finish of the 1.8-mile run before losing his balance, sliding on his rump and deciding to exit the course.
The 27-year-old from New Hampshire had skied at a more than respectable speed despite the drag and physical demand of holding his left foot above the snow on varying terrain. Miller even managed to carve turns on a 7-foot-long ski and delighted the crowd by putting himself into an aerodynamic tuck a couple of times.
"He was superb, even with a single ski," said Austria's Michael Walchhofer, who finished fourth in a combined won by teammate Benjamin Raich.
"I think I could do it, but not as easily as him," said silver medalist Aksel Svindal of Norway.
Miller, defending world champion in the combined and long a high-wire act on skis, was the lone person unimpressed by his one-footed feat.
"I just don't think it was that spectacular," he said, talking to reporters before watching the deciding second slalom run of the combined."Obviously, the save was a good save. It's hard to stay up when you lose a ski at that speed."
Video of the incident can only enhance the growing Miller legend.
With an inimitable style that 1988 Olympic champion Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland has called "art on skis," Miller frequently stupefies his rivals as he wins races while choosing improbable routes down a mountain.
Skiing with the grace of a ballet dancer and the mind-set of a daredevil, Miller is anathema to the sport's conventional wisdom--or wisdom, period, depending on perspective.
Miller is among those special athletes who can live real time in slow motion.
Once an edge of his left ski caught the snow at 75 m.p.h. Thursday, creating force that popped the binding and set the ski free, Miller quickly weighed his options. He decided to try to finish because he thought--mistakenly, it turned out--that it would give him a chance for essentially two practice runs on the slalom course.
"I was relaxed, but it was still hard," Miller said.
Gunter Hujara of Germany, a ski official frequently at loggerheads with Miller, found the skier's decision harmless and entertaining.
"It's his way of solving his problems," Hujara said. "It is better than hitting whatever with his ski poles."
U.S. men's head coach Phil McNichol, who also contests--vainly--some of Miller's choices, wasn't amused by the Super Bode routine."It's no big deal because he wasn't hurt, but it wasn't smart," McNichol said.
"What's the return for the risk, which could be the end of your season or your career? He should have just stopped. I don't care how big his cape is. But he's a kid who thinks in the moment and thinks anything is possible."
Hujara, the world championships men's referee, was standing two-thirds of the way down the run. He could have waved Miller off the course because he had been disqualified by failing to get both ski tips between the gates, but Hujara simply decided to enjoy a show he thought was a "good thing."
"It's not like he was cheating people," Hujara said.
After he fell, Miller took off his right ski and handed it to McNichol rather than risk damage to the equipment as he skied off the hill on the ungroomed shoulder of the course. He was saving the ski, if not himself, for Saturday's downhill.
"My leg got really, really tired by the bottom," he said.
Miller worked out the kinks by playing some indoor soccer.
On both legs, apparently.
-- Philip Hersh / Chicago Tribune
Photo: Skiing with just one pole, Bode Miller goes airborne in Tuesday's Super-G at the alpine world championships. Credit: Clive Rose / Getty Images