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Top U.S. Skier Bode Miller Battles Controversy

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been a rough week for Bode Miller. He's the top skier in the world right now, the first US competitor to win the overall World Cup title in 22 years. And at the Winter Olympics next month, he could win a string of gold medals, but Miller can also say things that get him in trouble. This week he admitted on "60 Minutes" to skiing in a race still drunk from the night before. NPR's Chris Arnold has Bode Miller's story.

CHRIS ARNOLD reporting:

Some people who know Bode Miller say he was probably exaggerating, joking around, not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. He must have just been hung over. But last Sunday on "60 Minutes," there was Bode Miller, on national television, talking with reporter Bob Simon about ski racing after being up late partying.

(Soundbite of "60 Minutes")

Mr. BODE MILLER (Skier): There's been times I've been in really tough shape at the top of a course.

Mr. BOB SIMON (Reporter, "60 Minutes"): Tough shape? Look at him here in Sober(ph), Switzerland, the day after he won the World Cup. He wasn't as much hung over as still drunk. He'd been celebrating all night with friends.

Mr. MILLER: Talk about a hard challenge right there. I mean, if you ever try to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy. Try skiing a slalom when the gates are kind of--you know, it's--you ski--you hit a gate less than every one a second. So...

ARNOLD: And just in case there was any room for doubt, the men's magazine Maxim quoted the 28-year-old Miller as saying basically the same thing. Ski team official were not amused. Corporate donors and team sponsors got upset. The US Ski and Snowboard Association president made an emergency trip to Europe to talk with Bode Miller. And his head coach told reporters, quote, "I think the question Bode has to answer is `Do you still want to be a part of the United States Ski Team?'"

(Soundbite of store activity)

ARNOLD: The general store on the main street in Franconia, New Hampshire, is just up the road from where Miller grew up. Theories are going around here about why Miller might have been drunk or hung over for that World Cup race in Switzerland.

Unidentified Man: What I heard, he wasn't planning on doing that last race because he didn't need to. He'd already won.

ARNOLD: Keith Yarish(ph) is working the register here. He grew up skiing with Bode Miller.

Mr. KEITH YARISH (Store Clerk): I've heard from some of his friends that his coaches called him up early in the morning right after he was--got done partying, I guess, and said, `You got to get here.'

ARNOLD: Miller, though, has a reputation for wanting to ski in every race no matter what without prodding from coaches. Bode Miller was born in a cabin his parents built in the woods nearby here after his father dropped out of medical school. They had no electricity or running water and grew their own food. Miller was homeschooled. With the Olympics coming up, there are Bode Miller T-shirts on sale at the general store. There's a Bode Miller banner slung across the front of the small supermarket across the street. Thousands of miles away in Switzerland yesterday Miller apologized for the comments he made on "60 Minutes."

Mr. MILLER: The message that came through was not something that I would promote or that I'm about in any aspect of my sporting career. I don't put anything in front of taking ski racing and sports seriously.

ARNOLD: The apology diffused a lot of the controversy. The head of the US Ski and Snowboard Association said he was struck by Miller's concern for kids who look up to him and he said Miller is a free spirit and a great athlete. And both are true. Miller is outspoken about all kinds of things. He's criticized the constant drug testing of top athletes. He promotes organic farming. He drives his coaches crazy risking unnecessary injury like doing back flips off jumps and half pipes just for fun. But he's also in tremendous physical condition and is, perhaps, the best American ski racer ever.

Mr. JACK McENANY (Author): This is where he works out. You know, he can...

ARNOLD: Jack McEnany is a writer who has spent several years with Miller writing a book with him called "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun." McEnany is standing in the old barn at Miller's family farm in New Hampshire. His parents now run a tennis camp across the street and Miller trains here when he comes home.

Mr. McENANY: There's a giant roller for the tennis courts and he pushes that up Route 116 until he vomits and then pushes it back. That's--you know, that's the workout. He feels like if you don't have a good gut-wrenching puke you're not working hard enough.

ARNOLD: If that training sounds a bit unorthodox, so is Miller's skiing technique. He's rejected the common wisdom that you have to look in control to win races. Miller skis right on that edge of control, sometimes way back on his skis with his arms flying around.

Mr. McENANY: They call it the Bode show because he does look funny coming down the hill sometimes. But what he's concerned about is where are his boots and skis. So when he looks like he's trying to pull a tarantula off his back it's because he's trying to bend or balance himself so that, you know, it becomes necessary.

ARNOLD: Ski racers call it dancing with gravity and if you watch the Olympics you'll see Miller doing it on the slopes of the Italian Alps next month above Turin, Italy. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.