Bode Miller: Life on the edge

Bad boy American skier Bode Miller is not one of the sport's wallflowers, fighting both personal tragedy and ageing limbs to compete in Sochi

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The Independent Online

Bode Miller was born in a house in the woods without electricity or running water. His hippie parents celebrated the solstice and named their youngest daughter Genesis Wren Bungo Windrushing Turtleheart. Bode once recovered after a skiing injury by using a homemade weights machine, a wheelbarrow and a unicycle. Now, aged 36, he has won his sixth and last Olympic medal, closing a chapter on a very unconventional life story.

Miller has almost retired at least twice before. On Sunday, he went out once and for all with a bronze, in the Super G event at the Sochi Games. As he ran the media gauntlet afterwards, he became upset until, after prodding by an arguably insensitive reporter from NBC, he fell to his knees and wept.

Olympic tears have rarely been so loaded. Miller had become the oldest Alpine skier to win a medal at the Games. But joy was confined by grief and the burdens of a challenging year, even by his standards. As the skier-turned-presenter Graham Bell put it in the BBC highlights programme, Miller's life "reads like a script from Jeremy Kyle". More like a Hollywood biopic.

Miller had hoped to compete in Sochi alongside his snowboarding brother "Chilly" (full name: Nathaniel Kinsman Ever Chelone Skan), who died last April after a seizure, aged 29. He had suffered a series of such attacks after a motorbike crash in 2005 left him in a coma. "Today was one of the most emotional days of my life," Bode tweeted on Sunday. "I miss my brother."

Back home, Miller is a regular and often willing fixture of celebrity magazines. Two years ago, he met a young former marine on a dating website. They split after a few weeks, but not before she became pregnant. Miller quickly launched custody proceedings and when she moved to New York from California, where Miller lives, a judge said that "her appropriation of the child while in utero" was "irresponsible" and "reprehensible".

His ruling, which was later overturned, infuriated women's rights advocates. As the custody battle got going, Miller dated and quickly married Morgan Beck, a beach volleyball player and model who has been by his side in Sochi. She, too, quickly became pregnant, only to suffer a miscarriage in January last year.

It's a wonder that Miller could focus at all in Sochi, but then he has rarely skied without distraction. As a young racer in New Hampshire, where he grew up, his reckless need for speed seemed at odds with his hippie upbringing. When it was put to him that winners are more often the products of pushy parents, Miller said: "Those are the kids who burn out and end up being counterculture hippies... that's sort of the opposite from me." As a young pro, he became renowned for his unorthodox skiing style and physics-defying recoveries. But the "Houdini" of the downhill refused to be tamed, often falling out with his coaches and the skiing establishment.

But when he burst on to the Olympic scene in 2002 at Salt Lake City with two silver medals, his leading-man features and screw-them attitude turned him into an overnight poster boy for the sport.

At the Turin Games in 2006, Miller won nothing, boasting only about "an awesome two weeks" in which he "got to party and socialise at an Olympic level". He had gone too far, offending those who he would later call "role-model Nazis". He quit the US team to go it alone but crashed and burned, and considered quitting. But Miller stunned his sport in 2010 by coming back to win three medals in Vancouver, including gold in the super-combined event.

Miller considered quitting again after Vancouver but despite his advancing years, a terrible knee injury and a slalom course of personal challenges, he made it back to the Olympic stage for a final fling. He's already written an autobiography (Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun). It will need an update now and, one suspects, room for further chapters while he decides what to do next.