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US skier looks for his second chance

Bode Miller snubbed the 2006 Games in Turin, but has now set his sights on winning back America's hearts in Vancouver 2010.

Bode Miller of the U.S. speeds down to win men's downhill race at the Alpine Ski World Championships in the northern Italian resort of Bormio, Feb. 5, 2005. (Ruben Sprich/Reuters)

BOSTON — Bode Miller made no secret of his distaste for the Olympics, which he regarded as an overly commercialized winter carnival where skiing was just another sideshow.

A crusty, iconoclastic, backwoods New Hampshire “live-free-or-die” kind of guy, Miller much preferred the World Cup circuit where the vibe was all about skiing and where he excelled. He won the World Cup title in 2005 and again in 2008, only the second American ever to win multiple titles. His 31 World Cup victories are more than any other American skier.

That considerable success, even in a sport where almost all the passion is provided by European fans, should have provided Miller with an extraordinary athletic legacy back home. But it didn’t exactly work out that way, thanks to those distasteful Olympics.

The problem didn’t manifest itself at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games where Miller won a pair of silver medals and the hearts of American fans when he missed a slalom gate and, though out of contention, still trekked back up the mountain to complete his run.

By the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, Miller’s success had made him the Olympic poster boy. But even before the Olympics opened, he seemed intent on undermining his newfound and hard-earned stature. In various interviews, he revealed that he had competed drunk and that he ultimately raced only to please himself, style being more important than results. And it kept getting worse. In an interview with Newsweek a few months before the Olympics, he trashed many of the sponsors of the U.S. Ski Association as “unbelievable a—holes … rich, cocky, wicked, unbelievably conceited, super-right-wing Republicans” and debunked the Olympics as “not a pure thing.” He even admitted that he would prefer to withdraw. “If it wasn’t such a clusterf—k for me to pull out now, I’d definitely consider it,” he said. “The reasons I’m going are really impure and that definitely bothers me.”

But apparently not quite enough, because he took the big sponsors’ money along with the U.S. Ski Association support, and dutifully cooperated with major media, appearing on “60 Minutes” and posing for Newsweek and Time Covers — all of it predicated on his prospects at the 2006 Olympics.

Miller did show up in Turin, in body if not in spirit. He partied hard and very publicly and skied indifferently in his five races — with no medals, one disqualification and two DNFs (“did not finish”). In other words, he took all the money and then didn’t run. It seemed a betrayal and his sanctimony nothing more than naked hypocrisy, Miller became one of the rare Olympians to arrive cast as a hero and depart scorned as an anti-hero.