Feb 16, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — It has been manifest since he strapped his boots into into skis here at the Rosa Khutor complex that Bode Miller was racing with a higher sense of purpose at these Olympic Games.
He has wanted it bad, perhaps too badly, sought in the expression of sport and art that has always been his calling, in the rush of a minute or maybe two in the joinder of man and mountain, to find that moment of clarity and, indeed, of transcendence.
At the bottom of the hill Sunday, when the big scoreboard said he was on his way to winning an Olympic medal for the sixth time in his storied career, Miller cried. His wife, Morgan, cried. They hugged each other. Holding an American flag, she helped him regain his composure amid television interviews. Later, on the podium, the flag draped over his right shoulder, before congratulating the others — because Miller has always believed in sportsmanship — he appeared to be alone with his thoughts.
And then it all became clear.
Miller’s younger brother, Chelone, died at age 29 last April, found dead of an apparent seizure in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., in the van Bode had bought for him. A snowboarder known to family and friends as “Chilly,” he had been in a dirt bike crash in 2005; thereafter he suffered from chronic seizures.
“Losing my brother this year,” Miller would say, “was really hard for myself, my family, our sort of whole community.
“I have been a focal point for them over the years — my racing. It was just — yeah, a lot of emotion. To have things go well today, as well as they did, I felt very fortunate to come out with a medal. Just, um, everything felt pretty raw and pretty connected. It was a lot for me.”
In a profile published before the Games in ESPN The Magazine, Miller disclosed that he and Morgan had gone to California to pick up the van and Chilly’s ashes. They even spent a night in the van.
“It’s super-emotional,” Miller was quoted as saying in that story, “and there is a lot of love and passion and power there. If you can channel that into ski racing, it’s possibly something that could make a difference.”
After the flower ceremony Sunday had concluded, he would Tweet:
Thanks for all the support, today was one of the most emotional days of my life. I miss my brother.
— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 16, 2014
Morgan would tweet:
There is no one in the world who deserves this more than my husband. Thank you for all the support and believers #BRONZE
— Morgan Miller (@MorganEBeck) February 16, 2014
“I’m skiing the best I’m skiing in my entire life,” Miller said at one point Sunday, explaining that conditions so far through these Games — changing light, soft snow — “don’t suit me very well.”
That’s why, after being favored in the downhill, he finished eighth. The defending Olympic champion in the super-combined, he finished sixth.
“I’m trying,” he said, “to do everything I can.”
It’s why he looked so focused Sunday morning in the super-G start gate. It was, he would say afterward, “probably if not the most important [race] of my life, right there with it.”
Miller’s run Sunday saw him rocket through the top section of the course. But a mistake off a late jump had him worried that he had given up too much time to stay in the medal hunt.
He ran 13th, then waited and watched. Only Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, who won the race, in 1:18.14, and American Andrew Weibrecht, improbably, who started 29th, and surged to second; 23-hundredths of a second ahead, ran faster. Canada’s Jan Hudec would tie Miller for bronze, 53-hundredths back of Jansrud.
Miller’s super-G medal is the sixth in his Olympic career. That ties him with Bonnie Blair for the second-most ever by a U.S. Winter Olympic athlete. Apolo Ohno has eight.
“I have never,” he said, “been so stuck on counting them. For me, I have put in a lot of work. This is a really hard year. A lot of effort coming back, to get fit and get ready, and just battle through everything life throws at you sometimes.
“To come out and ski hard — it’s almost therapeutic for me to be in these situations where I really get to test myself. So I was happy to have it be on the right side of the hundredths. Some days, like I said, medals don’t matter. Today was one of the days where it does matter.”
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