The first item was the very sad, but culturally and perhaps genetically revealing, story of Bode Miller’s cousin, Liko Kenney. (Bode, of course, is the prodigiously talented, maverick ski racer from
In the tight, rural communities around
That same day, Bode announced in
The most recent affront to Bode being Bode came during the World Cup season just ended. The team decided that all Americans competing on the circuit would have to sleep in the team hotel. The rule was aimed directly at Bode who preferred to sleep and eat and relax – now and then with a beer or two, away from prying eyes – in his own motor home.
A World Cup winter can be brutal on Americans off in
Bode and a number of other top racers solved some of these problems by living out of their own rigs. One of Bode’s best friends from
But after the perceived embarrassment of the 2006 Games, during which Bode brought home no medals and was seen partying into the night some nights, the team decided to crack down. Bode went along for one season. He slept in their hotels, finished fourth overall this year (2007), winning four races and the season-long Super-G title. But when the team laid down new rules at a meeting with Bode early in May, he had had enough and made his announcement.
The decision is entirely of a piece with who Bode is. The wonder is he stuck with the team for as long as he did.
By now everybody knows the story of how Bode grew up – free to roam in a 500-acre wood, with hippie parents in a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. He defied ski coaches from an early age but showed enough self-aware genius to move up the ladder. As a teen he ignored conventional wisdom and raced on
The best racers in the
You’d think the
In the 1980s, Phil and Steve Mahre survived the team by politely ignoring it; they refused training camps and trained at home on their dirt bikes instead. Peekaboo Street was booted off the team more than once, I think, for sexual and sundry other insubordinations. More recently the peerless Alaskan freeskier Jeremy Nobis cut short a promising downhill career because he just couldn’t stomach team strictures, team philosophy.
Two of the greatest skiers I worked with in ski schools around the West were kicked off the
As far as I know, Bode has never shown himself to be violent. He has never crossed the line his cousin Liko crossed, the one that says society must balance the rights of the individual against the welfare of the whole. (The ski team’s parallel and inherently contradictory role is to provide a framework – money and discipline and bureaucratic sanction – while at the same time nurturing the uncoachable fire-in-the-belly that is a prerequisite to winning.) Bode’s sin, as far as organized skiing goes, is actually far worse than anti-social behavior. Bode doesn’t care about winning. After having won just about everything he can win, his goal now is purer, simpler, if more elusive. The goal, as stated in his memoir, Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun, is not to acquire medals but to ski “as fast as the natural universe will allow.”
This is Bode being Bode, Bode instinctively parsing the physics of sliding downhill. For him it’s always been about creating arcs and speeds that no one else has yet achieved on snow – an individual vision. Too bad the rule makers at the United States Ski Association can’t see their way to accommodating that.