All these years later, Miller complicated as ever 

\New medal. Same old Bode.

Or is it?

Depends on whether you listen to what others say or what Bode Miller himself says.

Before heading off to collect his bronze from the men's Olympic downhill Monday, the ever-enigmatic Miller sounded off on so many subjects, the way he so often has.

Never a dull moment with this guy.

He talked about how he "relaxed a bunch of my animosity toward the commercialism of the Olympics from the last time. I can't personally change that stuff as much as I'd like to."

He made an off-the-cuff reference to the whole Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan brouhaha in 1994 to illustrate his oft-repeated point that medals aren't everything.

"You don't want to go the Tonya Harding route of winning medals," Miller said. "If you wanted just strictly to win medals, you could go through a whole long start list of racers and just go to their house in the offseason — break a leg here, pull out a shoulder socket there — and you'd probably have a whole bunch of medals."

When a French translator interrupted one of Miller's answers during a news conference, he groused, "You guys are making it more complicated than it has to be."

In a more informal chat with reporters, Miller was asked if he's curtailed his nightlife habits since his no-medal, plenty-of-partying trip to the Turin Games four years ago.

"The Olympics just started," he said with a smile. "You got to give me some time."

His teammates, his agent, even his rivals, say Miller seems to be a different guy this time around.

If so, maybe it's because Miller considered retiring six months ago. Maybe it's because he's now the father of a toddler. Maybe it's because there is less attention, fewer sponsor commitments, not as much "minutiae," as Miller called it.

He's rooming and hanging out with other U.S. skiers, for one thing, instead of setting himself up in his own RV, the way he did in Italy.

He's pushing others in training.

He's at these Olympics for his own reasons, rather than trying to live up to expectations or requirements of sponsors.

This much is certain: As a favorite four years ago in Turin, Miller flopped. As something of an afterthought this time around, he flourished. With a controlled run down a choppy slope Monday, Miller finished behind Switzerland's Didier Defago and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal at the Vancouver Games for his U.S.-record third career Olympic Alpine medal.

Asked what's changed most about him since 2006, Miller replied: "It doesn't feel like anything. I'm pretty steady, actually. I've been about the same since as long as I can remember."

But he also tried to explain his success Monday by saying of the last Olympics, "I wasn't emotionally very involved in the races. I was treating them very cold and clinical." Now, in contrast, "I let myself go more."

To U.S. teammate Marco Sullivan, Miller seemed oddly silent riding the lift to the mountaintop for Monday's race.

"I don't think we said a word to each other," Sullivan said.

Later, hanging out in the athletes' lounge as race time approached, other skiers were surprised by Miller's mood, too.

"It was fascinating," said Liechtenstein's Marco Buechel, who is at his sixth Winter Games and has known Miller for years. "He said he was nervous. I'm like, 'What?! Nervous? You? I never saw you like that.'"

Miller insisted it's true: He had a case of the jitters. No matter that this is all so very been-there, done-that for someone who burst onto the scene with two silvers at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

"That was the feeling I've been searching for, and I let it build up. I was real nervous before I went, but excited-nervous, not anxiety-nervous," Miller said. "Normally as an athlete, a veteran of 400 World Cup races, you kind of repress that stuff. ... I used to crash all the time because of it. But I think that's part of why I wanted to come back."

It's why he decided to rejoin the U.S. Ski Team after training and competing independently for the past two years. It's why he decided to return to the Olympics after his disastrous, distraction-filled trip to Turin, where he generated far more buzz with his late-night antics than with his skiing prowess.

"Sometimes his focus wanders," said Sullivan, "and, obviously, today he was very focused."

After the postrace flower ceremony, after the doping test, after the news conference and other interviews, Miller headed down the mountain. There are more races to come — although Tuesday's super-combined was postponed because of too much snow overnight — and he once again must be part of any conversation about contenders.

"He is ski racing because he wants to ski race," said Miller's agent, Lowell Taub, "and I think you see that in the performance."

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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