Monday, February 27, 2006

Back Off Of Bode

I would find it amusing how so many people who could not explain the difference between the Super G and the Giant Slalom and who could not tell you the configuration of the Combined event battering poor Bode Miller's Olympic performance if I did not feel somewhat let down by the whole sad situation. After all, Bode was from New Hampshire, and was prepared to become the biggest Granite State athletic star since Carlton Fisk. But instead, as we all have been told, usually in smirking tones, Bode got shut out. He left Italy without a medal. And he seems so damned unrepentrant about it, we are reminded, that somehow he goes down as one of the biggest losers in the history of the Olympics, if not all of sports, if not all of humankind, depending on who is doing the hyperventilating.

So I am here, if not to defend Bode's honor, then at least to scream: "Enough!"

Bode Miller did not proclaim himself the golden boy or star of this Olympics. I never saw him make brash predictions. I never heard him talk trash about his opponents. And neither did you. The fact is that the media anointed Miller as the star in waiting, and for at least some good reasons -- he was the defending overall World Cup alpine champion and he had the sort of depth of talent and versatility that he was a legitimate threat in all of the alpine events (Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and combined, which calls for one downhill run and two trips down the slalom course). And when Miller failed to medal, the same media that anointed him the star proclaimed him a loser and worse.

Yet what did Miller do that was so awful? He enjoyed himself -- imagine that. A guy makes the Olympics, decides to make the most of it, and decides, on his own, in an individual sport, that while he would love to win, he would not do so at the expense of the experience. And when he comes up short, after skiing in his typical hellbent for leather style, he is not apologetic, largely because he does not owe any of us a damned thing. Here is the deal: It is one thiong to celebrate the US Olympic team. It is quite another honestly to equate the Olympic effort with patriotism, with proxy war. Bode Miller is a fine skier, and one who may well come out of the Olympics hungry to win the World Cup again, either in individual events or overall. And I hope that he does. But unlike, say, soldiers, Bode Miller does not owe the Amereican people a thing. He does not owe us a gold medal. He does not owe us any particular approach to his sport. He does not owe us some sportswriter's concept of humility or of self-flagellation after giving it his best but coming up short (is finishing 4th in the world, or 6th in the world, somehow shameful? That's what Bode did in two of his events, in a sport where the difference between 1st and 6th is usually well less than a second?).

Some are making a big deal out of his Nike contract, as if independent of the Olympics Bode Miller has not earned endorsement deals, and as if those critics are anywhere near as good in their profession as Miller is at his (and as if Olympic athletes always live up to the expectations we impose upon them).

Bode Miller tried and failed. And he may not have responded to that failure in the way that some focus group sitting at home and, more likely than not, NOT watching the Olympics, would have liked. But in the end, so what? He is young. He will probably be there in Vancouver in 2010. And I, for one, will be rooting for him.

Two other quick Olympic notes:

I am somewhat tired of hearing about what a failure this Olympics was for the US team because we did not meet our medal count from Salt Lake City. Home Olympic teams always surpass their regular standards. But beyond that, the 25 medals we brought home far surpassed the second highest total Americans have ever accumulated in a winter games. And it was the second most medals in these games, behind Germany, a traditional winter Olympics powerhouse. When people brand these games a disappointment, what I am hearing from them is three things: They know the US hockey team did not win anything. They heard about Bode Miller and are jumping on that bandwagon. They are freaking morons.

Finally, enough about Shani Davis and the speedskating relay team. Speedskating relays are not like the relays in track and field, where the teams work together leading up to the games. From all I can tell, the process in that sport is very much ad hoc and traditionally the teams are thrown together. Hedrick's desire to maximize his own medal tallies is no reason to throw Davis under the bus. Shani Davis does not owe anyone anything. He did not pull out after promising to be part of the relay. He did not pull out after training together with a set group of guys for four years. He did not pull out at all -- he never committed to the relay event. Meanwhile he accomplished something significant -- not only by winning a gold medal, which for any athlete has to be the pinnacle of a lifetime's worth of work, but by doing so and in the process becoming the first black athlete to win an Olympic medal at the Winter Games. Let's leave the man alone, and let's admire what he did in the events in which he did skate, and not hold against him what happened in an event in which he never intended to.


Rich said...

It's not so much that Bode Miller failed to bring home a medal that irks most people as it is his half-assed effort and willingness to prioritize having a night on the town over a good night's rest in order to be prepared for the events in which he participated.

No one likes to see wasted talent, and that is exactly what Bode Miller is- what could have been. Imagine what people would have said if Michael Jordan had the party animal mentality that Miller does. Imagine if Roger Clemens was a night owl instead of a work horse, hitting the gym as hard as anyone. Would you have still admired Carl Lewis, possibly the best all-around track athlete in the history of the sport, if he invested hours of time in a recording studio producing crap solo albums as opposed to the intense daily workout routines he strictly adhered to? What would you have said back in '84 if he DQ'd in the long jump, dropped the baton in the 4x100 relay and afterwards, much like Bode, simply said "fuck it"?

I don't care that Bode got shut out of this year's winter olympics in terms of medals. What is frustrating that someone with so much god-given talent lacks the heart and discipline to make the most out of it.

Rhonda said...

I never paid the least bit of attention to skiing before I went to Austria, but since it's the biggest sport around there, I kind of had to start following it. Austrians hate Bode Miller. They hate that he's not as disciplined as Maier or Raich, they hate that he parties before races, and most of all, last year they hated that he kept winning anyway. Their criticisms never bothered me, because (1) it's a natural rivalry but mostly (2) they actually know what they're talking about.

To hear NBC's commentators sputter that it's "inexcusable" to straddle a gate in a skier's best event? The best slalom skiers straddle gates. That's exactly how Bode Miller has always won--he risks the straddle to cut the time. If I know this after paying attention for only one season, why don't the people who get paid to pontificate about skiing seem to know this?

Bode behaved exactly as he has always behaved. If that's a problem, then maybe last year when he said he didn't really want to go to the Olympics, the team should have said, "okay, don't come." But everyone knows how Bode is--did we expect some magical transformation? What's that definition of insanity again?

(and Davis is the first black athlete to win an individual gold. Don't shortchange Vonetta Flowers.)

dcat said...

Good point on Vonetta Flowers, Rhonda. It is also worth pointing out that Bode claims that he never partied the night before an event. Barring actual evidence to the contrary, I'm going to trust him. And even if he did, if that's how he wants to spend his Olympics? More power to him. As for squandering talent, I've seen no evidence that he suffers from dissolution -- he straddled a gate in the slalom of the combned, missed a slalom medal by a slim margin, a super G medal by a slimmer margin, and crapped out in the other two events, one of which he did while sahowing one of the most impressive displays of athleticism and balance I have ever seen -- going 5o miles an hour, almost turning fully around, staying on oine ski, and never falling? Don't try that at home.
i still hope he wins the World Cup.

Thunderstick said...

I can't really defend Bode as much as I want to also being a NH native. I was rooting for him to the end hoping it wouldn't end like this, but it did and he's got to at least take some (if not most of) responsibility for this. Sure he didn't make brash predictions and talk bad about his competitors, but one has to understand that if you win the World Cup and then you take the millions from Nike to be pasted on ads all over magazines and TV and you are a loudmouth (most notably saying Lance Armstrong was a cheater), then it is understood that you have given license to the media marketing machine to pump you up. If you don't want the attention, then don't make the ads and don't go spouting off.

And all this is secondary to his behavior out there. No way can I give a pass to someone who decides that he's going to use his Olympic experience to play pick up basketball and party. Did it affect me? Of course not. I could have cared less how he performed. I can safely say that I didn't watch one minute of skiing from the last Olympics to this one. I have nothing invested. As you say, I'm one of these people that doesn't know the difference between the Super G and the giant slalom. But what I do recognize is at athlete's responsibility to their fans. I've spent a lot of money in my lifetime going to sporting events, mostly Red Sox and Duke basketball games. I went out to the final four in 2001 and had Duke lost I'd have been bummed, but had they lost and then I found out that some of the star players from that team had been out and loaded the night before and that's why they didn't play well, that would be unforgiveable to me. I spend all those hours watching their games and buying clothes and then I spend all those hundreds of dollars to fly out to Minneapolis and get a hotel room and final four tickets. Those players owe it to all those people that support them and get them those big endorsements to give their all for them, if not themselves. Had those guys on the 2001 Duke hoops team gone out to all hours and lost that game I don't think I would have been able to say "well--at least they enjoyed their final four experience--they didn't owe me anything." Like I said, I don't watch skiing and I don't care if Bode got 0 or 5 medals. But I understand what it's like to be a sports fan and I have to assume that there is a fan base for skiing in the United State and all over the world that loves Bode Miller and has followed all his races and that spent, most likely a considerable sum, of their time money to get tickets and travel to Italy to see him compete and the way he conducted himself was disrespectful to all those people.

dcat said...

TS --
I would agree with you if I thought that Bode's off-slope behavior had an effect on his performance. But in fact, he was in position for several medals -- he was leading the combined event after the downhill and simply caught a gate. That happens. he started off well in the downhill but it went, well, downhill for him. He placed top 10 in two events. In other words, i am not certain that whatever he allegedly did hurt his performance. I have no problkem saying that maybe he choked -- I don't think he did, but obviously that is a matter of temperament and interpretation. But it seems as if he has become more than just a guy who fell short -- some of the vitriol aimed at him from guys like jay mariotti has been out of all proportion to what Bode did or did not do. I still have to believe that at the end of the day, the person most hurt by Bode not medaling is Bode. He is an easy target, but I think enough is enough. The US Olympic team did not fail in Torino. yet somehow Bode Miller has to some become the embodiment of failings of a team that was the second most successful in US winter Olympic history. The outrage seems out of all proportion to what actually happened in Italy.
I might try to go to Vancouver in 2010.


Thunderstick said...

The outrage is just because Bode was pumped up, Sasha Cohen was pumped up and despite a good showing from the US, there was just no really good, take home story from an American perspective. I can think of other Olympics that were great, but I have no idea how many medals the Americans won because there were a few great stories--for all I know they were the only medals the Americans won those years.

I've been saying it for years--there's just nobody to root against. I really think we should let Al Qaeda field a team so we have someone we can get some joy in beating. That's really hurting things. And tape delay is killing it. As someone on ESPN said, this is supposed to be the best example of reality TV where some nobody comes from nowhere to become a star, but with tape delay that doesn't happen. It used to be that you could only find out what happened by watching the coverage at night. Then info was available but it was easy to avoid. Now it's impossible to not know the results before 8 at night.

dcat said...

Part of the reason the Soviets were so great to hate is that they were as good, and oftentimes better than we were (ditto the East Germans). This was especially so in the winter Olympics.

The fact that the media focused on just a few stories is not really Bode's fault. the fact that his was one of the huge storylines is the result of a general lack of imagination on the part of the media. Sure, Bode benefitted from the exposure until it turned on him, but it did not take long for people who really had no business commenting on the Olympic skiing made some of the harshest comments. It would be like me railing on the ice dancing -- I know nothing about it, ahve never done it, and have no clue who is supposed to be good. Why would I be outraged over how the ice dancing turned out, barring some sort of scandal or crime? yet people were foaming at the mouth outraged over bode (again, i use as exhibit A for this Jay Mariotti).

Two more years until Beijing . . .


Thunderstick said...

"It would be like me railing on the ice dancing -- I know nothing about it, ahve never done it, and have no clue who is supposed to be good. Why would I be outraged over how the ice dancing turned out, barring some sort of scandal or crime?"

This from the guy who took the afternoon off from work to go to a bar with the satellite feed so he could watch women's figure skating live. You really think we believe that you don't know anything about ice dancing?

dcat said...

I stand by my assertion. But i do weep when I think of the beauty those little waifs bring out on to the ice. The Japanese girl's program made me weep tears of joy.