Bode Miller is leaner these days, about 20 pounds lighter than he’s been in quite a while.
His left knee no longer aches, either, which hasn’t been the case in nearly 12 years.
This is a new version of Miller training for the Sochi Olympics, one who will no longer simply attack downhill courses with a reckless abandon sure to either win him a race or send him flying.
No, Miller vows to be more strategic and tactical this season, especially with his surgically repaired knee — the one that sidelined him all of 2012-13 — finally fixed. Sure, he will still take risks — that’s simply part of his DNA — but those gambles will be much more calculated.
He’s also skiing in the memory of his younger brother, Chelone, a charismatic snowboarder who died of what was believed to be a seizure in April.
“I absorbed a lot of his energy when all that happened,” Miller said Wednesday in phone interview with The Associated Press after a training session in New Zealand with the U.S. squad. “It’s tough. Real tough. It doesn’t ever go away. Everybody who knew him dedicates a part of the rest of their life to him.”
Just 18 months after microfracture surgery that could’ve ended his career, Miller is back on the slopes and feeling as fit as ever. He fully expects to be ready for the World Cup season opener in Soelden, Austria, in October and definitely back in customary Bode Miller form by the time Sochi rolls around in February.
“My skiing came back really quick,” said Miller, who has 33 World Cup wins, two overall titles and five Olympic medals on his resume. “Things have been great. The equipment feels good. My knee feels good. I’m feeling really, really good.”
The year away from skiing has almost been therapeutic for Miller.
Once he came to terms with it, that is. Then, he made the most of the break, spending time fishing off the back of his houseboat with his daughter, travelling with his wife, pro volleyball player Morgan Miller, and working on his golf game.
Miller believes he needed to slow down in order to rush down the mountain again.
“Felt great to have a break,” Miller said. “It was an excellent time. I definitely am ready to be back on snow.”
And anytime he steps into the starting gate, he’s among the favourites, even if he will turn 36 this season.
“He still has it,” said U.S. coach Forest Carey, who’s working directly with Miller and Ted Ligety. “Bode is old enough and done enough in the sport, he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
As for Miller altering his hard-charging style, well, Carey has one bit of advice — keep being Bode Miller.
“He’s really pulled some rabbits out of the hat before and the way he skis, yeah, if he makes it down, he’s going to be fast,” Carey said. “He just brings mad intensity and charges so hard. It’s early, of course, just testing the knee out and seeing how it’s feeling. But so far, it’s all right.”
One thing Miller changed in the off-season was his workout routine. He will enter the season a shade over 200 pounds, a weight that will allow him to glide into turns instead of bullying his way through a course.
“I have a lot less strain on my knee,” he said. “It allows me to ski a different tactic, a different style. I’m really psyched to give it a try, to reset some things and win some races.”
The subject of his brother remains a tender one for Miller. The two were tight.
In recent years, Chelone Miller— or “Chilly” as he was known — was focusing on snowboardcross to earn a spot in Sochi. The 29-year-old died in the area of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
“I dedicate the rest of my life to him,” Miller said.
Miller is putting his knee through a rigorous workout this month as he trains in New Zealand alongside Ligety, the world’s top giant slalom skier.
“I get to see what I need to be at,” Miller said.
So far, he’s pretty much keeping up, too. No swelling or pain in the knee, either.
Miller had surgery on his constantly troublesome knee in February 2012. He returned to skiing this spring as he squeezed in some light super-G training in Austria.
“That was bumpy and fast and gnarly and felt great,” Miller said. “I wasn’t pushing 100 per cent, but that was great. Now, I’m ready to rip.”
He’s certainly ahead of schedule compared to where he was going into the 2010 Vancouver Games. Back then, he was off all summer because, “I was kind of retired.” Miller returned to training late that fall and went on to win Olympic gold in the super-combined, silver in the super-G and bronze in the downhill.
“This time, I’m starting at a more appropriate time, with the full time to get myself in shape and prepared for the World Cup season,” Miller said. “I’m comfortable and confident that I will be ready to race.
“I’m ready to go for it.”