It simply was too unfathomable, the idea of serenading Bode Miller as a reformed playboy drunk who became a husband, a father of two and an oatmeal-eating homebody with an early nightly bedtime. Did he really cry for weeks after his wife-to-be, pro volleyball player Morgan Beck, found a racy text message to another woman on his cell phone and tried to end the relationship, only to succumb to Bode’s tears and apologies? Are we really supposed to believe it all, then watch him complete the fairy tale with a gold medal in his final Olympics?
Maybe he’ll write that story later in the Sochi Games. But before it could happen Sunday, in the marquee men’s downhill on a Russian mountainside, the preposterousness of it all had to marinate a bit. Having seen Miller totally crapfaced on the floor of an Italian bar eight years ago, after a farcical Turin Games in which he quit one race and was disqualified from another, I am happy he has found peace and love and is embracing his career twilight at 36.
Seems fate has to reconcile it all, too.
For there was Miller, dejected and slumped at the bottom of the Rosa Khutor course, out of medal contention after hitting a gate. His form had been so spectacular during training sessions, he had been considered a favorite for gold, which would have solidified his legend as the most accomplished of American alpine skiers. But a cloudy morning in Krasnaya Polyana made conditions unpredictable, which led to Miller’s mishap and slow run.
“It’s tough. I was looking to win,” he said. “I thought I had a good chance at it. I was well-prepared.
“The visibility has changed a ton from the training run. The middle and bottom of the course slowed so much from the beginning of the race until I went that I thought you have to do something magical to win. I didn’t really make any mistakes in the middle and bottom of the course. And I lost a ton of time.”
He’ll have more opportunities in the Super-G and super combined events. At least we know Miller won’t have to be pulled out of a bar to race, a normal routine back in the day when he once said, “Fame is poison and I lived better when I was a nobody.” He is somebody, and he is living well. The fairy tale wasn’t ready for the golden ending.
So America was left to celebrate two snow kids on another hill. We were just getting over the fun of 20-year-old Idahoan Sage Kotsenburg, a 21st-century Jeff Spicoli with blond hair flopping to his shoulders, winning Saturday in the new slopestyle event. Next thing we knew, he was joined Sunday by Jamie Anderson, a 23-year-old from South Lake Tahoe who won the women’s version of the same race.
“I think most of us have been thinking about this for a few years,” Anderson said. “To just have that moment come so quick and really knowing this is your moment, you just want to shine and do your best and show the world what a fun sport snowboarding is.”
Anderson was into Zen. “I was really just trying to stay calm and kind of reserve my energy,” she said. “It was a lot of stress up there, and even though it’s just another competition, the stage and the outreach that this event connects to is out of control.”
Kotsenburg was into, well, Spicoli, fully embracing the “Doooood” character from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Said Sage of the comparison: “That is sick. I’m down with that, pretty awesome that someone did that. I’m stoked to see that. Good old Spicoli.”
Shaun White? Who’s Shaun White? As if shearing his red locks robbed him of strength, like some X Games Samson, the American dynamo who popularized extreme sports decided last week not to compete in slopestyle. The course was too dangerous, he said, and he didn’t want an injury marring his chances of a three-peat in the halfpipe competition.
“With the practice runs I’ve taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said in a statement.
Yes, the Flying Tomato, 27 and wealthy now, issues corporate-type statements. Oh, and don’t call him the Flying Tomato anymore, either.
Next man up, then. As Canadian opponents tweeted that White was a coward and others cited a privileged arrogance in pulling out at the last minute, a traditional NFL mentality swept over the snowboarding venue. Enter Kotsenburg, from Coeur D’Alene, known as “second-run Sage” because of his previous also-ran status in the sport. While more celebrated rivals assumed the best way to slopestyle gold was via the most difficult manuever — namely, a triple cork, involving three flips head over heels — Kotsenburg chose what he described as the “Holy Crail” but what officially is known as a “1620 Japan Air Mute Grab.” On his first jump, he flipped twice and spun wildly through 3 1/2 rotations with one hand on the board. Then, clutching the board behind his back, he soared and delivered another 4 1/2 rotations.
“I’d never even tried it before, literally,” he said, per the Associated Press. “Never ever tried it before in my life. I kind of do random stuff all the time, never make a plan up. I had no idea I was even going to do a 1620 in my run until three minutes before I dropped. It’s kind of what I’m all about.”
The judges loved it, emphasizing creativity and technical form over difficulty. They didn’t mind that he shunned the triple. That created controversy, with Canada’s Sebastien Toutant, who had been critical of White, opining that the other medalists — teammate Mark McMorris and Norway’s Staale Sandbech — were more worthy of gold. “I think definitely Mark and Staale did some runs that should’ve scored higher. Sage had some really creative stuff. But whatever,” said Toutant, who finished ninth. “They’re all homeys. They deserved it. The sport is getting judged by humans and life goes on.”
If White wins his third Olympic halfpipe, few will remember or care that he abandoned the slopestyle. But if he’s all about his brand now, the brand lost an opportunity to dominate prime-time TV on a Saturday night. Instead, America celebrated one new homey, then another.
So neither won the downhill. Snow is snow. Gold is gold.