ST. MORITZ, Switzerland Feb. 3, 2003 (AP by Erica Bulman)--He wears mittens instead of racing gloves. He signs autographs dressed in Bermuda shorts and fluffy tiger slippers. He skis with a daring that often leaves him in a heap on the slope.
Bode Miller is breaking all the rules—and winning. He is the first American in 20 years in contention for the overall World Cup title. On Sunday, on the opening day of the world championships, he shared second place with Hermann Maier in the super giant slalom, trailing winner Stephan Eberharter.
"All my life I've had people criticize my skiing, my technique, my style," Miller said. "I stopped worrying about it a long time ago. My only worry is the stopwatch."
Miller is an unorthodox skier, leaving the start hut almost impassively, and crashing out of races often as not. But no longer are people sniggering.
"He's staying on course now—it's the reason he can be so fast," said Maier, Austria's three-time overall World Cup champion who is making a comeback from a motorcycle crash. "A few years ago I said he would be good if he could only stay on his skis. Now he is."
The 25-year-old skier from Franconia, N.H., is a different breed. He needs only 20 minutes to inspect a course while Maier uses the full hour allowed. He wears mittens instead of racing gloves, after slicing his hand on a broken soda bottle falling off a skateboard and getting 24 stitches. The soda company became his head gear sponsor.
"My hand doesn't like the cold anymore," Miller said.
At first glance, Miller lacks the belligerent countenance of many skiers.
"Bode is probably the most misperceived skier," American head coach Phil McNichol said. "He gets very calm, he looks almost lethargic, but it's just his response to save energy, to stay rested, focused. Not to get drained."
Miller thinks many people misinterpret his body language.
"Part of the reason I'm really mellow in the start is that I concentrate and relax and it creates a situation where I think about what I need to think about," he said. "I don't allow anything but what I need to think about tactically, and what my body needs to do."
He is determined to squeeze speed out of every opportunity, and sometimes that costs him.
"Bode's biggest competitor is Bode," McNichol said. "That's usually the time he loses."
He also gets lost in his pleasure.
"He tells me 'God, I was having so much fun, I was going as fast as I could, I could feel the speed in my skis, I forgot about winning,"' McNichol said.
With this all-or-nothing style, Miller failed to complete a slalom race for almost two seasons. But he is unflappable, shrugging off failure. In November 2001, he finished 26th and second in a double-header in Aspen, Colo.
"Most guys would be mental garbage by then," McNichol said. "But Bode kept believing."
He finally pieced together speed and tactics. He learned to keep his upper body in harmony with his legs.
Miller has six victories over the last two years, including two this season. At the Olympics last year he became the first American man to win a medal in the giant slalom and combined.
He is now an all-around threat in his first season seriously competing in speed events. He is second to Eberharter in the overall standings.
"I try to do what it takes to be fastest," Miller said. "Last year I started doing that enough to win." Copyright (c) 2000 The Associated Press