On November 1, 2017, NBC Sports announced that Bode Miller, the most decorated U.S. Olympic Alpine Skier in history, would be attending the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Only this time, Miller would be calling the races, not competing in them.
Famed for doing things his way on the race course, with a trademark, go-for-broke style, the athlete debuted at the Winter Olympics in 1998 at age 20, earned two silver medals in 2002, a medal of every color in 2010, a bronze in 2014, and competed in over 400 World Cup race starts. Yet despite the champion’s fame, Miller left the sport silently, his retirement confirmed only by NBC Sports’ announcement that the former world champion would attend PyeongChang Olympics as an Alpine skiing analyst, rather than as a racer.
In true Miller fashion, the athlete has been successful in his career by doing things his way, on his terms, and his decision to retire without ceremony was no different.
“I’m not big on the retirement announcement,” said Miller. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. NBC [Sports] didn’t want people to be confused that now I was going to the Olympics as a commentator, as opposed to going as an athlete, so they announced it to make it official.”
Rather than bid to make a sixth Olympic team at age 40, Miller will focus his time on his businesses and family. His last World Cup level race took place in Beaver Creek, Colorado, at the 2015 World Championships, supported heavily by LIV Sotheby’s International Realty, where Miller severed a hamstring tendon in a super-G crash, ending his chance at gold. It was the last race Miller ran professionally.
While injury and risk are synonymous with the sport of ski racing, Miller enjoyed career success by being able to control his fear of risk by channeling inspiration.
“There’s a huge difference between danger and fear,” said Miller. “Danger is real, it can result in injury or death. Fear is a decision, it’s more of a reaction that can be controlled. I’m not immune to feeling fear, but I’ve figured out how to get past it. You can overcome fear with anger– but it’s harder to control. Or, you can control fear through inspiration.”
Achieving an inspired state of mind during every race poses its challenges, however. “In the Olympics, you’re going to be inspired, but after 400+ World Cup ski races, it’s a little more difficult to reach that [inspired] state of mind. You have to have a manual system of how to drag that inspiration out.”
Like the practice of visualization, where one achieves their goals by visualizing them, Miller employed a similar method for harnessing inspiration prior to his races.
Miller described a system, where before every race, he would build a scenario in his mind, whether fictional, non-fictional, or based off memories– that he would then refine and relive until he reached an inspired state of mind.
“Whether I was rescuing someone from a burning building, or remembering the feeling I had the first time my dad carried me into the waves as a child on a family vacation in Florida; I lived what I was imaging,” said Miller. “I had hundreds of different scenarios in my mind that I could replay depending on the different needs I had for varying races.” The mental scenarios Miller created were so powerful, they caused the athlete to become inspired; an ability he attributes to be directly related to his career success.
One race notable to Miller, where he was able to derive inspiration from a mental scenario in his mind, was when he took gold in the World Cup giant slalom in Beaver Creek in 2005.
“I went into that World Cup pretty grumpy,” said Miller. “At the time, I felt we [the U.S. Ski Team] were being poorly managed, going into an Olympic season, but instead of getting frustrated, I made up a scenario about a leadership story in my mind; I had won the World Cup and was inspiring all these young kids.”
Miller made a costly mistake on the racecourse out of the 1st gate, but against odds, he recovered.
“Sometimes I would snap out of that sub-conscience reality and think, ‘I’m in a World Cup race, I need to be doing X, Y, Z,’ but in that moment, I never lost the emotional connection to the mental state I was in,” said Miller. “That race was honestly beyond what I was capable of doing, but because I wasn’t afraid of the risk, I ended up winning. It was my only home race in the United States that [World Cup] season, and my family was all there. The whole experience, it was inspiring.”
While Miller hadn’t ruled out the idea of competing in the 2018 games last year, his role as father, businessman and entrepreneur solidified his decision.
“Last year, I didn’t totally eliminate the possibility of competing, but in turning 40, I am enjoying my time together with my family, and I just don’t have the bandwidth to focus my time and energy on racing.”
In addition to spending time with his family, Miller keeps busy with his business investments with Bomber skis and Aztech Mountain outerwear and apparel. His newest entrepreneurial interest is horse racing; a sport which Miller believes shares distinct similarities to ski racing.
“The majority of winning times in downhill [ski racing] fall around two minutes, which is about one and a quarter miles– the same distance and time of a winning race in the Kentucky Derby,” said Miller. “In terms of what the physical and physiological demands of what the horses are going through are, I have a ton of experience in that.”
Being exposed to some of the industry’s most elite sport scientists and physiologists during his racing career, Miller developed unique racing knowledge, which he believes can be relayed to horse racing.
“As I developed in the sport [of ski racing], I learned how to better prepare my biological systems, ranging from nutrition to race day preparation, to perform at high levels of intensity,” said Miller. “The same values can be attributed to horse racing; it’s not a long race, but it’s also not a wide-open race. It’s like track and field versus long distance running– there’s a lot we know about that evolution of sports psychology that transmits to the horse world.”
Similar to relying on his past experience to create parallels between ski racing and horse racing, Miller will draw from his decades-long expertise in the sport of ski racing to offer expertise in his new role as commentator at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Miller gained experience as an analyst for NBC Sports the last two World Cup seasons and has no reservations about offering critical analysis of the performance of his former peers. “Commentating came really naturally to me,” said Miller. “I like talking about ski racing and understand, with how small the margins for error are, and risk so high, how difficult of a sport it is. A two-minute race, it’s a blink of the eye.”
In addition to critiquing the race performance of his former peers, Miller also looks forward to watching today’s top racers search for the inspiration he himself always believed was crucial to find.
“Ted Ligety is an artist on skis,” said Miller. “And, honestly, Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the most impressive racers I’ve ever seen. I was good at slalom [ski races], but she’s incredible, and I can’t wait to see what she does.”
No matter how skilled an individual may be, Miller knows that change can be an intimidating thing.
“When you’re young, you have this incredible drive, but as you get older, it’s a daunting proposition to start over, or to not be as good at something as you once were, or to compete against much younger competitors– lots of things,” said Miller.
Despite these challenges, Miller maintains that it is possible to overcome fear across a variety of situations by creating a stimulating mental scenario in the mind, much like he did during his racing career.
“Try and build a scenario, different from the challenge at hand, in your mind. It can be real, like being a role model to your kids, or, it can be a made-up situation,” said Miller. “Everyone faces fear at some point in their life, but if you put yourself in the best mindset to accomplish what you need to accomplish, you will do it.”
For some, while the deep snow of a power day represents the quintessential alpine ski experience, for Miller, the slick, manicured slopes of the race course represent his ultimate apogee– and the one he will miss the most as a retired skier.
“I’ll always ski for the rest of my life, with my family, with my friends,” said Miller, “but the reality, is that I’ll never ski at the level you can at a World Cup again.”
A speedy racecourse and snug boot-fit, perfected by a team of technicians, are perks of the professional race industry that Miller may never again experience firsthand, but they are also a finite part of his past, and a time that he is not afraid to let go of.
“Today I have four kids and multiple businesses– if anything, my discipline, intensity and focus have improved,” said Miller. “My body is nowhere where it was before, but my mind is clear. I raced so much and so often, that I tasted the painful aspect of taking all those risks, and letting that part of my life go is pretty cool too.”