It was the interview heard ‘round the world — when Bode Miller cried. It was a bit much and perhaps a little sympathy would have told the NBC interviewer to let off the gas when the U.S. Olympic skier started showing emotion. On the other hand, the interviewer Christin Cooper sensed she could press a well-remembered TV moment by continuing to ask Miller about his emotional state as he talked about winning the bronze medal in the Super-G event. It worked, and Miller broke down into tears. While he brought it up, it was a cringe-worthy moment for many of those watching.
Taking a step away from the controversy about whether Cooper went too far, what can we learn from Miller and his experience?
Miller is a great skier, long known to be one of the best. However, he has been constantly dogged by his own shortcomings, both professional and personal. He is known for his disastrous performance in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics in which he said he “got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”
Always known to say that medals are not the goal, rather the experience, he has been both criticized and lauded and criticized for his devil-may-care attitude and abilities.
Miller has had both a good and a bad year. His brother died of seizures and he was in a custody battle for his infant child. He also got married and seemed to have a more reflective and professional attitude about his performance in this year’s games. Both self-effacing and critical, he seemed to want to do well both for his story line and for his team and country. Maybe the loss of his brother put things in perspective for him — he was granted tremendous gifts and he should use them to the best of his ability.
Winning a medal is never easy, and it seemed this year was not going his way, as it was for many on the American team. When he turned in a front-runner race early in the Super-G competition, he seemed to know it may not be enough to stay on the medal stand, and yet, when the camera panned to him, he seemed to really care about the result. When the racing was finished, it revealed a tie for third for him and a chance to stand on the medal stand. He stood for an interview with American Andrew Weibrecht, who won second place and soon broke down after being pressed about his emotions during these games and the race. For a man who always said winning wasn’t the point, and that medals didn’t matter, it sure seemed this one did. Maybe it’s because, for Miller, the experience was the point, and when life’s experiences turned tumultuous, specifically when his brother died, obtaining the stature of a medal gave some quantifiable meaning to his existence. That’s what awards do. They indicate a known accomplishment, one that can be immediately explained to others.
Miller is an accomplished skier and, at 36, knows that his long run is nearing an end. Rather than being known for “what could have been,” he is seeking “what was.” And for someone like Miller, who was known for immaturity, it reveals that perhaps he has grown up and realized that there is more at stake than his own thrill. Perhaps he was proud of himself for trying his best and winning a perch on the medal stand, for achieving a symbol of success in a trying year. Perhaps he misses his brother and wishes he had more time with him. Perhaps it was all of the above.
What we have seen is a shift in Miller and it reveals the complexity of the human spirit and its ability to always move forward.