The first time I saw Bode Miller compete was at a Junior Olympic event in 1996 atSugarloaf, Maine. The raw-boned, sleepy-eyed 18-year-old from Franconia, New Hampshire, dominated, winning three of four races. The 16-year-old girls from nearby Carrabassett Valley Academy went ape, squealing his name like rock-star groupies. Lesson number one: Chicks dig Bode.
I next saw him in his first World Cup, at Park City in 1997. He was a chaos of legs and arms, close to crashing at every gate yet finishing an astonishing 11th in the giant slalom. "I never got the hang of controlling what I did," he says. "I just wanted my skis to run fast." The newshounds, hot on the scent of a new ski-racing hero, swarmed with microphones and tape recorders. Lesson number two: The media digs Bode.
My third Bode sighting: an Aspen super G a year later. He was radioing instructions to teammates at the start, telling them how to ski the course. The result: five Americans in the top 30, an all-time best for the U.S. team in super G. Lesson number three: Teammates dig Bode.
Even Bode digs Bode. "I'm doing what I love to do, traveling the world, making plenty of money," he says. "What other job can you get like that right out of high school?" At 22, he's invested his newfound cash the way any college-aged kid ought to¿by turning his Nissan Maxima into a tricked-out, monster-bitchin' machine that churns out rap and reggae from "maybe the sweetest stereo in the whole county." The car, literally, rocks.
So does Bode. Two fourth-place World Cup finishes last year and an eighth in slalom at the World Championships suggest the wild child is at last getting things under control. "It used to be a recovery at every gate," says U.S. men's head coach Bill Egan. "At least now it's a recovery every other gate."