ON DEC. 6, two months before the Sochi Olympics, Bode Miller sits on a cushy leather couch with his family in the lobby of a mountainside hotel in Avon, Colo., contemplating his next move. Already today he has thrown himself 2,329 feet down the side of Beaver Creek Mountain at speeds of 80 mph during World Cup competition. He has dissected the ins and outs of his 13th-place finish in the downhill race. He's kissed his parka-wrapped, head-turning wife. And he has coaxed a smile out of his 5-year-old daughter, Dace, by asking to borrow her tiny purple mittens for his next race. Aside from these three, the lobby is dead.
While Miller waits for his technician to deliver his coat, the 36-year-old talks on his cellphone. It is in this fireplace-fueled hub of warmth where the final chapter in one of the greatest Alpine skiing careers of all time is beginning to be written. And it is nothing like Miller ever could have imagined. On the other end of the call is his attorney. They are piecing together a co-parenting plan that Miller hopes will allow him to bring his 11-month-old son to Sochi for the skier's fifth and likely final Olympic Games. The bitter custody battle with his son's mother, Sara McKenna, has dragged on for months. "It just sucks your will to live," Miller says.
Next to him is his wife, Morgan Miller. The 6'3" pro beach volleyball player is rarely far from her husband's side, and today is no different. Bode's phone is on speaker so she can listen in. The couple met in May of 2012, two weeks before he found out he would be having a baby with McKenna. And despite the promise of drama, Morgan supported Bode. "Sometimes I think to myself, I'm probably the only woman in the world who would put up with this," says Morgan.
A few feet away, Dace, whom Bode had with a third woman, anxiously waits for Dad to get off the phone.
Right now many of Miller's teammates and competitors are still up the mountain, searching for that 1/100th of a second that might lead to a future podium, hopefully in Sochi. A New Hampshire native, Miller knows this hunt all too well. For 16 years, he has built a reputation as an überathletic, win-or-crash-trying daredevil who pushes the line between safety and success. Since 1998, he has won five Olympic medals and 33 World Cup races, more than any other American male Alpine skier. In an era of specialization, he has won in all five Alpine disciplines. Yet there are those who believe he could have done even more. "He's probably the greatest underachieving ski racer in history by a long shot," says Mike Kenney, Miller's uncle and coach.
But the physical and psychological commitment to dominate skiing was never in Miller's DNA. If every minute of every day would have been dedicated to skiing, he undoubtedly would have grown to hate the sport, burned out and quit. So instead, he reaped the rewards of his worldwide celebrity in the most anti-establishment way possible. He partied. He drank. He chased women. "A rock-star life," says Lowell Taub, Miller's agent.
But the wild Bode Miller is long gone. In his place is an unabashed homebody. A man who texts his wife "I miss you" with an emoticon frown before a race. A man not afraid to cry at romantic movies. "A complete flip-flop," Taub says.