KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Bode Miller has spent the balance of his career brushing off numbers. Wins, losses, podiums, seconds … he has strived to keep such digits from defining him.
But age, even on fast skis – perhaps especially on fast skis – is inescapable.
Now the clock is catching up to Miller, and he's beating it back with numbers he has historically shunned. A few hundredths of a second here, one more podium there, and Miller made history on Sunday in the Sochi Games. At 36 years and 127 days, he became the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympic history, winning bronze in the super-G. That surpassed Kjetil André Aamodt, an all-time Alpine great who won super-G gold at the 2006 Turin Games at 34 years and 170 days.
So now Miller's name is forever linked with Aamodt, whom he grew up watching and whose total medal count of eight is the only one that surpasses Miller in Alpine. And Miller hears that he trails only speedskater Apolo Ohno's eight total medals on the United States' all-time count.
What does it mean?
"It means I'm old," Miller said in a wry tone.
Humor aside, Bode understands the ramifications. Sunday's bronze was special because it means Miller is still battling, still shredding, still hanging in with the best in the world. And he's done it through one of the toughest periods of his life, following a knee injury that sidelined him in 2013 and the far more devastating death of his younger brother Chelone in April.
Those events could be seen through the window of Miller's skiing in Sochi, where he has put up some of his best training runs in several years, but displayed frustration at mistakes that kept him off the podium in the downhill and super-combined. And it was particularly evident on Sunday, when after finishing his run and realizing he'd secured another medal, Miller could be seen wiping tears from his face.
"Losing my brother this last year was really hard for myself, my family, our sort of whole community," Miller said of the emotional moment. "It was just, yeah, a lot of emotion."
It's not the first time Miller has reacted with open emotion in these Games. He failed to hit the podium in the downhill after looking like a gold-medal contender in practice runs, and spent almost 10 minutes at the bottom of the hill in a single-man huddle, sorting through his thoughts. After Miller once again missed a medal in the super-combined, his wife, Morgan, could be heard demanding he take a more positive view of the performance.
While Miller would be loath to admit it, he looks like a skier who knows he's gone over the last pitch in his career and is in his final tuck, heading toward the inevitable end. He seems ever so slightly reflective, and even shared a story of how after collecting a large portion of his trophies over the summer, he was able to see the bigger picture of his accomplishments.
"That was one of the times where it kind of sunk in," Miller said, "where when you look at your body of work – of basically my adult life – in a phrase or in one sort of visual context the way it was with my trophies, it sort of makes it a little more raw for you emotionally."
It was appropriate that Miller won his sixth and possibly final medal in the typical Bode way, going all out on a difficult top portion of Sunday's super-G course. A top portion that led fellow American Ted Ligety to call the run unremarkable only in that it showcased what Miller still has left.
"You know he has that kind of speed," Ligety said. "His speed this year has always been there."
[Photos: Sochi's best podium reactions]
But that speed was undone by something Miller has done so often in his career – inexplicably and unnecessarily pushing a line too far and giving back time. Miller did it again Sunday at the bottom of the course, saying he believed the mistake cost him as much as five- or six-tenths of a second. That margin could have ultimately been the difference between the .53 that separated his bronze and the gold won by Norway's Kjetil Jansrud.
"My mind was still looking for hundredths of a second and I pushed too hard," Miller said.
But that disappointment didn't last. It never does. Miller found history and a silver lining.
"I've never been so stuck on counting [medals]," Miller said. "For me, I've put in a lot of work and this was a really hard year and a lot of effort coming back to get fit and get ready and just battle through everything that life throws at you. …It's almost therapeutic for me to be in these situations where I really have to test myself.
"If not the most important of my life, [this race was] right there with it. I had a lot to show today."