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Miller: ‘When you make a mistake, that's you’

U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller talks to “Today” host Matt Lauer about the pressures of winning gold in Torino and his rock star status in Europe.
/ Source: TODAY

U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller is the man of the moment. He’s on the cover of this week's Newsweek and Time magazines, he's outspoken and has controversial views on all kinds of topics. And, the 28-year-old from Franconia, N.H., may be the best American skier ever. “Today” show host Matt Lauer talks with the reigning king of the hill.

Matt Lauer: Try to describe the speed of your type of skiing, especially in the downhill.Bode Miller: It's not really the speed in a sense of movement through space and time. It's more speed of thought is where the interesting part comes in. Your reaction time to a situation has to be really accurate.  It's the equivalent of driving too fast through a foggy night on a road you don't know, and having animals ... knowing the animals are going to be jumping out in front of you the whole way. It's lucky that it's only a minute and a half, otherwise ski racers would die of anxiety-induced strokes, I think, all the time!

Bode Miller was born and raised in the woods of New Hampshire, growing up in a cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing.

He was on skis by age 3.

Now, 25 years later, he has a chance to make history. Miller could be the first to win five medals in Alpine skiing at one Olympics.

Some are calling him the Michael Phelps of the Winter Games. Phelps hoped to win 8 gold medals in Athens. He came home with 6.

Lauer: You're facing the expectations of the sporting world. What pressure does that put on you? Miller: I think it does none. When I really watched Michael Phelps, and I watched the whole thing, that was a perfect example of how unhealthy I think our system is.Lauer: Did you feel bad for him?Miller: I did. I felt terrible for him. It was almost like people were let down. They were like, "You, you misrepresented our country and blah, blah, blah."

After a recent controversial interview, it was Miller who was criticized for letting people down.

“60 Minutes” interview:[There have] been times I’ve been in really tough shape at the top of the course. If you've ever tried to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy.

Coaches on the U.S. Olympic ski team questioned whether or not he should stay on the team, so he made this statement.

I wanted to come straight out and apologize to my family, friends.

Torino will be Miller's third Olympics. 

In 2002, he won two silver medals. But he insists the race he was most proud of at those games was the slalom where he was a medal favorite, but ended up in 24th place.

Miller: When you make a mistake, that's you. It's part of what people want to see.  They want to see people competing at their top level and failing sometimes. They need to see both.

Since Salt Lake, he's has been doing lots of winning, including four world championships and the 2005 overall World Cup title, making him the undisputed best skier in the world last year.

The World Cup title takes into account results from many races held over several months, and he values that more than anything, even gold at the Olympics.

Miller: [The Olympics are] a one-day event. Some guy who's a terrible person who does any number of horrible things can come out and have a great day on his one Olympic chance and win an Olympic gold. 

Despite this, he's planning to go for gold in all five Alpine events in Torino. Miller has spent a lifetime training, learning balance on wires in the woods and gaining strength by repelling walls in a barn. His most unusual training regimen is now featured in a Nike commercial — pushing an 850-pound road paver.

Lauer: You already have some very lucrative endorsements. Reading some articles about you, they say after the Olympics you're going to be worth millions of dollars. How are you going to handle that?Miller: I don't spend any money. I don't buy fur coats, and I don't buy bling or anything like that. I don't foresee that changing.

Whether he likes it or not, Miller has already achieved rock-star status in Europe, where top ski racers are A-list celebrities.

Miller:  It's much different over there.Lauer: How do you like that part of it?Miller:  It's not very fun. I'm willing to accept it … at certain levels, but it is one of the reasons why — I don't know if you can say [expletive deleted] on your show but, [laughter] they become [expletive deleted] after a while because they're overexposed constantly.Lauer:  You said to me after the World Cup you were surprised by how emotionally and mentally draining the process was. So heading into the Olympics, how do you work on what's between the ears?Miller: If I wanted to go to the Olympics and the night before the slalom say, "No, I’m not going to race, I don't feel good,” or whatever it is, I wouldn't feel pressure to do it because everyone else wanted me to. I’m really straight forward with everybody about that. I do this stuff because I want to, because I feel it's the right thing for me. If at the moment I feel I’m not into it, I won't do it.