Bode Miller: Barfly at the Olympics

Barilla, the world’s largest maker of pasta, declined to renew its endorsement contract with professional “bad boy” Bode Miller, the top-ranked male skier in 2005 and the first American to win the World Cup title in 20 years.

Fabio Fortina, a company spokesman for Barilla, said the decision wasn’t because of Miller’s “disappointing” results at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Yeah, right.

Yo, dude – last call! You don’t have go home, but you can’t stay here!

It looks like the other ski boot finally dropped, and I’ll put money down that the only guy who’s going to be surprised by this is Bode Miller.

For you guys out there who blinked and missed the news, here’s what happened:

Bode Miller was gonna be the Next Big Thing in sports. For the Dilberts working in the PR department, he was a cash cow in in skis happily waiting to be aggressively exploited – er, excuse me – “promoted”. Hey, that valuable 18- to 35-year-old market got to spend their bucks on somebody, right? Buy the T-shirts, the posters, the cologne, and the rest of the ski-related paraphernalia. It’s all coming soon to a shopping mall near you. God Bless America.

Bode wasn’t a guy who your grandfather would think of as a sports icon (“Goddamned sissy-ass punk in pajamas! Whatever happened to real heroes like Joe DiMaggio, huh? Hey! Come back here!”). But it made him perfect for the MTV generation. Even better, he wasn’t just another anonymous here-today-gone-tomorrow, egotistical, good-looking, young white jock who was guaranteed to give you a juicy sound bite but couldn’t back up his bravado. Uh-uh. Bode Miller was a gifted athlete who was as good as he said he was.

Until that infamous day at the Winter Olympics when, as the old saying goes, his mouth finally wrote a check that his ass couldn’t cash.

Bode only completed two of his five races, not winning a single medal. He finished fifth in the downhill, disqualified in the combined for missing a gate, went off-course in the super-giant slalom, tied for sixth in the giant slalom and missed another gate early in the slalom. What happened? Did Bode think he was filming an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos At The Olympics?

What’s worse, after accusations of being in the bars more often than on the slopes, Bode refused to apologize.

No, he bragged about it.

“My quality of life is the priority,” Bode told an Associated Press reporter before running away to hide in his RV. “I wanted to have fun here, to enjoy the Olympic experience, not be holed up in a closet and not ever leave your room. It’s been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”

When I heard this, I saw a metal folding chair in a church basement at an AA meeting with his name on it in the near future. And I’m sure the rest of his big-money corporate sponsors (Nike, Visa USA, and the Bretton ski resort in New Hampshire), after seeing his pathetic, too-lazy-to-care, 0 for 5 performance in Italy, wanted to grab his custom-designed skis and break it over his thick skull.

If Bode Miller doesn’t know what everybody is so angry at him, that’s because he forgot Bill Parcell’s legendary quote: “You are what your record says you are.”

Yeah, it’s that simple. The Super Bowl-winning coach kicked it dead center through the uprights: The numbers don’t lie. You’re either good or you’re not.

Even people who have trouble downloading the latest version of Windows can figure that out.

Fame in the 21st century is a gaudy tinfoil medal awarded to frauds gifted with marginal talent. Audiences who can’t tell the difference anymore between what’s real and what’s not will compulsively fill stadiums to hear a noisy, lip-syncing band who can’t sing, dance, or play their instruments very well. And then will sadly wonder why their headaches are going to last longer than the memories.

But athletes perform miracles right in front of us every day. And they’re timeless. When The Great One skated on the ice, you knew that wasn’t Wayne Gretsky’s stuntman. Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs wasn’t a trick conjured up by those mischievous rascals at Industrial Light and Magic. Michael Jordan wasn’t a mythical character in a James Frey screenplay. Lance Armstrong, Billie Jean King, Reggie Bush, Althea Gibson, Tiger Woods, Venus Williams. The list goes on and on. Their talent is an exhilarating affirmation of how good human beings can be and it never fails to make us feel better about ourselves.

Sure, people are mad at Bode Miller now but it’s not too late for him to redeem himself. “We’ve already seen that if he’s dedicated and committed he could be the ultimate dominant athlete out there,” said Max Gartner, the respected longtime director of Canada’s Alpine program. “He could do a lot more with his talent, that’s for sure.”

Come back, Bode. The world will always make room for one more incandescent, “Jesus-will-you-look-at-that!” athlete, and be grateful for it. We already have too many loudmouth, no-talent drunks.

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