The story of the year
Not the White Sox. Not Lance. Not Tom Brady and the peerless Patriots. Not Danica. Not Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and the unbeatable USC Trojans. Not the resurgence of Notre Dame football.No, the best sports story of 2005 is the one where the self-confident American conquers the peaks of Europe to win his sport’s most treasured prize. Arguably the toughest prize to win in all of sport, right up there with the one another cocky American won last July in Paris.Last March, after five months of racing in nine different countries, Bode Miller did something only one American man had ever done before him – win alpine skiing’s coveted World Cup overall title.He did it on his own terms, shunning the advice of his coaches by starting in all 39 World Cup races. He did it against the crush of a swarming European ski press, and the best efforts of the deep Austrian Ski Team, which deliberately reshuffled its lineup to thwart him from winning the prize given to the world’s best ski racer.He did it while living out of a Winnebago, drinking beer the night before races and refusing to play it safe once his points lead began to shrink. He didn’t apologize for being too aggressive and skiing off course in races he could have finished. The objective was to be the best. Every race. Every gate. Every turn at 70 mph. It’s the kind of competitive drive that Americans miss in their sporting heroes today – a fire that burns so hot it can’t be smothered by calculating coaches, or lucrative incentive-laden endorments, or savvy media reps.And there’s the rub.For his incomparable season, and his larger-than-life persona, Miller was recognized for almost zilch this month when every major media outlet unveiled its “best of” sports lists for 2005.Sports Illustrated named Brady its Sportman of the Year, then waxed philosophical about the New England quarterback’s accomplishments in a bloated tribute piece. Bush and Leinart got honorable mention nods, as did the national champion Baylor women’s basketball team, IRL rookie sensation Danica Patrick and Roger Clemens, who led the Houston to its first World Series.ESPN.com didn’t give a mention either.The Associated Press put Miller’s win on its voting list for top stories of the year, but AP sports columnist Jim Litke somehow failed to mention anything about Miller in his 70-inch year-in review column. Litke, however, managed to squeeze in Mike Tyson, Afleet Alex and Jose Canseco.There’s no conspiracy here. Miller’s run to the overall received about as much coverage as could be expected for a sport that most Americans have no clue about.Ask any ordinary Joe on the street what a super G is, even in Aspen, and you’re likely to get some funny answers. A missle? A high-profile gangbanger? A new G string from Victoria’s Secret? The problem is, every major media outlet in the country has plans to jump on Miller’s back this year at Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and milk his shot at five medals for all its worth. Against his own wishes, Bode has already been tagged as the Michael Phelps of alpine skiing. Nike has a huge ad campaign underway. The U.S. Ski Team is looking to capitalize, because, well, skiing is only cool to 80 million Americans every four years.Um, sorry. The overall is a lot cooler than an Olympic medal, even five Olympic medals. Winning one Olympic race is peanuts compared to what it takes to win the points race in the grueling five-month World Cup season. It’s like saying a gold medal at the Sydney Games for Lance Armstrong (he didn’t win) would have surpassed winning the Tour de France.If you’ve been following the World Cup this year, you know that Miller doesn’t care about the medals. He considered not even competing in Turin, just to prove his point.He also doesn’t care about front-page headlines, or “best of” lists. All he really cares about is skiing well, which is refreshing.In fact, the less media attention, the better. Last year at a private press party at Beaver Creek, Miller defended his decision to go out and have a few beers the night before a race, claiming it helped balance things out in his life.A nervous European reporter was befuddled at Miller’s reasoning, asserting that drinking beer could only hinder his performance.Miller purposefully took a sip off the beer while the Euro struggled to finish his sentence. Then he went out and dominated the daunting Birds of Prey downhill course a day later, leading a historic 1-2 American finish.It’s the best response to a question I’ve ever seen. The winning downhill run was one of the most amazing athletic feats I’ve ever witnessed.Which is why I’m writing this column, I guess. Miller may win five medals at the Turin Games, which will undoubtedly bring him more fame than he ever imagined. He may win nothing.Either way, like Bode, I don’t care.What he accomplished last March supercedes any other athletic accomplishment of the past 12 months – even Armstrong’s seventh straight Tour win.He triumphed in a sport where the odds were stacked against him, and he did it with a flair that was absent from all the other top stories of the year.Just because he’s not on the cover of SI doesn’t mean he’s not the sportsman of the year.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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