Bode Miller, Playmates, and Beastly Olympic Media Memories
In February 2006, I was sitting next to Bode Miller and five scantily clad women in a nightclub in the Italian Alps. The winter Olympics were starting the next day, and Bode clearly didn’t care. He was far more focused on the perfectly manicured girls on either side of him, and a large tray of vodka and Redbull. The girls — among them a Playboy Playmate, Miss Budweiser, and Miss International Hooters — were equally unconcerned with the Olympics. The competitive event they were participating in — trying to sleep with Bode — was far more ruthless and interesting.
Earlier I had walked past their table wearing a Def Leppard concert T-shirt. “Is that a Def Leppard T-Shirt?!?” one of the girls shouted to me. I nodded. “I fucking LOVE Def Leppard!” she screamed. Then she stood up, gave me a high five, and started twisting her hips and screaming the lyrics to “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” One of the other girls, clearly upset by the amount of attention the first girl began to generate, stood up and marched across the dance floor. She flirted her way into the DJ booth, convinced the DJ to stop the music, and got on the mic: “This next song,” she announced to a dance floor full of Italians wondering why the music had suddenly stopped, “is going out to Bode Fucking Miller! You fucking rock, you Sexy Motherfucker!”
An hour later both of the girls were alone and pouting. Bode had just left with another. He would return to the club several hours later – bare-chested but wearing a U.S. Ski Team jacket — and leave with yet another girl. The 2006 Winter Olympics had officially begun.
A few months earlier, I got a call from my friend Bryon Friedman.
“I just got hired by Yahoo! Sports to write a ski column for the Winter Olympics” he told me. “Want to come along as a photographer?”
Bryon was on the U.S. Ski Team, but his Olympic dreams had been dashed a year earlier following a ski crash that broke his leg. Going to the Olympics with Bryon would be like going to the Olympics with an All Access pass. Bryon knew everyone, and everyone liked him. Doors always opened for him; favors always came his way.
“I’m in,” I said.
In early February, I met Bryon in Sestriere, Italy, the small ski-town site of the downhill ski races. “Let’s check out Bode’s RV,” he said, and we headed to a small parking lot outside the Olympic Village. The RV, Bryon explained, was a bit controversial. In the old days, the entire U.S. ski team traveled together by bus and doubled up in cheap hotel rooms. But once Bode starting making millions, he bought an RV, hired his best friend as a chauffeur, and started traveling from race to race in the comfort of his own mobile home.
We knocked on the door of the RV, and Bode invited us inside. The RV was a mess of sweaty ski gear, dirty dishes, video games, and fantasy paperbacks. In the middle of it all was Bode himself, sprawled out on a pile of dirty clothes. This was a strange contrast to the glossy magazine spreads of Bode that were then circulating the globe. In the run up to the Olympics, Bode had become a media superstar. His legendary skiing ability had made him America’s Great Hope for the 2006 Winter Olympics, while his habit of dropping controversial comments about skiing “wasted” had ignited a media firestorm.
“How are things in the States?” Bode asked Bryon.
“You’re everywhere, bro. Magazines, TV. Nonstop. 24/7.”
“Really?” he asked, though he clearly knew all about it.
“You know, it’s weird,” Bode continued. “I gave all of those interviews last fall. I had totally forgotten about them. Now everyone’s going crazy about me saying that I like to drink and I like to party. I mean, Tomba used to party all the time, and nobody gave a shit.”
Alberto Tomba was a legendary Italian ski racer who dominated downhill skiing in the 1980s. He was as renowned for his athletic ability as for his nighttime, apres-ski antics. Had Bode been a professional skier back when reporters tended to gloss over celebrity excesses rather than obsess about them, his off-slope behavior might have gone unnoticed. In fact, Bode’s behavior probably would have been tame 30 years ago. But times had changed. Reporters were now in the business of building up and tearing down celebrities.
Bode went off on a long rant about the media. Although he clearly enjoying his newfound fame, he was disgusted by the Olympic media machine. A year earlier he had won the overall World Cup — the first American to do so in 22 years. It was a remarkable accomplishment, the dream of every ski racer. And what was the media response in America? There was no media response. Nobody cared.
Now, in the over-hyped run up to the Winter Olympics, America was suddenly obsessed with Bode Mille — despite the fact that, three months earlier, no one in America knew that a ski racer with his name existed. This would have been strange for anyone. But for a rebel hippie from rural New Hampshire, it was exceptionally odd. Bode had stepped through the looking glass from the relatively obscure sport of ski racing into the white hot glare of the global, 24-hour news cycle. And he didn’t like what he saw. In hindsight, it seemed clear he was already relishing the thought of giving a big middle finger to everyone.
Later, as Bryon and I walked through Sestriere, we ran into several reporters from major news outlets. All of them were eager to pick Bryon’s brain for insider reports on the US Ski Team.
Most sports reporters at the Winter Olympics, I soon learned, have exceptionally little knowledge about any of the sports at the Winter Olympics. Back home they focus on big, popular sports like football, basketball, and baseball. But every four years, in exchange for a few weeks at a glamorous destination, they must brush up on obscure winter sports like ski jumping and bobsledding. Then they must pretend to write about them knowledgeably. The viewers at home, equally unfamiliar with the minutia of ski jumping and bobsledding, are happy to go along for the ride.
After making the rounds and checking in with Bryon’s teammates, we ended up at a local pizzeria with Marco Sullivan, one of the younger racers on the US ski team. As we ate, a passing Japanese TV crew spotted us though the window and started filming us through the glass. Having spotted Marco’s USA Ski Team jacket, they assumed Marco was Bode. Of course, the only physical traits that Marco shared with Bode were light skin and hair. Not that anyone cared. Soon, everyone in the restaurant was staring at us, trying to catch a glimpse of Bode. Marco rolled his eyes. “This is fucking ridiculous,” he muttered.
Nothing, however, threw the Olympic’s bizarro media coverage into harsh light like Lindsey Vonn’s training run crash prior to the Women’s Downhill. It was a spectacular crash that resulted in Vonn being evacuated to a Torino medical facility by helicopter. On NBC the crash and airlift were played on an endless loop. (At least this is what I’ve been told. NBC wasn’t available in Italy, so those of us there watched the games on the European sports channel Eurosport. Instead of saturating their programming with teary-eyed, violin-infused mini-profiles of the athletes and the dramatic obstacles they had overcome, Eurosport tried a different approach: actually broadcasting the games. The result was a revelation to every American in Torino. For three straight weeks you could strike up a spirited conversation with any American athlete just by saying, “Eurosport is so much better than that garbage on NBC.”)
Back in America, millions of viewers watched the Lindsey Vonn crash over, and over, and over again. NBC wallowed in the grief, their ratings jumped, and so they wallowed even more. Commentators began to wonder if Vonn would ever ski again. Then, miraculously, Vonn announced she would race. NBC went into emotional overdrive. Symphonic homages to Vonn’s bravery, courage, and Olympic spirit blared forth across the American airwaves for days on end.
Here’s how it went down in Italy: I walked into the U.S. Ski Team’s temporary headquarters, located in the basement of a posh hotel, where Bryon was finishing up his column for Yahoo Sports.
“Lindsey Vonn crashed hard and had to be airlifted to the hospital,” Bryon told me. “It could be real bad.”
There was a somber tone in the room. A few minutes later the phone rang, and we learned that Vonn was OK. The crash looked dramatic, we were told, but she was fine. Just a bit banged up. The doctors even expected her to ski the next day. Everyone let out a sigh of relief, and then they went back to work. Within an hour it was as if the crash had never happened. Crashes, even dramatic ones, are a normal part of ski racing, and once it was clear that Vonn was OK everyone on the U.S. Ski Team quickly put it behind them.
Eurosport took essentially the same approach, and thus we were blissfully unaware of the Vonn media storm that was gathering across the pond. When Vonn raced, everyone at the US Ski Team headquarters clapped and cheered. Then everyone went back to work. There was no wallowing, no teary embraces, no one crying “This is Olympic HISTORY!!!” Vonn crashed, Vonn recovered, Vonn raced. End of story. On to the next event.
Only it wasn’t. The next day, when Bryon participated in a live chat on Yahoo! Sports, he was swamped with questions about Lindsey Vonn. Bryon was genuinely perplexed.
“The only thing anyone wants to talk about is Vonn,” he exclaimed. “I guess her crash is some kind of big deal in the U.S.”
It was only after checking out NBC’s website that we learned how big the Lindsey Vonn Comeback story had become. It was truly astounding how much attention it was receiving in the U.S., and how little attention it was receiving at the actual Winter Olympics. For me, it was a revelation. The actual Winter Olympics, it turns out, bare only a passing resemblance to the over-produced extravaganza shown on TV.
If the real media was bad, the fake media was far worse. The sheer spectacle of the Olympics attracts a strange mix of groupies, hangers-on, and wannabes. And no one illustrated this better than the realtor from Aspen who showed up with two cameramen and five models dressed in identical white jumpsuits. “I’m producing a new reality TV show,” he told me, “It’s called “Aspen: The Series.” He leaned in close for dramatic effect. “And the ‘S’ in Aspen … is a Dollar Sign.”
I was living in LA at the time, and several of my close friends were working in the reality TV business. I asked him a few technical details about his show, and it soon became clear that the only TV producing skill he possessed was a business card that said “PRODUCER.” No matter. Each day this motley band of reality TV wannabes roamed the streets of Sestriere. The girls smiled vacantly, the cameramen filmed them smiling vacantly, and the realtor looked on happily, admiring his clever producing skills. What any of this had to do with Aspen, Colorado remained a mystery.
Not that anyone cared. By showing up with five busty snow bunnies, Mr. A$PEN: The Series guaranteed himself VIP access to the hottest spots in town. And the place to be every night was the private bar that the US Ski Team rented out for the exclusive use of its athletes, staff, and friends. If you had a pass, you were entitled to free food and free drinks from 4 to 10pm everyday. Predictably, by 9:45 the bar was packed with US Ski Team athletes, staff, and friends trying to order as many shots as possible before the free alcohol was cut off. By 10:30 the bar resembled a raucous fraternity house.
As word of the Ski Team’s exclusive party pad spread, more and more American athletes began showing up to check it out. Nordic skiers, freestyle ski jumpers, and bobsledders all stopped by to blow off steam after their events had finished. Observing each of these athletic groups was as sociologically fascinating as observing a remote rainforest tribe: the athletes from each sport had a clear and distinct personality type.
Nordic skiers were the introverts. They tended to order a drink, stand awkwardly to the side, and engage in conversation only timidly. Freestyle skiers, by contrast, were high adrenaline party machines. They drank more, laughed more, and were constantly surrounded by beautiful girls. Chugging contests and beer funnels were among their favorite activities. Even Bode seemed taken aback by the intensity of their partying. The bobsledders, meanwhile, were the meathead thugs. Many were former football players who didn’t make the pros, and they had the highest tendency to get surly and violent. If something in the bar got broken, there was a good chance that a drunken bobsledder was responsible.
Perhaps more fascinating, the personality types of each sport transcended nationalities. On the final night of the Olympics, the U.S. Ski Team bar opened its doors to everyone, and athletes from around the world poured in. The cliques that formed were based not on nationality, but on athletic event. And as the athletes from each event huddled together, their inherent personality traits grew ever more magnified. Before long all of the freestyle jumpers were chugging beers and ordering shots, all of the nordic skiers were standing awkwardly together in a corner, and all of the bobsledders were pouring beer on themselves. Soon several bobsledders were shirtless. Then they started fighting. Beers were hurled through the air and bloody noses ensued. Caught up in the excitement, a disgruntled ski bum from Aspen, Colorado took advantage of the mayhem and punched the producer of A$PEN: The Series in the face.
Everyone in the bar was secretly delighted. That final, raucous night was the culmination of an exceptionally disappointing Olympics for the U.S. Ski Team. They had come to Italy with enormous expectations and failed to capitalize on them. Bode had blown off his events to piss off the world, while other top skiers had simply failed to live up to their potential.
My own sense of Olympic spirit also lay in tatters. Having peeked behind the polyester curtain of the Olympic Media Machine, I would never look at the Olympics the same way again.
I finished my drink and took one last look at the scene in front of me. Bode was cuddled up next to a trashy playmate at the back of the bar, a bloody bobsledder was being escorted out the front door, and Mr. A$PEN: The Series was hurling insults at Mr. Aspen: The Ski Bum. I looked over at Bryon. “Time to get the hell out of here,” I said.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook