He's the best and baddest American male alpine skier ever, some fans say, and he's ready to return to the slopes.
Bode Miller announced Thursday he'll put off retirement, race on the pre-Olympic World Cup circuit and try to qualify for his fourth Olympics — the 2010 winter games in Vancouver in February.
"You walk away and there's obviously a big hole left where that sport was," Miller told reporters at a Los Angeles news conference. "Especially in my case because [skiing] is my main form of expression."
Miller also announced his return to the U.S. Ski Team, which he had abandoned two years ago when he formed his own training team.
"I was a little surprised that this opportunity presented itself," Miller noted. But the chance to rejoin the U.S. team came up in conversations in the past two weeks with the U.S. Olympic Committee and men's head coach Sasha Rearick, who joined the 31-year-old Miller at the news conference.
"Bode's been, over the years, inspirational to a lot of us," Rearick said. "He's pushed the limits of the sport. He's definitely innovated technique and tactics. And to have that attitude [as] part of the team is really exciting."
Miller won two alpine skiing silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City but failed to live up to medal expectations at the 2006 games in Torino, Italy. In fact, his hard partying there overshadowed his performance on the slopes. Before the games, he crystallized his bad boy image by admitting on CBS' 60 Minutes that he had skied drunk.
"There's been times I've been in really tough shape at the top of the course," Miller said. "If you ever try to ski when you're wasted, it's not easy."
"You can like him or not like him. And there are lots of people who don't like him," says Alan Abrahamson, the Olympic Insider columnist for Universal Sports.com. "But when you watch the guy up on the mountain you have to respect him."
Respect was restored in 2008 when Miller was the overall World Cup alpine champion. He has 31 World Cup wins in his career, more than any other American.
But his 2009 World Cup performance was plagued by an ankle injury early in the season, and he flamed out in race after race. He quit the circuit a month before the end of the season and openly speculated about retirement.
Abrahamson says Miller's return will elevate interest in alpine skiing at the Vancouver Olympics next year.
"If Bode Miller is healthy and he qualifies for the Olympics he is a medal contender for every event he qualifies for," Abrahamson predicts. "What he brings to skiing is an artistic genius, and it's fascinating and compelling to watch that genius play out on the rivers of ice that are ski racing in today's world."
Miller can reach 90 miles an hour and more on the slopes. Watching him is akin to watching a car race, where part of the attraction is the potential crash. It's the same off the slopes.
That raises a key question: Which Bode Miller is back? The bad boy, the serious skier or both?
"He's not a young punk kid anymore," said Hank McKee, a senior editor at Ski Racing magazine. "Let's hope there's a little maturity that's happened."
Miller noted he's a far cry from racing shape. He knows he has a lot of work to do, on and off the slopes.
"My actions are going to speak more loudly than any apology can," Bode said. "From here forward, I think I'm moving in a really positive direction."