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Miller time, for a couple of minutes

SESTRIERE, Italy -- I spotted Bode Miller a lead of about 100 yards.

He went by me jogging toward the exit in sneakers, having already ditched his skis at the finish line after a tie for sixth in the Olympic giant slalom.

"Got a minute?"

He laughed. "Not really."

Miller still had his racing suit on and was using his poles for balance in the slushy snow. I was wearing a heavy parka and a pair of old-school galoshes that first saw service before Miller was born. Even so, about a quarter-mile later, on the gravel road that runs from the Sises ski hill to the athletes' village, we were dead even.

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"C'mon," I panted. "Stop. Two questions."

Miller seemed amused, slowing to a fast walk. After four races, he's still 0-for-the-Olympics. Twice, he failed to finish. The second time, Miller spun off the course and skied a back route through the woods rather than entertain questions. No such luck Monday.

"Is there a common denominator to all your races here -- fitness, equipment, anything?"

"They were all different," Miller said. "The downhill, the other guys just found more speed. The combined, I hung the tip out, so I guess you put that off to pilot error. The super-G, that was pilot error, too, but it was understandable. That was a spot on the course where I had to push it, but it was still pilot error.

"It wasn't equipment or any one thing," he added. "It was all fairly normal stuff."

The giant slalom consists of two runs, with the times added together. On the first run, Miller's ski crushed a rock at the fourth gate, losing some of its edge and hampering his ability to cut sharply. He finished 12th. The second run, going full-bore, he put up the fourth-best time -- eventually bettered only by the three guys who shared the podium.

Miller didn't offer any alibis, saying he made three "legit" mistakes in the second run, the biggest one at the bottom of the hill where all three medalists gained on him big-time.

"Against those guys right now," Miller added, "that won't do."

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The guys who have won the gold medals that a pre-Olympic media blitz back in the States would have you believe were being minted with Miller's name already stamped on them have only so much in common. They range in age from still-green, 21-year-old U.S. teammate Ted Ligety to wizened, 34-year-old Norwegian Kjetil Andre Aamodt.

None of them have revolutionized their sport the way, Miller, 28, has. Of course, none had a reputation as a party animal, either, or had done half as much to earn it since arriving in what is essentially a one-saloon town.

Everybody has tried to figure out what makes Miller tick, and more than anything else, his late nights have provided a convenient -- if sometimes too easy -- way to explain his poor results here. But teammate Daron Rahlves, who's traveled the World Cup circuit with Miller for nearly a decade -- including last season, when Miller became the first American to win the overall championship since 1983 -- says very little has changed.

"That's Bode. He doesn't do anything different any other time. He's been doing it for years. Nothing really changes," Rahlves said. "Everybody is seeing what he's doing here, but it's not any different from anywhere else."

Up in the stands, Miller's father, Woody, has his own theory.

"There was a time last summer when I was giving him a ride to the airport and he described his situation to me. He said it was a no-win situation for him," Woody recalled. "He couldn't go back on the commitments that he'd taken. He said he didn't have the drive to be as big a star as he could be, either."

In light of those remarks, I asked Miller whether he would have done anything differently.

He shook his head, then glanced over in my direction.

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"One of the good things about my career is I have such extensive knowledge, so I always go as hard as I can," Miller said. "Some guys can go 70, 80 percent and get results, but I wouldn't do that."

No changes

Given the way Miller's Olympics have gone, I wondered why the mounting pressure and all the advice -- from family, friends, media, coaches -- hadn't convinced him to do something, anything, to change his luck. I pointed out some golfers change their approach in the middle of a four-round tournament; some get aggressive, some pull back.

"Some guys might change things up, but some guys don't," Miller said. "Look at Phil Mickelson. He's virtually all risk, all the time. If you're unhappy with the way you played, what's the point?"

I didn't have the heart to remind him that Mickelson went 0-for-42 in golf's majors before winning the 2004 Masters, largely because Lefty couldn't resist trying to make the most heroic (and lowest percentage) shot in all the wrong situations.

Good thing, too, because the next thing that came out of Miller's mouth proved it would have been a waste of breath.

"If things went well, I could be sitting on four medals," he said, "maybe all of them gold."

No doubt Mickelson left plenty of tournaments feeling the exact same way.

Miller, who already owns two silver medals from the Salt Lake City Olympics four years ago, gets his final chance at a medal of any color in Saturday night's slalom race. If that was worrying him, there was no way to tell. The RV where Miller lives with a pal who does the cooking came into view, just down the road.

"Bet you're up to here with us," I said, referring to reporters.

"I use the media as much as they use me," Miller said. "The reason I quit now, why I haven't talked to anybody else all day, is because I don't really see any benefit in it."

Which means I probably owe him one.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

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