“Some of Chelone’s ashes were scattered at Mammoth Mountain in California, the hub of his snowboard escapades in recent winters. Others were spread on Mount Kinsman, some high in the sugarbush where he roamed as a child while the thrush and warblers sang and life seemed as sweet as the maple sap on his lips. While Bode watched, a small parade of friends and relatives remembered a young man whose legacy of good will and fearless zest will endure in the mountains he loved.”
Last week’s controversy surrounded a reporter’s interview of Bode Miller in which the skier cried when speaking about the recent death of his younger brother Chelone. Known to his family and friends as Chilly, Chelone was a world class snowboarder who had planned to join Bode on the United States Olympic team to compete in Sochi. He died this past April at age 29.
What are the Olympics about? I would suggest that the Olympics are not much different than everyday life (in Western culture). It is about achieving a goal. It is about competition. It is about winners and losers. It is a story told and retold every 2 years (winter and summer) that what matters is getting the medal, standing on the podium.
I would like to propose that instead of giving out medals (Gold, Silver and Bronze) every athlete is given a delicious (gluten free) cookie. You get the cookie even if you DNF (do not finish).
When Bode Miller finished the Super-G race he sat waiting to see if his time would “hold up.” Each skier that followed him down the same mountainous course could bump him off the podium. His wife tried to reassure him, but Bode expressed that he doubted his time would hold up.
Bode could have been enjoying his cookie and amazing accomplishment rather than agonizing over every hundredth of a second his fellow skiers were managing to shave off his time. In the end, Bode was triumphant. Three skiers came down the hill as fast or faster than him; one of whom was just equally fast—the podium was preserved, a tie for third place (to the hundredth of a second) and a bronze medal hung around his neck.
I am not against competition. It brings out the best (and worst) in us. What I am suggesting is that the Olympics is a set up for reinforcing the mask of doing and accomplishing. By creating an elevated podium for the winners it masks the thrill of expressing one’s skill and creativity, the pleasure of the flow of pure being that one gets in executing a flip perfectly or facing the disappointment when landing on your butt (and on the rare occasion being able to get up and finishing the course or performance).
Was it appropriate that the reporter pressed Bode Miller to talk about his emotions, to push him to think about the loss of his brother? I don’t know. What I do know is what I will remember about Bode Miller from the Sochi games. I will remember his agonizing over winning and his agony over losing—not the medal, but his Chelone, a younger brother who he can no longer physically embrace. I’m sure he would have loved to share a cookie with him.