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Bode Miller’s not a happy guy.

He winces—seriously winces—onstage at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s World Cup fete as he pulls No.13 for his start number in Sunday’s Super G.

“I hate No.13,” he tells ex-racer Thomas Grandi (CDN), who, as the evening’s MC, is downright exuberant onstage by contrast. Grandi gives a big laugh while Bode looks at him oddly and grumps some more. Grandi then attempts to extract from Miller what’s bugging the US ski racing rebel.

Turns out he’s just not happy with his performance (8th) in Saturday’s downhill—the World Cup speed skiing speed’s circuit’s season opener. Bode wants to do better… always. Which is why the evening’s crowd—about 300 ski racing fans, techs, ACA alumni and reporters—whoop and holler for him loudly despite his grump. An Austrian colleague who’s covered Bode since he was a mere babe on the circuit, puts Miller’s attitude into perspective: “It’s not that Bode wants to win, or that he’s mad about not winning. He doesn’t even care about winning. He just wants to be happy with his run. It’s all about how he skis the course.”

You gotta love an athlete who wants to ski well so bad he just doesn’t care if he’s not smiling for the crowds and cameras. He doesn’t even care if there are crowds and cameras.

Despite Bode’s sour face, there’s no shortage of good times inside the Chateau’s enormous ballroom. This party’s a tradition, an event the World Cup Winterstart folks host every season. Athletes like Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR), Michael Walchhofer (AUT) and Didier Cuche (SUI)—superstars of the circuit—shuffle in, take their seats at the head of the room, and start signing hundreds of autographs. Everyone wants one… even me, who bashfully lumbers up to a mustache-sporting, skater-shoe-wearing, 20-something Svindal and asks for a signature. “Thanks SO much Aksel,” I say (a little too enthusiastically). He looks at me weirdly.

The Canadian speed racers present are getting a lot of attention. Canadian favourite Erik Guay is working the room with an I’m-just-glad-to-be-here smile and happy congrats for his teammate Jan Hudec, who skied to Canada’s top finish in the day’s Lake Louise downhill (11th). Everyone seems impressed by this finish; Hudec himself looks elated. “Words can’t describe it,” says the promising racer who’s been held back by persistent injuries. “It was an inspired run. It was just short of a miracle, I didn’t even know if I could ski this morning. My body has been that sore.”

As for Guay, he finished a disappointing 24th, but there’s no sour face. Other Canadian hopefuls pressing palms? Manny Osborne-Paradis (13th), Robbie Dixon (31st). According to Guay, the team’s vet, they get along great. Great.

It’s my first time experiencing a Lake Louise World Cup. As far as I can tell, Winterstart is the one chance Canada’s ski racing crowd has to get together and reminisce. It’s not a big sport in Canada when you compare it to hockey, so the group, in contrast, ain’t that big. But most of it is here, including Crazy Canucks Ken Read, Dave Irwin and Steve Podborski, plus Emily Brydon and Karen Lee-Gartner. They’re all smiling big and pounding each other on the back. The room is full of ski team sponsors, too… you can tell who they are. They’re dressed more formally than the skiers (who are mostly in jeans). And they’re swilling cocktails instead of beer. Still, amongst all this skier star power, they look happy.

The World Cup fans and sponsors and hangers-on finish the night inside the Chateau’s bar with Bon Jovi blasting. The athletes aren’t there—they’re ushered out of the ballroom pretty quickly after the bib draw in prep of the Super G the following day. But the rest of the ski racing crowd has a pretty good time mostly telling Bode stories.

As for Miller? He vanishes after the bib draw. But one of my colleagues catches him riding the Chateau elevator early the next (Super G) morning… a grim look still on his scruffed-up face. Seems No.13 really gets to him.

Why do I—or even we—care? Don’t get me wrong: the Canadian racers are nice and all. And I wish them light and luck this season. But every sport needs a character to spice it up. And while he’s reluctant to be it, Miller is that character.

Fellow ski scribe and Miller fan Lisa Richardson (@PembyGrl) pretty much sums it up: “I love Bode. I don’t care if he’s grumpy.”

Grump on, Bode Miller.

Lori Knowles is a Canadian ski and travel writer. Her articles appear regularly in the Toronto Sun. Follow Lori on Twitter: @LoriExploring

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Erik Guah at the finish.

It was a bittersweet day for Canadians here on the Olympic downhill course at Whistler Creekside. The energy in the crowd was wild with anticipation for hometown boy Manny Osborne-Paradis, Erik Guay and the rest of the Canadian Cowboys to win gold on Canadian soil. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Canadian Erik Guay was top Canadian, placing a respectable fifth among the greatest downhillers in the world. The race was won early by Didier Defago of Switzerland, followed by Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway with a silver and the USA’s Bode Miller with bronze.

Manuel Osborne-Paradis at the finish.

Canuck favourite Manny Osborne-Paradis—who grew up on racing the Dave Murray Downhill—placed a disappointing 19th. Jan Hudec was 25th, and young gun Robbie Dixon crashed during a wild ride on the course.

Osborne-Paradis said he was disappointed in himself. “I hit a couple of bumps the wrong way and that was my day,” he said, trying to stay optimistic. “The start was more fun than the finish, but at least I had some fun today!”

Guay, whose finish in the top five was his best result in downhill this season, was subdued but content at the finish line. “It’s my best downhill result of the year,” he said. “I have to be happy with that.”

Gold medal winner Didier Defago played it cool at the post-race press conference. As the first Swiss to win gold in downhill in 22 years, he had a huge Swiss cheering section at the race. But as the oldest man ever to win an Olympic downhill, Defago’s cool may have had more to do with wisdom. “I wanted to go home with a little more weight in my bag than I came with!” he joked.

Silver medallist and DH veteran Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway also played down his second-fastest time of the day: “I think I could be fast for the rest of the games too. It’s a good start.”

Bode Miller at Monday's post-race press conference

Chewing a big wad of gum on the press conference stage was bronze medallist Bode Miller of the USA. “One of the really imp things about the Olympics is that it’s fun,” he said.

When asked if he felt different this season from past years on the World Cup circuit, Miller agreed. “This year there wasn’t a lot of business commitments. I just wanted to ski race, and ski race in a way that would make me proud.”

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