Emotions were high on Sunday as U.S. alpine skier Bode Miller tied for a bronze medal in the men’s Super-G – and dissolved into tears in a post-race interview with NBC’s Christin Cooper. Cooper initially asked him to put the medal into perspective at his age, 36, after his “turbulent year” and coming back from a knee injury. Then she asked what this medal in Sochi meant compared to his other five. Miller was the first to reference the April 2013 death of his brother, Chilly, who’d hoped to qualify for the Sochi Olympics in the Snowboard Cross event. He died of a seizure stemming from a head injury sustained in a 2005 motorcycle accident. Bode said this medal was a little different because of that loss: He wanted to come back and race the way his brother would. Cooper noticed Miller getting emotional and asked him what was going through his mind. Miller said a lot – it’d been a long struggle and a tough year. Cooper said she knew how much he’d wanted to experience the Olympics with his brother and asked what it meant to have such a great performance for him, if it was for him. Miller said he wasn’t sure if it was for Chilly, but that he’d wanted to come and – he struggled for words – make himself proud. That’s when he had to wipe away the tear we all saw fall.
Cooper could’ve stopped there – it was clear it was difficult for Miller to speak – but she asked what we all wondered and presumably knew the answer to: “When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there, and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?” Miller just leaned down on the fence and cried.
Cooper said sorry, and Miller collected himself and walked away, only to crouch down until his wife, Morgan Miller, found him, raised him up, and hugged him.
It’s worth noting that Morgan has allowed NBC to mic her at Miller’s events in Sochi and that the couple spoke separately to NBC for a package shown earlier in the evening that covered their love story and Chilly’s death. In that, it was Morgan who broke down talking about how the latter had destroyed Bode. But watching him stay strong for his family, she said, made her respect him. Still, many viewers thought Cooper pushed the interview too far and took to social media to say so. Miller doesn’t blame her.
I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment
— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.
— Bode Miller (@MillerBode) February 17, 2014
He also retweeted someone who’d written, “agreed, Bode. It wasn’t her fault. It was the fault of @NBCOlympics producers. She was being told what to ask.”
In NBC’s late night Olympics coverage, Miller and surprise Super-G silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht, a fellow American, sat down with Matt Lauer, who once again mentioned how emotional Miller had been following the race (and a year that also included a very public custody battle). Miller explained that he normally doesn’t connect his brother and his races in his mind, but today had, in fact, been different. “Today, in the start, I knew it was gonna be a close race. There’s not much separating the field in these, and me and my brother had talked about coming to the Olympics here together – he was trying to qualify,” Bode said. “Right in the start gate, I was kinda like, ‘If you’re here with me’ – I know I bring a part of him with me everywhere I go – I said, ‘give me a couple hundredths today. Just, like, give me that little extra push. I’m gonna be sending it.’ Everyone says, ‘Send it like Chilly,’ that’s kinda one of the mottos. I really wanted to ski my best. But I did kinda just connect those two in a way inside. And then for it to come down and be as close as it can possibly get in ski racing and end up with a medal was just kinda, I don’t know, it seemed kinda connected. At that point, I was just pretty overwhelmed with the feeling of getting a little bit of help from my brother.”
Miller and Canada’s Jan Hudec tied for the bronze – only .02 seconds ahead of fourth place finisher Otmar Striedinger of Austria. Miller will ski again Feb. 19 in the men’s giant slalom and Feb. 22 in men’s slalom. He told Lauer he believes this is his last Olympics. But, he added, his wife is teasing him that they’ll be in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.
UPDATE: On Monday, an NBC Sports spokesperson issued the following statement: “Our intent was to convey the emotion that Bode Miller was feeling after winning his bronze medal. We understand how some viewers thought the line of questioning went too far, but it was our judgment that his answers were a necessary part of the story. We’re gratified that Bode has been publicly supportive of Christin Cooper and the overall interview.”
Speaking to Lauer again on Today, Miller added: “I’ve known Christin a long time, and she is a sweetheart of a person. I know she didn’t mean to push. I don’t think she really anticipated what my reaction was going to be, and I think by the time she sort of realized it, I think it was too late and I don’t really, I don’t blame her at all. I feel terrible that she is taking the heat for that because it really is just a heat of the moment kind of circumstance, and I don’t think there was any harm intended. So, it was just a lot of emotion for me, it’s been a lot over the last year, and that you sometimes don’t realize how much you contain that stuff until the dam breaks and then it’s just a real outpouring.”
UPDATE: Jim Bell, executive produce of NBC Olympics, weighed in directly during a conference call with reporters Monday. “We have to make a lot of decisions every day in our coverage, and we made that one, and we’re fine with it, and the interview subject was fine with it, so I think that should be the end of it.”
Read our full recap of NBC’s primetime coverage.