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WINNER & WHINER // Party-boy Bode is these Games' gold-medal loser

He arrived like some imaginary folk hero. A one-man caravan of uncommon deeds, both real and invented.

They called him a rebel. Said he was America's bad boy. Talked of how he would conquer a mountain, and maybe a country, too.

And now, like an early snow, he is gone.

We hope never to return.

Bode Miller cheated you. He cheated himself. He stole money from his sponsors, and he belittled the work and sacrifices of every other Olympian.

Miller committed one of the few unpardonable sins in sport. He failed to give an honest effort during the two biggest weeks of his career.

He showed up unprepared, and he left unrepentant.

"It's been an awesome two weeks," Miller told the Associated Press. "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."

These Games were his chance to forever leave a mark in our hearts and memories. He could have been Eric Heiden. He might have been Mark Spitz. He should have been somebody.

Instead, Miller is a cartoon act. No longer a personality, never again a trusted competitor. Miller is now a symbol. The point of reference for every athlete who lacks the heart or integrity to give his very best.

Miller, 28, was seconds into the men's slalom Saturday morning when he missed a gate and quit racing. He raised his arms, as if mocking his shortcomings or maybe our expectations, and then disappeared. He was last seen skiing off the side of a mountain to avoid the questions below.

It was his fifth event of these Games and the third time he failed to make it down the course. He finished fifth and sixth in the two other races.

Later, Miller would tell the Associated Press that he was less prepared for these Games than he was in Salt Lake City in 2002. He talked of how much fun he had partying in this mountain resort and mocked teammate Daron Rahlves for being fit and taking the Games too seriously.

Essentially, he bragged about being a screwup.

"I just did it my way," Miller told the AP. "I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here."

Skiing may be an individual sport, but Miller accepted certain responsibilities when he agreed to take a spot on the U.S. roster.

He had a responsibility to work hard. To represent the team in a positive fashion. He had a responsibility to do everything within reason to assure he was fit mentally and physically to compete.

Miller failed on all accounts.

And, thus, he should lose his job.

For as long as he has been on the U.S. ski team, Miller has set himself apart from the crowd. He has skipped workouts. He has failed to follow instructions. He has traveled separately from his teammates.

So now the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association should make it official. The team should announce immediately that Miller has been dropped from the roster, and it should apologize for allowing the situation to reach this point.

Can you imagine the conversations going on at the offices of Miller's sponsors today? These companies that paid him millions to represent their brand name, only to have him behave as if he were a teenager on spring break?

If there is any justice, his endorsements will go downhill faster than Miller did at these Games.

This was not someone who tired and quit in the heat of battle. It was not someone who had a momentarily lapse of judgment.

To hear Miller tell it, he made a conscious decision not to worry about his fitness. He made it clear that rest and focus were not his priorities.

And don't think this was some twisted excuse for failure. His words Saturday were backed up by actions the previous two weeks.

He was out drinking beer the night before the men's downhill. Another night, he was photographed in a bar with his middle finger raised while rubbing next to a Playboy playmate. He rolled an ankle playing basketball.

He joked that one advantage to losing was avoiding the two-hour drive into Turin for the medal ceremonies.

Even his competitors say he appeared out of shape and unable to keep his speed near the bottom of downhill events. His weight has gone from about 185 pounds during the Salt Lake City Games to around 220 today, making it nearly impossible for him to maneuver in the slalom with any speed.

Maybe Miller thinks his party boasts make him sound cool. Maybe he is so enamored with his counterculture image that he has trouble with reality.

Whatever the reason, he has forfeited any right to be taken seriously again.

Every competition has more losers than winners. Every season has more disappointment than joy. It is not Miller's shortcomings that are in question here, but rather his lack of concern about succeeding.

Bill Buckner committed an error. Scott Norwood missed a field goal. Jean Van de Velde hit a shot into the water, and Chris Webber called a timeout.

Those were monumental mistakes that led to losses. But they were committed inadvertently, and with great regret. Not Miller. He knew what he was doing, and he doesn't appear to care.

He knew his sponsors were counting on him. He knew his teammates were, too. He knew an entire nation had bought into his tale and was eager to see him come down a mountain with the speed and skill that had been talked about.

He knew all that, and he didn't care.

Bode Miller could have been one of the greatest Olympic champions we have ever known.

Instead, he is one of the biggest losers in the history of American sports.