Brash downhill skiers are nothing new


Bode Miller of the United States takes a jump on his way to setting the third fastest time, during practice for an Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Downhill, in Wengen, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The "renegade" skier who speaks his mind chafes at restrictions, makes his own rules and always seems to be annoying the establishment. Bode Miller, you say? Well, if that's really what he is, then he's only the latest in a long line.
The sport of alpine skiing has never lacked for competitors who fit the above personality description to some degree. Remember, these are folks who go up to 85 mph down icy mountains.
The ability to ignore fear - or at least overcome it - is a prerequisite for being a successful alpine skier. So we should not be surprised when people whose occupation requires that they quite literally live on the edge sometimes don't "obey authority."
Back in those quaint days when Olympic leaders were trying to enforce a strict concept of amateurism, the great Jean-Claude Killy ran afoul of the establishment. The Frenchman thrilled his country by sweeping the three men's alpine events of the 1968 Games in Grenoble, France.
But then-International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage criticized Killy and other alpine skiers for intentionally allowing the trademark brands on their equipment to always be facing the camera in post-race photographs. Pretty much everyone knew that cash exchanged hands for these supposedly inadvertent "endorsements," but Killy pulled it off and got the gold medals.
Four years later in the Sapporo Games, though, the crusading Brundage disqualified Austrian skier Karl Schranz for being a so-called professional. It was a dirty word then in the Olympics. But Schranz's outspoken criticism of Brundage - which then branded him as a rebel - now seems like common sense railing against an unfair, unrealistic and outdated standard.
The word "brash" is a classic description of alpine skiers. It's been used extensively with competitors such as American Bill Johnson, Italy's Alberto Tomba and Miller. And the most famous fictional U.S. skier - Robert Redford's David Chappellet in the 1969 movie "Downhill Racer" - was the embodiment of the stereotype: cocky, reckless, self-focused and determined to "do it his way."
Miller, though, is a real flesh-and-blood, highly skilled athlete who may well be the best American skier ever. And wouldn't you know - he has a history of being more or less unmanageable for the U.S. Ski Team.
A year ago, after he became the first American in two decades to win the World Cup overall title, Miller floated the idea of skipping the Turin Olympics altogether. He also talked then about starting an alternative skiing circuit and criticized the International Ski Federation and the U.S. Ski Team.
Miller told reporters at the time: "There's coaches, fans, a lot of people who want me to do one thing or another, who attach themselves to your success. It creates a conflict of emotion because it's easy to listen to your own voice in your head if you're the only one talking. But if there's a million different people talking, you can't help but revert back to the loudest voice you hear in your head."
Although many Winter Olympians would just as soon not compete in relative obscurity, that's what Miller would prefer. Except it's his fame that has helped make him wealthy enough to feel he doesn't have to answer to anyone.
The U.S. Ski Team has never been overburdened with stars or success. So the organization probably needs Miller more than he needs it . Miller has said and done what he pleased, including boast about prerace partying.
Miller was criticized roundly for his comments on "60 Minutes" about skiing under the influence of alcohol. Although Miller apologized, one suspects the "real Bode" probably didn't feel too sorry at all.
For all the stories written about Miller's unconventional childhood and young adulthood as a parentally encouraged free spirit growing up in New Hampshire, the best is told by Miller himself.
In his autobiography - "Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun" - he makes it clear that he insists on living his own way and that his success is because of that, not in spite of it.
Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street's upbringing in Idaho wasn't really all that different. Street also once had a reputation as being temperamental and not always in step with U.S. skiing officials. Yet she was a natural extrovert who eventually accepted her assigned role as media magnet and skiing ambassador. And she was savvy enough never to cross too far over the line or burn any bridges.
Street told the Los Angeles Times last week she thought Miller wanted to see how hard he could push and that he was still growing up at age 28.
Meanwhile, McNichol told reporters in regard to Miller, "We've been pretty busy cleaning up after our one outspoken cowboy."
McNichol suggested maybe Miller should go it alone in Italy and not be part of the U.S. Ski Team, although he could compete for the United States. The U.S. alpine team will be announced Wednesday in Las Vegas.
The Miller file NAME: Bode Miller, pronounced BO-dee AGE: 28 YEARS ON U.S. TEAM: 10 EVENTS: Slalom, giant slalom, super-g, downhill and combined
2003 OLYMPIC RESULTS: Silver in GS, silver in combined, 24th in slalom

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top