Bode said U.S. team triggered split by pulling funding
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
When Bode Miller left the U.S. Ski Team last spring, the former World Cup champion didn’t really make a complete split with the red, white and blue.
Come winter, Miller will still put on a U.S. Ski Team uniform like the one he wore last year. The sponsors’ names decorating his bibs won’t be his own either. Otherwise, Miller will ski on his own in 2007-08.
The two-time Olympic silver medalist said several factors contributed to his separation from the team.
During the final round of the American Century Championship, Miller said that the team pulled $60,000 to $70,000 funding from him for the upcoming season and declined to address a few contentious structure issues he raised, leading to his decision to ski “independently.”
“I would have had to pay for it whether I was part of the team or on my own,” he said. “It made more sense for me to choose my coaches and all my stuff rather than have to do what they said.
“I believe I have better results in me. I believe it and now I have to show it.”
Tom Kelly, the U.S. Ski Team’s vice president of communications, said on Monday that the team prefers to keep funding matters private.
“We don’t want to create a negative situation between us,” Kelly said. “He’s a unique individual who’s mapped out a really unique program for himself. It’s a really daunting task, especially someone in all events like he is. We’re rooting for him and hoping he’s really successful with it.”
Kelly said that FIS rules require Miller to remain in a U.S. Ski Team uniform.
“We are respectful of the eligibility of athletes, whether they are funded through the program or not, and as such we need to make sure the rules are enforced,” Kelly said. “This solely has to do with FIS rules, not because we need to do this because of the value Bode brings to the team.”
Last May, when Miller announced that he was leaving the squad, Kelly questioned Miller’s commitment to the team.
“There have been a lot of specific issues out there – the RV, alcohol issues and so forth,” Kelly said in an Associated Press report. “None of those were talking points in this meeting. This was about the philosophy of the team, what it means to be a member of the team.”
Miller agreed with team officials that he was failing to do his part in promoting the U.S. team.
“That has been something that has happened over 10 years from me continually asking for change and asking for certain things and them continually being resistant to all the stuff I wanted to do, even though I was the one getting most of the results,” Miller said.
Following a 2006 Winter Games where Miller didn’t earn a medal, the U.S. Ski Team’s relationship with its star deteriorated. The team required Miller to stay in accommodations with the team after being permitted to travel the World Cup circuit in a motor home in previous seasons.
“They were being really resistant to a lot of the ideas I believe that I had to do to keep the sport interesting for me and also continue to get the best results I could,” he said. “It didn’t make any sense for me to continue racing if I knew I was running a program that wasn’t allowing me to do what I could do. That takes the motivation away.”
Kelly countered, “Daron (Rahlves) had done it a couple years, so this wasn’t a Bode thing. We were taking a bigger look at what we were trying to accomplish as an organization. For us to get the most out of the program, we need to be together as a team. It’s not so much what someone does on personal time, that’s really up to them.”
The 29-year-old Miller is excited to assume total responsibility for preparing himself for the season and the week-to-week circuit stops.
“I’ve never achieved my best,” Miller said. “I have been part of a program that was lacking in major areas my whole career. Now the way my workouts can be structured and set up and my motor home sleeping and eating can be set up and my technicians can be set up, all are things that should be done for everybody.”
Since the 2004-05 season when Miller captured the overall World Cup title and won two World Championships, his results haven’t been consistent.
“Results are great, titles are great … to have a season where at the end of the season I know I kicked the most (butt) I could, I really put together a program that was solid and that I wasn’t missing huge areas that I was clearly aware that were holding me back, (that’s what I want),” Miller said. “Now it’s nice that I’m old enough and been doing this long enough that I know those areas. I know what makes the big difference, what makes the small differences and now I can have the freedom to adjust them.”
Of course, Miller has some doubts about his solo venture in skiing.
“It’s possible that I put all of the pieces together and have a crappy season; that’s the way ski racing works,” Miller said. “But at least at the end of the year I addressed all of the variables that I know make a difference and the rest is sort of (based on) ability, luck and all of the other things you have no control over.”
Miller hopes that the team can one day incorporate some of his ideas into the U.S. Ski Team’s training program.
“Once they see how it works and once I set the model up and show them, maybe it will be done,” he said. “That’s the stuff at the end of the day and a long season can make the difference between a great season and a pretty good season.”
Although Miller doesn’t look beyond the season ahead of him, he sees no reason why he won’t compete in the 2010 Winter Games in British Columbia. There were reports after last season that Miller was through with Olympic competition.
“The time frame works, for sure,” he said. ” I have plenty of career left if I stay away from injuries.”
And Kelly and the rest of the U.S. Ski Team realize that.
“We feel through our system that we have provided some good opportunities for him and we still look at him as one of the great American ski racers ever,” Kelly said. “It’s great for the sport in America that he’s still racing.”
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