Ligety, skiers upset with new rules on GS skis

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30 2011 7:50 p.m. MST

Switzerland's Didier Cuche skiing on his way to the fastest time of the day at the Men's World Cup downhill training ski competition in Beaver Creek, Colo. on Wednesday Nov. 30, 2011.

Alessandro Trovati, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Ted Ligety has been brazenly bashing skiing's governing body for what he feels is an infringement on his livelihood.

The Olympic gold medalist is quite perturbed at the International Ski Federation over new equipment regulations set to be implemented next season.

His main discipline, the giant slalom, could be the most affected as the hourglass shape of the skis is altered in an attempt to make the sport safer.

Ligety is frustrated and furious over the move, saying it will ruin the giant slalom.

And the three-time overall GS champion is hardly alone. Many of the skiers on the World Cup circuit are less than thrilled with the rule changes, which they feel were pushed through without much input from them.

Bode Miller is so agitated with the adjustments that he's contemplating giving up World Cup skiing.

No, really. He's that serious about how much this modification to the skis will transform his sport.

"If it's not fun for me, I'm not going to ski," Miller said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "I've skied on the (new) skis and they're not very fun to ski on. So if it's not fun, then there's no reason for me to do it."

These days, Ligety's tongue has been just as sharp as his skis.

His main beef is that with the minimum radius of GS skis going to 35 meters — eight more than the current limit — it's going to set back skiing.

Not just a little, but by decades.

In addition, Ligety contends the racing in giant slalom will be far less fun to watch, since skiers have to skid into turns instead of gracefully arc into them. He compared the switch in skis to trading in a Ferrari for a Prius.

"A Prius stinks to drive after driving a Ferrari. It's a big step down," said Ligety, who finished 29th in a downhill training run Wednesday. "It's such a ridiculous rule change that makes no sense safety-wise or evolution of the sport-wise. It can't go through."

But it can — and will.

FIS men's race director Guenter Hujara understands Ligety's displeasure, but the rules are set in stone by the council. Hujara acknowledged he would be upset, too, if he were Ligety, because Ligety has dominated the giant slalom in recent seasons. This takes away some of Ligety's built-in advantage.

That said, Hujara wishes Ligety would tone it down.

"I think he should take the knife out a little bit," Hujara said. "Not everybody who has a FIS sign on his head is an idiot by birth."

Ligety recently stirred the pot even more with an entry on his blog titled the "Tyranny of FIS." He said the governing body "is going out of their way to ruin the sport. FIS runs a dictatorship."

It's just Ligety speaking his mind.

"I'm living my life as if this (rule change) is not on the horizon," Ligety said.

To help facilitate that, he's rounding up as many skiers as he can to fight the rules, which also marginally affects downhill and super-G events as well as all skis become longer.

Ligety said a union of skiers is in the works and that he wouldn't mind starting an alternate tour even though it's really not feasible.

"The one unfortunate card FIS has on us, and really why they can pull whatever they want to pull on us, is they have the Olympics," Ligety said. "In order to go to the Olympics, you have to race World Cup."

At 37 years old, Didier Cuche of Switzerland is one of veterans on the slopes. He knows what these GS skis FIS is proposing are like and really doesn't want to go back to them.

"Maybe if I quit next spring, I don't have to race on that," said Cuche, who had the top time in training Wednesday. "If I continue, then I'll try to do my best to adapt myself for that."

For Miller, the rule change is pushing him toward the door. Skiing is all about feel, about finding a rhythm on the course. With the new shape of the GS skis, Miller isn't sure the enjoyment will be there.

"I ski because I like to ski a certain way," said Miller, who was fourth in downhill training, 0.26 seconds behind Cuche. "If they change that, so I can't ski the way I want to, because the equipment doesn't allow it, doesn't allow you to do the things you want to do, I probably won't race anymore."

Miller was appointed the athletes' representative for the downhill race on Friday, giving him a voice in ski-related matters with FIS. Like on Tuesday, when he raised safety concerns over a feature on the Birds of Prey course and it led the jury to cancel that day's training run to fix it.

But he thought the title was more political than anything, especially since he's been so critical of the new regulations.

"They pumped my tires," Miller said. "They admired how well it worked (Tuesday) and how awesome and smooth everything is. All of a sudden, everything seems disarmed."

Only, it's still a contentious issue.

FIS didn't come by these rule changes lightly, Hujara insisted. They were imposed after a lengthy injury research project involving scientists and experts from all over.

"It wasn't a decision that was made in one hour, one day, or even one month. It's a three-year project," Hujara said. "For sure we listen to our athletes."

Some wish it would've been more.

"When you talk to those scientists, they're obviously good scientists, but they're not skiers," Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal said. "They'll claim it's only a matter of a few millimeters here and there and it's not a big difference.

"But if you talk to a ski racer, it's a big difference."

That's why Ligety refuses to back down, fighting for his GS skis to the bitter end.

"If this goes through, it will kill the sport," Ligety said. "Mark my words, it will kill GS."

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