As some of you may know, Bode Miller left the U.S. Ski Team.
Oh, he'll still compete, not as a member, but as an independent. He will race for the stars and stripes, but not in a ski-team uniform and not on the ski-team expense account.
From what I can gather, it was not a particularly amiable parting. Miller has never been one who took to being coached or adapting to rules set by other people. He is, as he's said, his own person and prefers to do things his way.
I don't think Miller owes anything to the team or the team to Miller. Both sides benefited during his time in uniform.
What this means now, however, is that Miller will hire his own coaches, make his own reservations, pay his own entry fees, buy his own plane tickets and pay for his own lunches. Sponsors will give him money and equipment, of course. It will then be up to him to earn his pay.
He took one of the biggest plunges in sporting history in public opinion after the 2006 Olympics. He regained some support last year, but he came nowhere near the level he gained after the 2002 Olympics.
Now, what's required is he win. Or, at least, make it to the podium where he can have his picture taken waving his skis and showing off sponsors' names on his uniform.
Consensus was going into the season that Miller would burn up the courses to prove he was always right and Bill Marolt, CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard program, always wrong.
So far it hasn't happened. In the first slalom in Reiteralm, Austria, he was 26th. In the first downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, he was 20th. And in the first super G in Lake Louise, he was 25th. In both Canadian races, Provo's Steve Nyman was 15th and 13th, respectively.
Miller isn't the first to go independent. Kristina Koznick made the jump in 2000, angered by the removal of her coach, Dan Shipp, from the team staff. She struggled, especially without the financial support of the U.S. team.
She had been counting on a win in the women's slalom in 2002, or at least a top 3 finish. She was ranked No. 2 in the world in slalom at the time. Three gates from the finish she fell. Her father, Jeff, standing near the finish, shook his head, let out a big sigh and said, "(A win) would have paid a lot of bills."
As she found, it's one thing to go to a race and ski and quite another to know there are bills to be paid and salaries to meet at the end of the race.
The Mahre twins, Steve and Phil, didn't necessarily take to being coached. Most of the time, I was told, they'd be off training by themselves, away from other skiers and coaches.
Still, they stayed with the team, even if it was in name only.It will be interesting to see if Miller can detach himself from the business side of ski racing and concentrate only on being the fastest through the gates. Or will the pressure to win now cause him to abandon the reckless style that made him so great?
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