Bode Miller: "They're ruining our sport..."
10/23: U.S. ski racer Bode Miller grabbed headlines last week, claiming that racing's governing body is "ruining our sport." The famously outspoken Miller also charged the International Ski Federation (FIS) with "going backwards every time they do a regulation." And Bode Miller is not alone; American Ted Ligety has said that new FIS rules currently being debated are "going to be bad for the sport." Ligety also wrote that as far as he knows FIS has not bothered to "contact any of the athletes being affected by these changes." And while Miller and Ligety have joined a reportedly long list of racers opposed to the rules changes, just one, Austria's Benjamin Raich, has expressed support.
| The issue that has all these athletes seriously up in arms are proposed rules mandating changes to the shape of skis used in competition. Incredibly, FIS wants to take most of ski racing back to when skis were longer, skinnier and straighter. "This is another step back in time," Miller has said. "Next year you will see people walking into a ski shop and they will be able to buy better skis than we can race on in the World Cup. That's a really bad situation." |
All of this is said to be going down in the name of safety. A rash of injuries leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is said to have convinced officials that further study, and possibly changes, were needed. As a result, in conjunction with Austria's University of Salzburg, "63 World Cup experts" were empanelled to come up with recommendations focusing on three main areas: course setting/speed,
snow conditions, and equipment, including skis, bindings, riser plates and boots. The new rules for skis were announced over the summer, and in what is being billed as a compromise, FIS is saying that for Super G and the slalom, the minimum turning radius will be increased from the 27 or 28 meters turn radius ski now in use up to 35 meters. Originally FIS had wanted the minimum to be a whopping 40 meters! Downhill
| boards will also be narrower and sport a reduced turn radius, supposedly to reduce forces on the knees. Soon after this announcement Ted Ligety was mannered but straightforward in offering up the athlete's perspective on his blog: "I hate to sound uncompromising on the new FIS GS radius and length rules after FIS backed off its original 40 meter radius rule to a reduced 35 meter turn radius, but the truth is, it is still going to be bad for the sport." |
As for the race ski manufacturers, all but Austria's Atomic have weighed in against the changes. Fischer Racing Manager Siegfried Voglreiter claimed that the less aggressive shapes will yip the scales unfairly in favor of heavier skiers and blasted the FIS decision saying that making "such decisions just on scientific research is dangerous. The real experts are the athletes."
Head's chairman and CEO Johan Eliasch was just as blunt, "I am personally skeptical that the proposed changes will have the safety results indicated," and he claimed that Head's own research had shown the new skis to be more dangerous, not less. Calling it "a strange story," Eliasch added, "these regulations do not look logical… I hope they (FIS) will reconsider." For Atomic's part, the giant Austrian ski-maker's head of racing Rudi Huber said in support of the changes, "Studies have shown that the centrifugal forces in turns are lowered by the new shapes, therefore, we hope for increased safety." And Huber indicated the new skis could even make their debut as early as later this season.
Meanwhile, Ted Ligety and Bode Miller continue to lobby against the new skis, with Ligety quoted as saying he tried the 40 meter radius prototypes and "quite frankly, they suck. I felt like Phil Mahre, circa '84. Try as I might, I could not get the skis to come around without a huge slide and step." Miller and Ligety both feel FIS should get out of the business of dictating equipment changes. "I think in sports like ski racing it's foolish to make rules that hinder the evolution of the sport, our capabilities, and the entertainment value," said Ligety. Added Miller: "They (FIS) should make rules about venues, about sponsors, about things like that, the rules that involve safety of the athletes and equipment should be left to the manufacturers and the athletes."
For our part, as recreational skiers who have very much enjoyed the benefits of evolved ski designs and technologies over the years, many of which have been driven by racing, it's dismaying that FIS wants to turn back the hands of time. No one, racers and rec skiers alike, skis as well on the older style boards. Modern shapes and materials have made the sport so much more fun and accessible; to now try to put that genie back in the bottle seems to border on the absurd. One has to wonder at the motivation. FIS noted last March that "recently retired World Cup racers have started testing these prototypes," and it would be interesting to find out how many aging retired racers are among the "63 experts" on the FIS panel that recommended the changes. It's happened in other sports that the old guard, for various reasons, tries to keep the current and future playing field as much like it was in their day as possible. Could this be happening in World Cup ski racing?
Update: 10/24- More than 500 racers and coaches reportedly met with FIS officials Friday to discuss the controversial changes in ski shapes at Austria's Sölden ski area prior to the weekend's first World Cup event of the season. The U.S. team went home from Sölden happy after Ted Ligety placed first in the men's Giant Slalom and Lindsay Vonn won her first GS race ever, but not before Bode Miller (who placed a strong 9th) once again denounced the changes and FIS in the strongest of terms during the U.S. network television broadcast of Sunday's race.
"When it comes to equipment, they (FIS) don't know what they are talking about," said Miller. "They don't have the expertise, they don't have the experience and they don't have any investment in it. They're (FIS officials) salary isn't affected at all by any of the changes they make." Bode also made the point that it is the racers who run the risk of being injured in transitioning to skis that perform worse than what they are using now, "sitting in their office they (FIS officials) get their money either way." And Miller wasn't done: "I love the sport, but if I have to ski on the equipment they're going to give me in the next few years, I won't ski anymore 'cause I'm not able to do the kind of skiing I like to do (on those kind of skis), and I don't ski to beat another guy, I ski 'cause I like to ski a certain way." Miller than repeated his earlier charge and expanded on it: "In the next couple of years I'll be able to walk into a store and buy better skis than I'll be able to get from my World Cup ski company. I'll be able to just go buy 'em and ski at a much higher level, much better than I can ski on the very best skis that Head will be allowed to give me as a World Cup racer, which I think is completely ass-backwards."
Meanwhile, it's being reported that more than 80% of the racers at Friday's meeting had signed a petition strongly protesting the move backward to the ski shapes of yesteryear. There is even some quiet speculation being offered that FIS has a larger agenda having to do with concerns that wide, shaped skis have had a negative effect on skiing in general, both on-piste and off. And while most of the FIS position papers on injuries and equipment focus on elite level racers, from the beginning FIS has related its injury data gathering efforts to skiing and snowboarding generally, asserting that beyond the risk of chronic and permanent disability, "injuries often lead to a long term absence from sports." Read: Injured skiers and boarders don't buy lift tickets and gear.
As Head Skis CEO Johan Eliasch said last summer, this is indeed "a strange story," with implications beyond the world of ski racing and into areas critical to the progression of ski equipment at every level. After the firestorm of protest in recent months, it's almost inconceivable that FIS has not already backed down from its controversial position. It is an issue we will continue to keep an eye on as the season progresses.