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March 18, 2005
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (AP by Erica Bulman)–Olympic gold medals in Turin, television appearances, blockbuster contracts and a cabinet to display his new crystal World Cup trophy.
Everybody has plans for newly crowned overall champion Bode Miller _ except Miller himself.
The rebellious and truculent Miller has threatened to skip next year’s Olympics, set up his own team, launch his own tour or, even more frightening to those who have a stake in his success, leave the sport altogether.
“I think it’s going to depend a lot on this spring and summer, with the development of a different tour or different team. There are a lot of different possibilities,” said the 27-year-old native of Franconia, N.H. “For me personally, I don’t know if this is going to be some giant springboard. I don’t know where I would spring to from here, except away.”
Even before becoming the first American to win the overall title since Phil Mahre and Tamara McKinney in 1983, Miller was caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between sponsors, the U.S. Ski Team and the International Ski Federation, all eager to capitalize on his talent and the attention he brings to the sport.
“There’s coaches, fans, a lot of people who want me to do one thing or another, who attach themselves to your success,” Miller said. “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.”
Unhappy with what he feels are time-consuming media duties, a heavy World Cup racing schedule, constantly changing rules, poor prize money and unfair conditions for younger skiers, Miller is talking about creating an alternative ski racing circuit.
“FIS really abuses their situation in a lot of different ways and they’re the only way a world-class skier can compete,” said Miller, the only competitor to start every race the last three seasons. “If any of these things I’m thinking about start to materialize, then I’m definitely not determined to come back and race next year.
“I think if there’s a time for it to happen and a person to make it happen, it’s probably now and me.”
Miller has no concrete plans yet, though he says he’s already spoken to several other skiers and plans to “have a bunch of meetings in the spring.”
FIS dismisses Miller’s plans.
“The World Cup is constantly under evolution,” said FIS general secretary Sarah Lewis. “There’s a constant dialogue going on.
“Bode isn’t the first athlete to suggest he wants to make his own tour and he won’t be the last. But you know, he doesn’t have to compete in every race. That’s not compulsory. There’s no must-start in every competition.”
Even though many media members dislike working with Miller _ who avoids, provokes and belittles reporters with increasing regularity _ they realize his name sells papers.
The U.S. team, which struggles to manage the often-difficult Miller, benefits from the exposure he brings in a country where Alpine skiing is a niche sport. American officials simply hope their star hangs on until after next winter’s Olympics in Turin.
“If you’re looking for mass recognition, the Olympics are the most important _ especially in the U.S.,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a matter if I can re-motivate myself. I’m hoping I can find what it is that’s going to push me to do the Olympics.”
Though Olympic gold is something most athletes strive for, Miller says he needs to weigh the pros and cons even as he negotiates a major sponsorship deal with a leading footwear and sports apparel company.
“I’m still teetering on anonymity in the U.S. and going to the Olympics and winning a bunch of medals and suddenly the Wheaties box possibilities come in and the Nike commercials and thingss like that put you in the mainstream. And that’s not at all where I want to be,” Miller said. “So I’m going to have to consider that at least as much as the other side of the scale, holding an Olympic gold medal in my hand.”
Miller will mull over his future after a little time off to “take my truck out in the mud and do some doughnuts” at home in Franconia, where he says his 26-pound overall crystal globe will join last year’s GS trophy in a corner of his bedroom floor.
“The GS globe from last year is still in the box, so that’s probably where it (the overall) will stay,” Miller shrugged.
But Miller’s mother, Jo, has other plans for his newest trophy.
“My brother is planning on building him a big cabinet,” she said.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press