Bode Miller reflects on this weekend's Hahnenkamm and so much more
On the eve of the 72nd Hahnenkamm Bode Miller spent some time reflecting on what Kitzbuehel has meant in his 15 year World Cup career and offers his views on why the US population doesn't embrace the sport, on why he feels the sport is headed the wrong direction, and outlines his goals for the season and remaining race career.
“I think for every racer, Kitzbeuhel is pretty much the pinnacle,” Miller said. “It's an awesome hill and has got huge tradition. But Wengen has huge tradition as well; Adelboden has huge tradition. But Kitzbuehel has that prestige to it being the Hahnenkamm. Challenging the skier is one of the specialties of this hill. It pushes the skier to the very edge and that's something I really like and respect.”
He said the danger aspects of the course are mostly predicated on slope conditions. Icy and bumpy adds to the danger scale. This season the course is in great condition .”It's pretty reasonable and not that tough.”
Still, he said, a skier who is not afraid in the start house at Kitzbuehel is doing something wrong.
“You definitely can remember the first time here because it's something you have to overcome in the start to come out and race this hill. You feel fear every time on this hill. That's not that uncommon I don't think. You get scared at the start of Bormio and Beaver Creek too. The thing that stands out about downhill is that if you're going to try to ski it hard it is very dangerous, that's just how it is.
“The thing that stands out about Kitzbuehel is you can't go that slow. Off the Mausefalle it's pretty fast regardless how you ski. On race day when you're pushing the limits as hard as you can and looking for every 100th of a second you can find on the course there's a little more fear. When you are pushing that hard it definitely gets a little sketchy.”
The general American populous, he said, is generally ignorant of his sport. “The name; a lot of people might know the Hahnemkamm that don't know the Lauberhorn, Bormio or Val d'Isere but only skiers would know it. You can say Hahnenkamm to most Americans and they wouldn't know what you were talking about.”
He said there were a multitude of reasons for this lack of knowledge, but said a major culprit is a lack of consistent television coverage. “Without consistent television coverage on the main channels it's just not possible (to build an American following). People search it out on the internet, but it's not very exciting. Here (in Europe) every race is on the main television channels and that's what makes the difference.”
He said rules that stifle development of the sport aren't doing any favors for the sport's popularity, either. “In any sport, at the top level (there) needs (to be an) ability to evolve, to move forward. Especially in skiing, where the developments we (racers) have in ski products are what filter down to the general public. Right now the regulations on equipment, which they say are for safety and things like that, are taking that away with the sport. No more development on the advancement of the sport. For the general public that doesn't make any sense. For racers it doesn't particularly matter. The sport is always going to be dangerous, so it doesn't make sense to me that they do that.”
Miller said that the sport could be promoted better and says athletes from other sports can hardly believe how little skiing athletes are compensated. “There is still virtually no money in the sport for professional athletes. It's embarrassing at a place like Kitzbuehel, if you get fifth place or sixth place you get like 4,000 euros. If you tell another athlete from another sport that they laugh in your face. This sport is legitimately dangerous, the risk we take, the commitment to training, all that stuff. The financial backing the sport has is huge, (yet) a lot of racers end up retiring without any financial stability. They spend 10 years of their life racing World Cup and barely made enough money to support themselves at the time. That's not really correct.”
He said part of the problem with building a following has to lie with television coverage and an inclination to shy away from technology. “There is no (use of) GPS, no ghost video overlay. These are advances in technology that FIS has been incredibly slow to utilize. American football made a huge jump when they changed the camera angles and the production of how the sport was showed. Skiing has changed virtually barely anything in 35 years. At Wengen they (debuted) the little helicopter cam. That was great but they act like it's cutting edge and they could have done that 10 years ago.”
Miller said the downhill title was a seasonal goal, but added “I don't get too caught up in,” post season titles. “These aren't things I focus on. I focus on staying healthy - no injuries - and winning races.”
He said goal setting was not a direct science for him, but said the titles he hasn't yet won offer an appeal. “I don't have any particular direct goals, I just try to win races. The two things I haven't done, that are still sort of sitting there, are the slalom title and the downhill title and obviously winning certain races, like Kitzbeuhel. I just love skiing, I love ski racing.
“When I think back I have a lot of runs that were just miracles... you get down and can't believe you took the risk for one, or that it worked out, for two. One thing I've been consistent with is pushing really hard, I race on the limits... It leaves you with a lot of great memories, when that's your main tactic.”
He said he had retired before deciding to come back for the 2010 Olympics and that with success at those Games (3 medals) the momentum just kept him going. For now, he says,”It's always the same for me. If I'm enjoying it and healthy then I'll continue. I don't have a time or a date in mind. As long as I'm happy, successful and having a good time then I'll keep going.”
Gepa photos from top, Bode at Kitzbuehel in training this season, at Alta Badia in 1999 and with the 2010 Olympic gold.