Bode Miller: "They're
ruining our sport..."
And top racers, including
Ted Ligety agree, as FIS decides to take technical race skis
back in time
News and commentary
by Mitch Weber
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.
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
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,
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