Fiala on Bode: ‘He’s spitting in my face’
Jake Fiala calls Bode Miller “a friend of mine, for sure.””But,” Fiala adds, “I don’t know him well enough to explain him.”This says more about Miller than Fiala. The two of them made the U.S. Ski Team together in 1997. For the next decade they traveled together, trained together, partied together. Yet on a scale of 1-10, Fiala says he knows Miller only as well as a seven.When Miller appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday and told the world that it’s not easy to “ski when you’re wasted,” Fiala watched from his home in Frisco. He cringed. He got angry.”What he’s accomplished in ski racing, I would never take away from him,” said Fiala, who retired from the U.S. team last spring after one of the most successful men’s speed skiing (super G and downhill) careers in recent American history. “But him as a person and how he’s portraying himself is disgusting. I’m on the extreme because I dedicated 30 years of my life to this sport that I love and never made it to the level he did. He’s spitting in my face. That’s what it feels like.”Bode Miller has become more than the world’s best ski racer. Involuntarily, he has become a phenomenon. He captivates and fascinates. Like it or not (and it is safe to say he despises it), he speaks for the entire sport when he speaks of skiing. That’s why his comments on CBS have Fiala and others who have made a life in the sport up in arms.
“I respect totally what he has done for ski racing – in the beginning. He actually put ski racing on the map with his rebelness, in the U.S.,” Fiala said. “Now he’s kind of doing the opposite. “I have a lot of friends in Europe, I have some family over there. And a place that used to love him, Austria, now hates him. They resent him for making a mockery out of their national pastime.”Most of Miller’s backers have a phrase they use to describe his spontaneity, his questionable actions: “Bode’s Bode. That’s just who he is.” Fiala doesn’t believe that explanation suffices anymore. Especially not when the medium is network television. “I just hope that there are not kids that are aspiring athletes or ski racers who are taking this as an example,” Fiala said. “You just picture a coach catching their kid out late-night, and the kid’s like, ‘Oh, Bode does this!’ That’s where I don’t think it sinks in for him. I don’t know if it’s that he’s not smart enough or he doesn’t comprehend that stuff or what. I just don’t get why, even if he does that, why he would say it. Or promote it.”To be fair, drinking and partying have long been a part of the alpine ski racing culture. Nobody’s denying that. “You see every single ski racer at some point, whether they win or it’s after a big event or a ski camp, everyone’s drinking and having a good time,” Fiala said. “But never to the extent of Bode.”On the World Cup circuit, speed events are often held in advance of tech (giant slalom and slalom) events. Thus, racers who specialize in super G and downhill generally go out partying after their races because they’re finished for the weekend. But Fiala said that when he and the other speed specialists would do that, Miller would be there, too, hanging out until the wee hours alongside them. Fiala said he never monitored how much Miller drank, but it surprised him nonetheless. So did the coaches’ non-action.
“I’ve seen Phil (McNichol, the head U.S. men’s coach) out with Bode late at night,” Fiala said. “Phil should be putting the foot down. I don’t care how good Bode is. I was never at that level, and probably because I wasn’t at that level I could never have gotten away with that stuff. It’s a shame that because of his success he can get away with whatever he wants. And he’s gonna get away with this, too.”They talked about how he won’t be on the (U.S.) ski team and he’d do his own thing,” Fiala added. “I’d be shocked if they did that. They should, but they won’t, because he’s their best guy. They have supporters and people who give lots of money to win a lot of medals. I just don’t think they’d (kick Miller off the team).”Fiala, who still keeps in close contact with Daron Rahlves while the U.S. team is in Europe, said he thinks the biggest shame resulting from Miller’s behavior is the attention is takes away from Rahlves and the other American racers. They’re doing everything right, Fiala said, but the only questions they’re asked relate to the loose cannon who does whatever he wants.”Can you imagine if (the U.S. Ski Team) could dedicate the time that they spend dealing with this crap on developing Steve Nyman or getting Marco (Sullivan) back (from his knee injury)?” Fiala said. “And it seems like to me, Bode says over and over again how he doesn’t care, so why have him around? Why have somebody that doesn’t care?”According to what Fiala has heard, Miller “does no warmup in the morning, he does course inspection faster than anyone, just shoots down the course, then goes to his RV and plays video games till the start. Then he races.””He’s just a freak of nature,” Fiala said.
It was that identity which prompted Nike, the biggest sports apparel name in the world, to take a chance on Miller despite the controversy that follows him. The company built a mammoth marketing campaign around the maverick athlete – titled, ironically, “Join Bode” – and scheduled its launch to coincide with the fast-approaching Winter Olympics. After the latest events, you can bet the company is wishing it chose a different name. Miller apologized Thursday in his first public comments since the “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night. (He also wrote a journal entry in the Denver Post, claiming CBS twisted his words and that he only meant he had skied hungover, not while he was drunk. In the interview itself, Miller said, “There’s been times when I’ve been in really tough shape at the top of the course. … Talk about a challenge right there. … If you ever tried to ski when you’re wasted, it’s not easy.”)Nonetheless, Fiala hopes that in the future, Miller will take into account his singular role and the inherited weight his voice carries. Like all who follow ski racing, Fiala knows that Miller doesn’t care to censor himself. It goes against who he is, and there seems to be little more important to Miller than staying true to who he is.Still, Fiala hopes the loose cannon will draw a line soon.”He’s different,” Fiala said. “But I just wish he’d keep the different part to himself. That’s not ski racing. That’s not our sport. That’s not any sport. That’s just him.”Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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