Bode Miller slams ski officials over new rules

Associated Press
Bode Miller, left, and Lindsey Vonn of the US, right, pose during a  photo call of the Alpine Skiing World Cup in Soelden, Austria, Thursday Oct.  20, 2011. The first Alpine Skiing World Cup of the season 2011/2012 will take place on  Oct. 22/23,  2011 in Soelden, the traditional start of the alpine skiing World Cup. (AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

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Bode Miller, left, and Lindsey Vonn of the US, right, pose during a photo call of the Alpine Skiing World …

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Bode Miller has lashed out at the international ski federation, accusing the governing body of "ruining our sport" because of new equipment regulations set to take effect next year.

The 34-year-old American ski star on Thursday called the FIS rule changes regarding minimum size and radius of skis "a complete joke. It's going backwards every time they do a regulation."

Miller said that longer skis with a wider radius will not make ski racing any safer but instead will wipe out all technical developments that have made the sport more appealing to both racers and fans in recent years.

"This is another step back in time," Miller said. "Next year you will see people walking into a ski shop and buy better skis than we can race on in the World Cup. That's a really bad situation."

The new equipment rules have been widely criticized by athletes and manufacturers since the FIS announced them in July. About 80 percent of all World Cup racers signed a petition to protest against the changes.

Most affected will be the giant slalom discipline, where skis will need a minimum radius of 35 meters, eight more than the current limit. In GS, super-G and downhill, all skis must become longer by various amounts of centimeters.

"No one can ski as good on the 35-meter radius ski as he can ski now," Miller said. "And people cannot ski as good now as they could have on the skis from four years ago. From 1999 to 2003 was the peak of equipment in ski racing. Since then, it's all gone in the wrong direction."

The governing body have set up a meeting Friday with a delegation of racers and equipment suppliers to clarify its decision, which has been based on a six-year running research project by Salzburg University into various safety issues at World Cup races.

Miller suggested the FIS should completely pull out of equipment regulation.

"They should make rules about venues, about sponsors, about things like that," the two-time overall World Cup champion said. "The rules that involve safety of the athletes and equipment should be left to the manufacturers and the athletes. You are going to have rules anyway as the manufacturers are going to battle it out with each other and will come to a compromise."

Miller said the FIS has shown its inability to handle the safety issue because "bindings make the biggest impact. But there is zero regulation on bindings, they have never addressed that. That tells it all."

Miller was backed by U.S. teammate Ted Ligety, arguably the best GS racer in the world.

"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. These rules do that," said Ligety, who holds the World Cup and world championship titles in the discipline.

"(Race chief of ski brand Head) Rainer Salzgeber told me he raced on a 32-meter radius ski in 1994," Ligety said. "So to go back to skis from the early 90s is kind of a joke ... It's been a big jump from 27-meter radius to 35-meter radius. That could lead to a jump in injuries as well."

FIS men's race director Guenter Hujara said he understands, but does not agree with the criticism.

"Our primary task is to provide a set of rules that guarantee equal opportunities to all racers," Hujara said. "We won't follow the suggestion that FIS should only look after the courses. We will try to achieve the best possible result for all involved."

Hujara said "no one talks about what has been achieved so far, there is only talk about what they think is wrong. People who don't know the exact circumstances, act like there has been no progress whatsoever when it comes to safety. But we are working at all levels on the active and passive safety of the athletes and always try to optimize this."

Miller called on the manufacturers to take action.

"There is no union of athletes, that would be the only way to put pressure on FIS," he said. "But the manufacturers can stand up, they have a union. If the companies just refuse to produce the skis that are required, they will get the backing from the athletes."

Except for Austria's Atomic, all major ski manufacturers are opposing the changes.

"This is costing us a lot of money," said Fisher race chief Siegfried Voglreiter, who expected major changes in the pecking order at the top of the sport, especially in GS, as heavier athletes would gain an advantage.

"Taking such decisions just on scientific research is dangerous. The real experts are the athletes," said Voglreiter, adding that better course setting and preparation are just as important factors in improving safety.

Head's Salzgeber called it "a strange story. These regulations do not look logical ... We have skis that were banned for the men's downhill in 2007 as they were too dangerous but they would now be allowed for women under the new rules. That's definitely not logical."

However, Atomic's race chief Rudi Huber welcomed the changes.

"Studies by the Salzburg University have shown that the centrifugal forces in turns are lowered by the new material. Therefore, we hope for increased safety," he said.

Huber said tests with the new material were taking place and he did not rule out that the skis might already be used later this season.

"It all sounds much more dramatic than it really is," Huber said.

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