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Alcohol comments, attitude bother U.S. team

1/10/2006

WENGEN, Switzerland -- U.S. ski coach Phil McNichol questions whether Bode Miller should remain with the team following his comments about racing and drinking.

The overall World Cup champion said during a "60 Minutes"
profile on CBS that it's not easy "to ski when you're wasted."

The United States Ski and Snowboard Association has been swamped
with angry phone calls from team donors and corporate sponsors
since those remarks, and president and CEO Bill Marolt traveled to
Wengen to meet with Miller.

McNichol said Tuesday that Miller has been testing the team's
limits the last two years with his contentious statements,
late-night habits and refusal to compromise with staff.

"I don't know what the answer is. First we have to call the question: Can we still do this together?" McNichol told The Associated Press. "I think the question Bode has to answer is: Do
you still want to be a part of the United States ski team?"

"He's always tried to be a rebel, which was OK because it was
fun sometimes and actually brought a lot of thinking outside the
box and pushed the barriers," he added. "However, it's grown to a place where it's no longer about being opinionated and outspoken.
It's about how much do I really want to be here."

Miller, who travels the tour independently in his own RV, could race separately from the U.S. team. Kristina Koznick left the women's team in 2000 to train and race autonomously with boyfriend
and coach Dan Stripp.

Such a move could require Miller to handle his own logistic and
administrative responsibilities and pay for his own coaches,
service and travel.

Miller, who last season became the first U.S. skier to win the overall World Cup title in 22 years, told the CBS program in a broadcast aired Sunday that "there's been times when I've been in
really tough shape at the top of the course."

"Talk about a hard challenge right there," Miller said. "It's
like driving drunk only there's no rules about it in ski racing."

Asked if the risk meant he would never ski drunk again, the
28-year-old Miller replied, "No, I'm not saying that."

McNichol said this was only the latest in a string of problems Miller caused the team, which has long disapproved of his self-portrayal as a wild partyer who likes to drink.

In this month's online edition of Maxim magazine, Miller says he
has arrived at races drunk "from the night before, where I'm just
sobering up by the first round."

"We've been pretty busy cleaning up after our one outspoken
cowboy," McNichol said. "When important people start to ask what
kind of organization are you guys running, it's going to get the
boss' attention.

"[Miller] definitely feels entitlement. His impression is that he's really not that much work for us because he's not around much,
but he's bar-none twice the work of any other athlete in the
program."

Earlier this season, Miller angered ski officials by calling for
liberalized anti-doping rules. Teammates say they are now targeted
for increased drug testing.

Last month, Miller refused to take an equipment test to ensure his ski boots conformed to regulations and was fined $762. The team ended up paying the fine for him,
McNichol said.

Miller, who gripes about his sponsor and media obligations and
often talks of a deep lack of motivation, last year threatened to
skip the Olympics and launch a rebel ski tour.

"I think it's a little bit the image the people behind him want
him to portray," International Ski Federation secretary general
Sarah Lewis said. "It could be part of the problem."

Miller declined to speak to reporters at the World Cup races in
Adelboden last weekend. His agent said Miller is preparing a
statement.

"Bode is going to confer with U.S. ski team officials and it's
my expectation that he will release some kind of sort of statement
by the end of this week," Lowell Taub said.

Miller is entered in every race this weekend at the
Lauberhornrennen, a super-combined Friday, the traditional
Saturday downhill and a slalom Sunday.

Though he and teammate Daron Rahlves are tied for second place
behind Benjamin Raich in the overall World Cup standings, Miller
has not achieved the same level of results as last season. He has
one victory and three other top-three finishes this season.

At this point last year, Miller had accumulated six victories
and four other podium finishes.