The need for speed
Bode Miller became the first American in 22 years to win the overall World Cup title earlier this month. The Aspen Times was fortunate to catch up with John McBride, an Aspen native and the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team’s speed disciplines, and hear his thoughts on the monumental season. AT: First off, how does it feel to have had such an incredible year? McBride: Right now we’re all jazzed about the successes we have had as a team and looking forward to more of it in the following years. I’m really proud of Bode’s ability to stay focused through the finals and the level of intensity and passion he brought into the last races is equally impressive. Daron has also had some very bright moments this year, such as the drastic improvement in his giant slalom. His focus to come back from a nasty crash in the middle of the season and step back on the podium three times also shows how determined a competitor he is. We have many other athletes that have shown moments of greatness but the challenge remains to bring it out when it most counts.AT: Miller’s lead had shrunk from 400 points in December to just 52 entering the finals. What did you tell him before the races and what was his strategy?McBride: Bode and I spoke [after the downhill finals] about being true to yourself and how important it is for your goals to be a reflection of your actions. We both agreed that he had not done everything he could have this season to perform at his highest level but now was a time for that. AT: What hadn’t he done?
McBride: Through the beginning he was super focused and everything was coming together nicely. Then he started having problems with the crowds and distractions. That got him down a bit. The crowds never gave him a break. I don’t think this sport has ever seen an athlete get this kind of attention, and it’s just not easy, it takes a lot of his time. I think there are times when he would like to just get away. When we sat down and talked about goals he didn’t say he wanted to dominate every race, he said he wanted to win the overall. He did what he needed to do to win the overall … I think there’s a lot more [potential] but then that’s my job, to bring out the most in everyone. And I think he’s got a lot more. I just hope his actions are a reaction of where he sets his goals.AT: As for his performance in the finals? McBride: Bode was extremely focused about his inspections, his skiing, his hydration, nutrition and his recovery for the last week at the finals. It did not surprise me to see him perform the way he did. He thrives on the pressure of competition. I know what he is capable of and it was great to see him put all his ducks in a row for the finish of a long year.The super G at the finals was quite a day for our crew as I was fortunate enough to set the course and the boys tied for the win. Herman Meier had a mistake, ended up back a ways and it was enough for Bode to win the super G title – something the Americans have never won before. This was especially gratifying after the head Austrian coach laughed condescendingly at me and said ‘Good luck’ after I was chosen as the course setter for the super G. I think we got the last laugh that day.AT: Speaking of the Austrians, how did they handle the huge U.S. success?McBride: I would say for them it’s all about business. Those guys do not like to lose, they’re a super powerhouse. I’m sure they’re looking at us and figuring out how they can take us down next year. We’re all cordial with each other, but I can’t say that I go out of my way to help them and they surely don’t for me. There’s definitely a level of mutual respect from a lot of other teams seeing that we’re now contenders. Not too long ago people looked at us as the cowboy Americans and didn’t think we had our shit together. Now, it’s a whole different situation. We are a small team competing against the huge European machines on their turf so it is difficult, but I think we have gained their attention. We are now in a position where instead of watching what the Euros are doing and trying to emulate them … they are watching us and trying to figure out what makes us tick. It is nice to be on this side of the fence.
AT: Bode has stated that he takes his own unique approach to racing. Can the same be said about his training? McBride: Performance gives you more liberties. He knows what’s important to him. Athletes, when they first get to the team, don’t always know what they need to do. For sure he gets a lot of liberties from me, but he also performs at an amazing level. We have our difference but we listen to each other. AT: So a lot of give and take from both sides?McBride: There always is, like any relationship. AT: Bode was pretty vocal about starting his own tour next year. What’s the story behind that?McBride: He is frustrated with the never-ending schedule of races as a four-event skier and he thinks the FIS needs to evolve to make the sport even better. My understanding is he would like to be home more and have long weekends … events and clinics with kids and masters, tech talk with the racers and manufactures, and a race tour which was fewer races but big events like a Kitzbuhel. Bode, of course, has the media attention and popularity to pull this together because people want to watch him. But it would be an incredible amount of work and he would have to rally up some other top names in the sport. The bottom line is he realizes the sport has not changed in a long time – perhaps it is just the way the events are produced – but he wants to give back to the sport and see more people in our country become interested and involved. I know another issue for Bode is the FIS does not help him regarding crowd security. He is super gracious with his time and face-time with the public, but he has also become a legend in Europe and the pack of wolves that want something from him is nonstop.AT: Does any of this have to do with the way American racing is perceived, both in the States and in Europe?
McBride: For sure, the FIS is European run, the World Cup is a European sport. They give us our little grace period – one race venue in the U.S. and Canada – and then it’s all in Europe. Also, the FIS is a fairly conservative outfit that’s run by a lot of old coaches that don’t necessarily want to see things change much … I’m not out to try and change ski racing and the way it runs, that’s a whole other job. But I think the FIS can do a better job of marketing its sport so people in this country are more appreciative of what it is. In Europe, it’s like watching a football game, everyone quits work to go watch the race. It’s a big deal. AT: Is that level attainable in the United States?McBride: I think there is that potential. Bull riding is a great example. It’s a super-exciting sport but it used to have limited viewership. Now, it has more viewers than ski racing. Ski racing production on TV has been done the same way for a lot of years, and maybe they need to think about ways to film it more creatively and portray it as the unique, dynamic sport that it is. It’s a really dangerous sport. It could be a much more popular sport in this country. Guys going 90 mph and going off 210 foot jumps … people want to see that. AT: Did you know before the season that Bode’s overall victory was attainable? McBride: For sure. I didn’t expect that Bode’s speed would be as strong as it was. I will say I had a good indication this summer in training. He was really fast, substantially faster than some of the other competitors. And at that point, I was like ‘Hmmm, this is going to be interesting.’AT: As for Bode?McBride: His knee was buggin’ him quite a bit, slalom was buggin’ it a lot. He was pretty smoked on the season. It was a long haul, especially racing every single race – he didn’t miss one race.AT: What’s in store for the future of the team?McBride: Right now I will savor the moment of success we are all a small part of, but soon it will be time to figure out how each and every one of the guys can execute better and find ways to consistently perform at the top of their envelope. We have a fantastic opportunity heading into the Olympic games to ruin the party for a lot of other nations and I want to do everything I can to assure this.
AT: What are some of the things that can be done?McBride: It’s quite specific. Everyone’s program is a little different. Daron will spend his summer working on gliding on some grippy, fairly dense snow – softer conditions for him. That’s his priority. He’ll also focus on a little bit of equipment work with his boots, see if we can’t get his gliding to a little higher level.Bode’s priorities will be getting his slalom program back in order. He’s shown he has a lot of speed, but he lacks some consistency. We’ll do a little equipment work with his slalom setup as well. AT: What does Miller’s victory mean to the future of the U.S. Ski Team and junior racing in the United States?McBride: In terms of how all of this will affect U.S. skiing and junior racing, I am not sure. But for me, I hope more people have the ability to see the sport because it is a very unique, demanding and dangerous sport that I think few can appreciate. For junior ski racers, I hope these successes help them realize that their goals of being the best in the world are attainable.AT: What’s next for you?McBride: I’ve got the U.S. Nationals at the end of the month and I’m going to try to get out there. But my wife’s having another kid so we’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll start training in early May with some of the younger guys. The top dogs will ski later.Vail, Colorado