McBride playing his part
Aspen native John McBride deflects any credit for the success of Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves. “I just play a little part in helping great athletes reach their potential,” says McBride, the head men’s speed coach for the U.S. Ski Team.But there’s no arguing with results. Since McBride settled into his post in the spring of 2002, Miller has grown into the world’s most complete ski racer and Rahlves has enjoyed his best career finishes.Last year, after mastering the speed disciplines of super G and downhill, Miller became just the second American man to win the World Cup overall title. Rahlves – the most prolific men’s speed skier in American history – leads this year’s overall race after winning the Bormio, Italy, downhill on Dec. 29, his second downhill victory this season. Miller trails Rahlves by 18 points, setting up what should be a dramatic conclusion to the World Cup season.The Aspen Times recently caught up with McBride while he was home for the holidays visiting his wife, Sunni, and his two daughters, Ruby and Lucy. During an hour-long interview, McBride talked about the future of the men’s team, the outlook for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and the undeniable appeal of Miller.Aspen Times: Talk about the World Cup season up to this point. With Daron leading the overall and Bode in second, did you expect any of this?McBride: I wouldn’t have necessarily expected that, but I knew that Daron was skiing well enough to score in [giant slalom] on any given day because he had a great summer training. You just sort of assume when someone is a three-event skier that they’re going to be a little behind the eight ball with the four-event skiers. Daron doesn’t race any slalom, he doesn’t race any combined, so those are two other opportunities to put a lot of points on the board. And that’s where Bode’s falling short this year. Daron’s had a really good year so far, with the exception of a few races. He went out in the Kranjska Gora [Slovenia] GS, and he was really close to winning that race. He had just a little bit of a freak mistake and skied out. But he’s been really consistent so far, unlike Bode.
What do you foresee for the remainder of the season? I would say for [Daron] to win a speed title, he’ll probably have to be on the podium every race from here on out, because he’s off the mark there. To win the overall, it’s going to depend on the other people. If he skis solid in downhill and super G and GS and continues to get a fair amount of podiums, and guys like Benny Raich [of Austria] and Bode don’t necessarily put a lot of points on the board in the four disciplines, for sure he can be a candidate at the end of the year.In an interview last year you talked about how the Europeans are looking at the U.S. team now because of Bode and Daron’s success. What do they think about having two Americans at the top of the overall standings? Is there resentment?I wouldn’t say it’s resentment. I think they realize now that it wasn’t a fluke. They realize that we have talent and we know what we’re doing. … I think they realize there’s a different way to do things. They see Bode as this guy who doesn’t show emotion in the start, looks like he’s relaxed, wears mittens and lives in an RV that looks like a doghouse, just things like that. They just don’t understand, so I think that’s part of his appeal for sure, not just that he’s a fantastic athlete. He’s so far from the mold of the robotic Austrian mentality of train, train, train, ski, and being completely disciplined all the time. Before the 2002 Winter Olympics, Daron was the star of the men’s team. Since then, he’s been overshadowed by Miller. Is he motivated by Bode, or is his success this year a result of him trying to accomplish some personal goals before he retires?I wouldn’t say it’s Bode that’s motivating him. He motivates himself. He’s a real self-starter. The thing with him, he doesn’t want to finish second to himself. I don’t think it has anything to do with Bode, or anybody else. He’s just real focused on his goals, and I think that’s a result of how he’s skied so far this season.Bode has spoken out this year against the governing bodies for anti-doping. He made comments that the rules to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs were too stringent and should be looked at. Other racers spoke out against him. What are your thoughts?For the most part, it was taken out of context. He had a good point, and his point mostly is that elite athletes should be protected to a certain degree by drug policy. That means if you walked by and dropped a pill in his coffee, with a zero-tolerance rule of anything, he’s done competing for two years. There’s definitely inconsistencies there. I don’t think he’s saying steroids should be legal. He’s just saying, if you’re going to make tolerances on anything, whether it’s cold medicine, you should probably make small tolerances on everything so that you don’t end up with that guy who ends up on the podium and took Sudafed in the United States that was a touch different than Sudafed in Europe and ended up losing his medal. Or, like I said, someone drops something in your food. For a guy like Bode or a guy like Daron, they have everything in the world to lose with something like that. A guy who is 10th in the world, it’s not that big a deal. Nobody’s going to try and drug them. I don’t think [Bode] is paranoid, but I think that is the point he’s trying to make. Why can he go out and drink 20 beers and race the next day and not be in trouble? But he can get in trouble for eating a steak that’s been injected with steroids.
I know at times he and [head alpine coach] Phil McNichol have butted heads. It seems like Bode lashes out against him because he thinks McNichol is constantly second-guessing him. Is that true?They do butt heads a lot. I mean I don’t know exactly why that is. Bode definitely tends to get tweaked with him. [Bode] and I have more of a working relationship. It’s like, I’m here for you if you need me. For sure we have our moments where we have heated debates, but for me he’s not a hard guy to work with. Is that because there’s mutual respect there and he respects your advice?I would say he does, but you’d have to ask him. He acts like he does. He acts like, when we have conversations and we talk about things, like he definitely respects my opinion. Whether he agrees or not, he’ll always hear me out. I think more of the challenge for me is that I want to give him the opportunity to live his life the way he wants, as long as he’s going down the path of saying, OK, these are my goals. If he’s bullshitting me, I’ll be the first one to call him on it. If he tells me, hey, I want to win every race and meet my potential, I’ll be the first guy to say, hey, wait a minute, dude. But if he is, if he’s on track for what he says, and what he’s passionate about doing, I’m not going to tell him how to live his life. Bode has said he doesn’t know how much longer he plans on skiing on the World Cup. Daron has said he plans to retire at the end of the season. What’s the future of this team without those two?It’s a different team for sure. I think both of them bring a level of leadership and inspiration to the team that nobody really will realize until they’re gone. I see it for sure, having been lucky to work with them for a long time. The reality is, if the two of them left, our team goes from a team that can win on any given day to a team who is a much less likely team to win, especially in speed. We do have guys who are coming around, and coming back from injury, like Marco Sullivan, who is very talented, and Bryon Friedman, who has been close to podiums, and this young kid Steve Nyman who is coming up. He’s going to be very good. But still, Bode and Daron are pretty exceptional little creatures. They don’t come along every day. I feel good about where the ski team is, but it will be a big loss when those guys leave, in a lot of ways.What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
Some ways, I would say Bode makes my job more challenging from the team perspective because he’s such an individual. His thing is here [gesturing], and I have to look after a team. My job is not just to look after Bode. It’s really more of the bigger picture of the men’s downhill and super G teams, which he is a part of. That’s the only thing that makes things challenging for me at times. I end up running around more, trying to accommodate not only my team but my superstar. Daron, he’s easy. He’s the easiest guy in the world to work with. Not that Bode’s hard, but Daron wants to be part of the team, and he’s a little more involved in the team aspect of it. Bode is a little more different.In Europe, World Cup racing is comparable to the NFL in terms of popularity. That’s not true in the States. Why can’t ski racing find success in America, other than during the Olympics?I can’t really comment on this year, because I don’t know what [Outdoor Life Network] is doing with their coverage. But I know that in the past, World Cup skiing is shown so little, and at such odd times, and usually so long after the actual event that I think it loses its glamor. It loses its interest to the public. The Olympic Games is, of course, the whole national patriotic thing. Bringing the team together and we’re all on the same team – that kind of thing that people love. And it’s also live. The men’s downhill is a super cool event to watch. You know, do you want to watch women’s figure skating or the men’s downhill? It’s an exciting event to watch, especially if it’s broadcast somewhat well.What, ideally, would you like to see to make World Cup skiing more palatable to the viewing public?It’s a good question, and it’s a tough question. No. 1: Very few people ever see the sport live, which paints a much different picture than what you see on television. When you see somebody ski by you at 85 mph on ice, in rough and bumps and flat lights, you’re like, holy Christmas, what are these guys doing? We have to figure how to broadcast things better on television and show how incredible it is. If we don’t, the perception from the American public who doesn’t understand ski racing is that the X Games or big-mountain freeskiing is actually more dangerous and more exciting. The truth is, downhill ski racing at some of these venues is unbelievable. It’s more dangerous than riding a bull, and I don’t think a lot of people understand that.What about selling personalities? Bode is someone who is similar to Lance Armstrong, being that he goes over and dominates a European sport and he does it with a unique flair. What about trying to sell Bode the same way Lance was sold to the American public?I think there’s probably a lot of truth to that. People love drama. People love characters. It’s sad to say, but they love the Olympic story of the guy who lost his mother and then comes back to win the gold and tears are flowing. People love that, or remember that. Bode is a character. He’ll say what’s on his mind. He’s very opinionated and he’s very bright and people remember him, especially when they meet him. For sure, that’s what has sold him in Europe. He’s a highly marketable dude there, maybe not here, but over there he’s huge. Daron, too, in his own right. He’s not as outspoken, but he’s got a huge following over there. They call him “The Little Bull.” Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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