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Street Sees a Possible Snow Job by Miller

Olympic champion says skier may be intentionally testing limits of authority but can still recast image.

January 11, 2006|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Picabo Street, one of America's most revered Alpine skiing champions, said Tuesday that superstar Bode Miller was "testing the boundaries" of authority but still had time to salvage his image before next month's Olympic Games at Turin.

"It's not irreversible, not in my opinion, not with me," Street, the former United States ski team rebel who became a gold medalist, said in a phone interview from Ketchum, Idaho.

Street worries that Miller's most recent comments about skiing while drunk will perpetuate a negative American image at Turin.

"It does concern me to some degree," she said. "But I hope everybody's able to remember, however, that it's an individual thing and if he does do something he regrets, that it's on him, it's not a direct reflection on our country.

"God knows how everybody feels out there right now about our country. I'd say we're probably on some of the shakiest ground we've ever been on, as far as civil support with the direction that our country's moving. I don't want to get political, but who knows, it may be something that's [irritating] Bode." Sunday, in the latest of a series of controversial statements, Miller said on CBS' "60 Minutes" that it's not easy to "to ski when you're wasted."

Late last year, Miller kicked up a storm when he called for the liberalization of anti-doping laws.

Street, like Miller, knows a thing or two about bucking convention

She overcame early-career tantrums and estrangements from the ski team to become a two-time Olympic medalist and a role model for children. The pig-tailed racer with the unusual name capped her career by being selected a flag bearer at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Street said that Miller, the defending World Cup overall champion, might be playing an intellectual game of chicken with ski officials.

"He's trying to see how far he has to go before he gets the bad-boy slash," she said. "I think he also knows well enough how to get himself out of it, now that he's here."

Miller, one of Alpine's brightest medal hopes in Turin, is pushing authority to the brink.

On Tuesday, in an Associated Press interview in Wengen, Switzerland, Phil McNichol, coach of the U.S. men's ski team, questioned whether Miller should remain with the team.

His leaving would not be an unprecedented move. Kristina Kosnick, another medal hopeful in Alpine, trains independently of the U.S. team.

The United States Ski and Snowboard Assn. has been inundated with angry phone calls from sponsors since Miller's "60 Minutes" interview, prompting Bill Marolt, the federation's chief executive, to fly to Switzerland for a meeting with Miller.

Miller is expected to release a statement this week.

Street, who won the silver medal in the downhill at the 1994 Lillehammer Games and gold in super-giant slalom four years later at Nagano, spoke Tuesday from her hometown elementary school in Ketchum, where she was representing Panasonic for a post-ski career project -- Kid Witness News -- that helps teach children video skills.

Street found some irony in conducting Tuesday's phone interview while sitting in the principal's chair at her old school.

Street and Miller come from somewhat similar ski backgrounds -- both were reared in remote areas by counter-culture parents. Street grew up in rural Idaho, Miller in a house without indoor plumbing in Franconia, N.H. Street said she understood how difficult it could be when a headstrong person starts dealing with fame.

"He's growing up," she said of the 28-year-old Miller. "I mean guys grow up right at his age. He's kind of starting to go, 'Am I an old dude or can I still get drunk and go skiing?' "

Despite her uneven start with fame, Street was eventually able to use the media to recast her image.

"What he's doing right now is he's jeopardizing his ability to do that," Street said of Miller. "That's the biggest mistake I see him making. The rest of it, the temper tantrums, everybody's got to grow.... I hope the best for him. I hope he can get a handle on it.

"You never know. It could take somebody really empowering, really powerful in his life, to step in ... "

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