New U.S. alcohol policies could cramp victory celebrations

Thursday, November 30th 2006, 8:29 pm
By: News On 6

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) _ There was no traditional bottle of champagne for Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal to spray on his fellow skiers and fans in victory celebrations following his win in a World Cup super-combi Thursday.

Though organizers said they had the bubbly chilled and an awards official had simply forgotten to bring it, the omission came at a time when it was probably better for American skiers not to be around that kind of thing.

Especially if Bode Miller _ for whom many of the new team policies seem to have been designed _ had maintained his lead after the downhill leg of the race.

New U.S. team crackdowns on alcohol consumption forbid athletes and coaches from drinking alcohol in one another's presence, and consumption of alcohol prohibited at team activities such as meetings, dinners, video sessions, training sessions, etc.

Some areas have been left gray, though, including victory celebrations.

``It's one of those big decisions a CEO's gotta make,'' joked Bill Marolt, president and CEO of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. ``We'll talk about that after they win.''

The reforms, set last May, include an alcohol policy and requirements that athletes stay at official team lodging at competitions, meaning they cannot sleep in RVs or converted buses as some had in the past, including Bode Miller, the now-retired Daron Rahlves and Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso.

The new policies are meant to improve performance, but also look like an effort to shake the image that team had lost control over its most talented athletes.

``Obviously I couldn't help but notice that was pretty much addressed toward me as I was the one who started the whole thing and then Daron picked it up also and then Julia, who are coincidentally, the three top athletes besides Lindsey (Kildow),'' Miller said. ``Those rules are all part of the process the team went through this year trying to revamp and re-establish what we're about and where the image is. Obviously they have to manage the team the way they see fit and they get to make those kinds of decisions so I'm sort of out there at their mercy.

``As far as putting the effort in to make those rules, I think it's positive. Whether those rules turn into something positive for the team, or for our image or for our sponsors, is yet to be seen,'' he added.

American Alpine skiers have long had a reputation for late nights, either celebrating victories or blowing off steam during a long European season that rarely allows them to see home, friends or family.

Miller's late nights at the Olympics in Turin caused rivers of ink to flow, while Rahlves openly admitted Austrian rival Stephan Eberharter, one of skiing's downhill masters, advised him to go easy on the partying if he wanted to win the World Cup downhill title.

Olympic downhill champion Tommy Moe severed a tendon in his hand on some broken glass at the famous Londoner bar in Kitzbuehel where he and several other World Cup racers were tending bar after the sport's No. 1 downhill race, the Hahnenkamm.

But Liechtenstein's Marco Buechel defended the need for North Americans to unwind.

``These are drastic measures because the U.S. team used to be the total opposite,'' Buechel said. ``Three, four months in Europe is a long time. We Europeans go home every week. We are home with our wives, family, we can have a drink. Sometimes you need to go out and party to relax and let it go, because if you have to maintain the concentration and be serious all the time, I think you freak out.''

Many athletes are friends with their coaches and say it's sad they can't enjoy a glass of wine together on occasion. Others find it difficult to go out and relax away from their coaches, because ski resorts tend to have limited social venues.

``Some places like Portillo (Chile) where there's one bar and if you want to go watch a `Monday Night Football' game, it's kind of a nuisance if the coaches get down there first and then we can't go watch the football game,'' Ligety said.

Most of the athletes' resentment, however, comes from the fact they weren't consulted about the changes.

``All of us have dreamt about being on the ski team since we were 10 and every one of us is super-psyched,'' Ligety said. ``At the same time, we saw an opportunity to change policy and make life for ourselves a little better on the team. We definitely wanted the opportunity to have some input. I think in general we're kind of disappointed that the ski team wasn't all that psyched to listen to our input for the most part.''

Marolt said the measures were for the good of the team.

``We talk about making this a professional sport, that's what I'm trying to do,'' said Marolt, who took the helm of USSA 1996 and has implemented an innovative business plans which more than doubled funding for athletic programs and has led to record athletic performances. ``The face of this (sport) are the athletes and we want the athletes to have the best possible face. It's not meant to be negative. It's a cultural change, but it's a positive cultural change. When you have change, you have anxiety.

``When you are given special status, and your on a team, or you're a star, you're given special status and special responsibility. You're held to a higher standard.''

The new rules have been mocked by many.

``We're not in kindergarten. I think they are old enough that everyone can make their own decision,'' two-time Olympic champion Hermann Maier said.