It wasn’t all that long ago that I was lauding the Canadian Snowboard Federation for stepping outside the box and making the bold decision to hire Jim Miller as the high performance director of their national team program. A no-nonsense, top-level wrestling coach, (yes, wrestling) Miller’s biggest weakness was his lack of snowboarding experience. But it didn’t seem to faze him. “Doesn’t matter whether you’re a swimmer, a wrestler or a snowboarder, “he explained to me last winter (see Alta States, Jan. 10, 2008). “High performance is high performance. It’s the way you live. It’s what you eat. What you dream. How you approach challenges...”
And it’s not like he underestimated the task. “I would be totally naïve,” he said, “to think that I could walk in, present my ideas to 60 individuals and believe that they would all buy into my story. Still, I think most of them will value what I have to offer...”
Alas, he was wrong. After the team’s most successful season ever — and less than a year after being hired — Miller was summarily fired. The reasons given for his dismissal are legion. But chief among them — at least according to the athletes and coaches — is that their new boss was totally out of touch with snowboarding culture.
I’ve already written at length about snowboarding’s schizophrenic relationship with high performance sports. Born out of rebellion to the status quo, the sport’s formative years were etched in middle-finger salutes to old-school disciplines like ski racing. I still remember Jake Burton going off about the evils of the Olympic movement and how snowboarding would lose its soul if it succumbed to the IOC’s siren song.
As it turns out, he wasn’t far off…
Ironically (or inevitably), snowboarding today has become as mainstream a sport as any its young acolytes dissed in the old days. As for the IOC, its limo-chauffeured members couldn’t be happier. In Torino, for example, the snowboarding events were among the most popular on the Olympic schedule. And American TV ratings went through the roof!
As the French say, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ ….
Speaking of which — with only 20 months left before the Games, and the talent-heavy Canadian Team now without a high performance program boss, the CSF executive had some serious decisions to make this past spring. Being bold and going outside the culture hadn’t worked. Miller had failed to get traction with his charges. So what now?