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The anti-Bode

Knight scraped, persevered in long journey to Turin

Posted: Friday February 24, 2006 2:40PM; Updated: Friday February 24, 2006 3:39PM
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Chip Knight fought hard to earn his berth in Turin while watching many of his younger teammates cruised right past him.
Chip Knight fought hard to earn his berth in Turin while watching many of his younger teammates cruised right past him.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
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TURIN, Italy -- The U.S. Ski Team, like most athletic programs, is a meritocracy. The best performers are treated differently from those who achieve less success.

Case in point: Bode Miller, who earns something in the neighborhood of $5 million per year in sponsorship deals and prize money and -- along with Austrian legend Hermann Maier -- is one of the highest-paid skiers in the world.

Then there is Miller's 31-year-old teammate Chip Knight, who last summer was asked to pay $8,000 toward the cost of keeping his position on the team for the year.

"They called it a 'funding contribution,''' Knight said this week during an interview at the Olympic Village in Sestriere, the Olympic Alpine skiing headquarters in the mountains west of Turin. "It was a little hard to swallow.''

Know this: Knight is not the kind of guy who complains. There's become a common phrase among journalists at the Olympics: the anti-Bode. This phrase was applied first to U.S. downhiller Daron Rahlves, who was widely praised in the run-up to the Olympic downhill because he was kind, patient and deferential with the media, whereas Miller was surly and condescending. The expression -- the anti-Bode -- has subsequently been expanded to include anyone who is generally kind, hard-working and sober (in all its definitions).

Knight, a three-time Olympian, is really the quintessential anti-Bode. He is less sweepingly talented than Miller (who isn't?), but dogged and passionate. Miller has won 20 World Cup races and has groupies; Knight's best World Cup finish in his career is a slalom sixth three years ago (in Sestriere, of all places). He has a wife, Marina, whom he met when both were students at Williams College. She's here as a journalist, covering the Games for the Stowe Reporter in Vermont.

Both Miller and Knight will ski on Saturday in the men's slalom, the last Alpine event of the Games, and Knight's presence in the race -- and the Games as a whole -- is nearly as inspiring as Miller's is disappointing.

Why? Let's go back to the start of the 2004-05 season, which was Knight's 12th on the U.S. Ski Team. Knight started the season ranked No. 31 in the world in slalom, his specialty. The coaching staff sat Knight down and told him they were going to institute age-based criteria to evaluate his continued participation on the team. That meant he had to finish the season ranked in the top 30. He failed to qualify for a second run in any of the first three races of the year, putting him in a deep hole.