LOS ANGELES (CN) — Former world champion Bode Miller wants to make a comeback, and has sued Head USA, saying his former sponsor won’t let him even try unless he uses its skis.
Miller, 39, says the coming World Cup season is his “last real opportunity to competitively compete in the World cup racing circuit and attract lucrative endorsements needed to provide for his family.”
He asked the court to invalidate the restrictive covenant in his termination agreement with Head and declare that Bomber did not interfere with his agreement with Head and Miller.
Miller and Bomber sued Head USA on Sept. 12 in Los Angeles Federal Court.
Known for his uninhibited style, Miller is the greatest U.S. male ski racer of all time: twice overall World Cup champion, Olympic gold and silver medalist, and one of five men worldwide to win World Cup races in all five categories — slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined.
Miller left the U.S. Ski Team in 2006 to become an independent racer sponsored by Head.
He signed his initial contract with Head on May 1, 2006, and amended it twice, with the contract running until April 30 this year.
He suffered several injuries during his career, including a season-ending injury in February 2015, which prompted his retirement from racing and sent him to look for other work in the ski industry. His May 2015 termination agreement with Head included surrendering future pay, Miller says in the complaint.
Then he agreed to become a brand ambassador for Bomber and help develop its high-end skis. At the time, Miller says, he no longer was in the public eye due to his retirement, and his “viability and marketability as a professional ski racer were rapidly dwindling.”
Now, to “protect his family’s financial future” through endorsements and other earnings, Miller says, he wants to come out of retirement and compete in the 2016-2017 World Cup and World Championships.
Upon learning his plans, Head Sports Group wrote to Bomber through counsel and threatened to sue if Miller used any skis other than Head while competing.
Head demanded that Miller issue a public statement by Monday, Sept. 19, that he will not compete in World Cup and World Championship competition this season unless he uses Head skis, according to the complaint, which quotes from the letter.
Head’s letters “threaten to quash Bode’s desire to achieve his last real chance to competitively participate in the 201-/2017 World Cup circuit and the World Championships,” Miller says.
He and seeks declaratory judgment, attorney’s fees, and costs.
In a statement, Head chairman and CEO Johan Eliasch promised the company would counter Miller’s lawsuit with its own action.
“I am truly very disappointed to see that Bode has no intention to honor his word and that he intends to breach our agreement to that effect,” Eliasch said. “We will take every action to enforce our rights against Bode. That said, Head would welcome Bode’s return to World Cup racing, but it has to be on Head equipment.”
Rainer Salzgeber, director of the Head Ski Race Team added: “Of course I would like to see Bode racing again, but it has to be on Head equipment.”
Miller and Bomber are represented by J. Mark Thacker with Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley, of San Jose, who was not immediately available by telephone Thursday.
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