World ski body FIS airs new ideas to rethink alpine racing; downhills added
The Associated Press
GENEVA — Aiming to make their sport more dynamic and appealing, alpine skiing officials on Thursday discussed new race formats and the possibility of more frequent world championships.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) used its preseason meeting for alpine team leaders, athletes and race organizers to air ideas such as staging marquee downhill events in separate races for elite and lower-ranked racers.
The idea of adding a third world championship during the four-year Olympic cycle was also raised. Currently, the alpine worlds are held in February of each odd-numbered year.
“We have the idea to implement another big event,” FIS secretary general Michel Vion said, suggesting something like a “mini Olympic Games” could be created in 2024 or 2028 — years when no major championships are on the schedule.
New race formats and broadcasting innovation were promised by new FIS president Johan Eliasch when he was elected in June. He is just its fifth president in 97 years.
Eliasch, the billionaire long-time boss of Head ski and tennis brand, set up working groups to explore new ideas.
It would not be enough to change just a little bit, FIS marketing director Jürg Capol told the online meeting while offering radical ideas to rethink the alpine schedule.
Capol outlined a focus on the traditional downhill, giant slalom and slalom events that envisaged dropping super-G. The second speed discipline joined the World Cup program in 1982 and the Olympics at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.
Capol also suggested a downhill structure of A- and B-level races on the same day with promotion and relegation during the season.
A top-tier race could showcase just 24 elite downhillers. A World Cup downhill typically has more than 50 starters and continues long after the podium result is known.
Offering more compact broadcast slots, Capol’s vision included splitting alpine’s traditional disciplines into “Classic” and a “Shorter Race” format of less than one hour.
Athlete representative Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen said more night events raced under floodlights were likely in future seasons.
No formal proposal has been drafted but FIS is expected to develop ideas before a congress of national federations next May in Portugal.
FIS already cut the fifth Olympic discipline, alpine combined, from the World Cup circuit this season, although men’s and women’s medal races will be held at the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics.
The two main courses to be used at the Olympics — separate but nearby hills for speed and technical races at Yanqing — are “relatively steep” and “very, very challenging,” FIS official Atle Skaardal said.
World Cup racers have not skied on those slopes because visits and test races were canceled as the COVID-19 outbreak spread into a pandemic.
World Cup to add cross-border Swiss-Italian downhills
A downhill race that starts in Switzerland and ends in Italy will be added to alpine skiing’s World Cup program as soon as next year.
FIS confirmed the plan on Friday for men’s and women’s races beneath the iconic Matterhorn mountain near to upscale ski resort Zermatt, likely in the 2022-23 season.
The course to stage the first cross-border races since the World Cup began in 1967 has been designed by Didier Defago, the Swiss men’s downhill champion at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Details of the course were not given on Friday, though local organizers said last year they hoped to create the longest men’s downhill of 5 kilometers (3 miles). That could run to about 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
The glacier snow at a high-altitude start — about 3,900 meters (12,800 foot) at Gobba di Rollin — means the first speed races in the World Cup season can be held earlier and in Europe, likely in early November.
The traditional season-opening downhills and super-Gs are in Lake Louise, Canada, and in Beaver Creek in late November and early December before the World Cup returns to Europe.
“I am very excited that we can embrace ideas that bring our sport forward and offer new possibilities,” FIS president Johan Eliasch said in a statement.
The Swiss and Italian ski federations are cooperating on hosting the races and opening the slopes to all nations for preseason training. FIS is aiming to reduce travel and carbon emissions by a sport which faces challenges from the changing climate.
Adding extra speed races to the World Cup also aims to meet the requests of athletes who asked for a better balanced schedule.
The overall World Cup titles have been dominated in recent years by skiers who specialize in slalom and giant slalom.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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