Wednesday, February 20, 2013

More New Changes for the 2013/14 Season

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

One of the new innovations tried out during the recent World Championships in Schladming was the helmet camera. Several racers in the men's slalom race were shown with the "Helmet Cam" point of view. Reviews were mixed, with some fans thinking it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, while others preferred the more traditional view. The Helmet Cam is here to stay and will be worn by all racers starting next season. While others have published articles about the Helmet Cam, the Blickbild was  the first to report about the other changes that will take effect next season. But a new scoring system is on the horizon, which will make ski racing even more exciting for the fans. The Blickbild was granted an interview with the Gunther Hujara, the International Ski Federation's (FIS) Men's Chief World Cup Race Director, to discuss what's in store for the athletes and fans next season.

BB: Herr Hujara, we at the Blickbild are honored that you chose us as the one to announce this thrilling new change. Tell our readers about it.
Hujara: It will make races more suspenseful for the spectators. Instead of a speed race being decided before the first 30 skiers have finished, fans will have to wait for the last racer to finish before the winners are determined. The skiers with start numbers 31 and higher will actually have people watching them. This new system will also allow skiers in technical racers who finish outside the top 30 in their first runs to have an opportunity to earn World Cup points.
BB: But most of the time the winners in both speed and technical races have start numbers from 1 to 30.
Hujara: That is correct because they are usually the fastest. But starting next season, the fastest skier may not necessarily be the winner.
BB: That doesn't make sense. Ski races, like running or swimming races, are against the clock. The fastest person is the winner.
Hujara: It has been that way up until now. But fans want to watch more than just fast skiing. They want to see different people on the podium because they are tired of the same people winning all the time. Athlete safety is a big priority at the FIS, but so is making the races exciting for the fans. Suspense about the winner adds to the thrill. The FIS found the TV ratings for World Cup skiing have been declining and we are determined to reverse this trend. The Blickbild is not the only place with an intrepid research team. The FIS has one too. It may even be as intrepid as yours.
BB: Nobody's researchers are more intrepid than the Blickbild's, though the FIS team may be a close second. (short pause) Please explain how the new system for determining race winners will work.
Hujara: Speed will still be a big part of who wins a ski race. But skiers will also be judged on a combination of execution and artistic impression. Speed will count for two-thirds of a skier's score, with execution and artistic impression counting for one-third.
BB: Excuse me, Herr Hujara, but aren't you confusing Alpine skiing with figure skating or artistic gymnastics?
Hujara: Not at all. But figure skating and artistic gymnastics get the highest ratings at the Olympics, so the FIS thought it would incorporate some of the ideas from those sports into ski racing. 
BB: I see. How exactly will a skier's execution and artistic impression be determined?
Hujara: We will have a panel of six specially-trained judges watching the race. They will judge skiers on their appearance...
BB: Their appearance? What does that have to do with racing and being the fastest down the mountain?
Hujara: (in a stereotypically gay voice) It is very painful on the eyes when a skier's speed suit, boots, and helmet don't match. Look at someone like Maria Hoefl-Riesch. She wears a purple helmet, black and white speed suit with pink sleeves, and blue boots. Big time clash! The ski fashion police would arrest her in an instant! (back to his normal voice) At the FIS safety is our biggest priority. But we also believe that if an athlete looks good, he will feel good and therefore perform to his maximum potential. Skiers will also be judged on their execution and artistry. We call this the E and A score. Appearance is just one part of the E and A score.
BB: Please tell our readers how that works.
Hujara: I started to tell you before you interrupted and sidetracked me! Anyway, six judges will watch the athlete and give him or her a score for execution and artistic impression. The high and low score will be thrown out and the 4 middle scores will be averaged. A skier can score a maximum of 10 points for execution and artistry.
BB: How can you add time and points? They are different units. Do you plan to convert the racers' times to seconds and then add the execution score?
Hujara: Good question. Here's how the scoring will work. In speed races the fastest racer will get 10 points, the second, 9.9, the third 9.8 and down by one-tenth of a point for each place to the last finisher. The actual time won't count, it will be the place points. But they are related to speed, since the fastest racer gets the most points. That score will be doubled and the E and A score will be added to that score. In the slalom, giant slalom, and combined races, it will be slightly different. The top racer after the first run will get 10 points, second 9.9, third 9.8, etc. His or her E and A score for the first run will be divided by two. The skier with the best second run will receive 10 points, second best 9.9, third best 9.8 on down to the last finisher. His E and A score for that run will be divided by two. The points for time plus the E and A scores from both runs will be added together for the final score. Technical races will also allow everyone who finished the first run into the second. Like in the Olympics or World Championships, the top 30 will start in reverse order, then the 31st down to the last. Someone outside the top 30 could have a chance of earning points.
BB: That sounds rather confusing. Wouldn't it be much simpler for the fans if  time was the sole determination of who wins a race? That system has worked for many years and people can easily understand it. It doesn't get much simpler than the fastest person wins.
Hujara: Any change can be disorienting at first. I remember the days when racers wore knit beanies and used wooden skis. Our sport has changed with the new innovations in equipment technology and course safety. But we kept the same antiquated system of deciding who wins races. Now it is time to get into the 21st century and have a complex scoring system just like other sports use.
BB: How will the points work for World Cup globes?
Hujara: We will keep the current system of having the top 30 in each race earning points. Winners will get 100 points down to 30th place earning one point. It is just the system used to determine winners which will change.
BB: What if there is a tie after adding the time and E and A points?
Hujara: Then both racers will get the same number of World Cup points, just like now.
BB: What things are the judges looking for in both speed and technical races?
Hujara: In speed races, racers will be judged on how close to an ideal line they come, if they stay within the course lines, the form of their tuck position, their general body line and position, and how they land their jumps. In technical races the athletes will be judged on how smoothly they execute their turns, body line and position, body looseness or tension, and balance. They will also be judged on how well their boots and helmets match their speed suits.
BB: What sorts of things will be E and A deductions?
Hujara: In a speed race going out of bounds will be a 0.5 deduction. Skiers go out of bounds because they are not racing with good technique. Our courses are perfectly safe and there should be no reason to go outside the lines. Late turns will be a deduction as will sliding. Deductions will also be made for poor form in the air and during landings on jumps in downhill races. In technical races skiers will be deducted for looking like they are struggling with the gates and if their skis come apart during the turns. Small errors will be about 0.1 point each, but they can add up quickly. Straddling a gate in a slalom race is also a 0.5 point deduction. In all races, wearing speed suits, boots, and helmets with clashing colors will also be a deduction.
BB: What if an athlete fails to finish a race?
Hujara: He will still get E and A points for the portion of the course that he completed. For example, if a skier goes out at the 60 percent point of a downhill or Super-G, he will not get any time points but he will get an E and A score out of 10 points, which will be multiplied by 60 percent. In a two run race, if an athlete goes out in the first run, he will just get E and A points for the percentage of the course he completed. If he goes out in the second run, his partial E and A score from the second run will be added to his time and E and A scores from the first run.
BB: Whose idea was it to change the scoring system?
Hujara: There were two main forces behind changing the scoring system.The first was that fans get bored when the same people win races. Who wants to watch Lindsey Vonn win another downhill, Ted Ligety another giant slalom, and Marcel Hirscher another slalom? When fans know who will win a race before it even starts, they switch to something that has an element of surprise and suspense. If a skier wants to win a race, he must not only be fast, he must also  have great technique and a matching ensemble. The second reason came from the smaller countries. They have skiers with good technique who are not fast enough to place in the top 30 in their races. The new scoring system gives little countries like Hungary, the Netherlands, and Fiji a chance to earn points in World Cup races.
BB: How do the traditional ski power countries like Austria and Switzerland feel about this change?
Hujara: The athletes were polled about it and almost all of them hated it. But their opinions don't count with the FIS. Like the fans, the athletes have a big tendency to resist change but they end up embracing it. Look at all the squawking and crying that took place about the new giant slalom skis. Ted Ligety, who complained the most about them, is having the most success in giant slalom this season. But the Swiss men's speed team actually liked the idea of the new scoring system. The Swiss men would earn high E and A scores, which would compensate for their lack of speed this season.
BB: But isn't the Swiss men's speed team competing in women's races next season?
Hujara: Yes, but both men and women will be using the new scoring system.
BB: How will the judges be certified, and which countries will they come from?
Hujara: At first we will use figure skating and gymnastics judges. They understand good form and technique. In the meantime we will train our own judges. Judges will come from from every country that is registered with the FIS.
BB: Aren't you worried about national biases coming out with the judges? If there is an Austrian judge on the panel, the others may complain that there is judging bias when an Austrian skier gets a high E and A score.
Hujara: As I said before, there are six judges on the panel. The high and low scores are thrown out, eliminating the possibility of a judge overscoring a skier from his or her country and underscoring those from other countries. We have also developed special software that will match judges' scores with racers' videos to determine if there is collusion among judges. Safety is a huge priority at the FIS, but so is neutrality in judging.
BB: Good point. Well, Herr Hujara, I want to thank you for taking the time to explain the new ski racing scoring system. I'm sure the fans will love it once they are used to it. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview.

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