Friday, June 7, 2013

FIS Announces New Competition Format Changes

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

International Ski Federation (FIS) delegates are enjoying a holiday in Dubrovnik, Croatia basking in the sun, taking side trips, and eating delicious Croatian food. In between their excursions and meals they met about planning upcoming race schedules for the next few seasons. But the Blickbild beat the competition in bringing our readers a story that nobody else is brave enough to print. We have just learned that the FIS will change how ski racing competitions will be run starting in the 2016/17 season. One of our intrepid reporters in Dubrovnik caught up with FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper during a break in the action. Let's find out what Herr Kasper has to say.

BB: Herr Kasper, please tell our readers about these new and exciting changes to FIS World Cup races.
Kasper: There will be two big changes. The first is that all ski races will use a City Event format. The second is that there will be at least one race on every continent except Antarctica.
BB: Why will all races be City Events?
Kasper: The City Events in Munich and Moscow have been very successful in promoting Alpine skiing. Both the athletes and spectators enjoy these events. We have had very good attendance at both the Munich and Moscow events.
BB: The Munich events were well-attended. But only about 100 people showed up in Moscow for the 2013 City Event.
Kasper: In 2012 only about 20 people attended the Moscow event. We made the mistake of scheduling it on the same night as a Champions League football match. For the 2013 City Event the FIS made sure that no football matches were being played in Moscow and the attendance quintupled.
BB: I see your point. Were there any other reasons for having only City Events?
Kasper: Tickets to ski races cost a lot of money. At most competitions the spectators only see the very end. They watch most of the race on the big video screen. So our fans are basically paying to watch TV. They could watch the whole race for free at home and stay warm. At City Events the spectators can see the whole course from start to finish. They will get their money's worth when they attend a World Cup race. Also, even though speed races last a long time, they are usually over by the time the 30th racer finishes. But the fans have to sit through more racers before the award ceremony. Giant slalom and slalom races are all day affairs. A City Event only takes about two hours, which is much less time than a traditional race.
BB: I can understand that. I'd much rather be at home in front of the TV drinking hot chocolate instead of sitting or standing outside in the cold for hours to watch a race. Was that the only consideration for changing the race format?
Kasper: No. Another factor was weather and snow conditions. FIS course workers spend a lot of time preparing a race course. One snowstorm can ruin a perfectly prepared course as can wind and fog. A City Event requires a lot less preparation time than a traditional race. We just need to build the ramp, put snow on it, set up the gates, and voila, the course is ready. No having to cancel races due to bad weather or too much fresh snow.
BB: Does this mean that there will be no more races in the disciplines of downhill, Super-G, giant slalom, slalom, and combined?
Kasper: Not at all. But they will be run on parallel courses on ramps in the different disciplines.
BB: What about races in traditional venues like Wengen or Kitzbuehel? The reason those races are classics is because of the courses. It is exciting to see how a racer handles the Mausfalle in Kitzbuehel or watching him go under the train bridge in Wengen. That would be lost skiing on a ramp instead of on the natural piste.
Kasper: At the FIS we are working on the technology to give racers the look and feel of a real ski run while skiing on a ramp. We are developing video technology that makes the racers think they are on a natural piste in that venue and we're also working on the same technology that is used in flight simulators to give the athletes the feel of a real piste. Those items are currently in the testing phase and should be ready by October 2016 in Soelden.
BB: Wouldn't that be a lot of work to build new ramps in every race location for the different disciplines?
Kasper: Not at all. FIS engineers have developed portable ramps that can easily be put up and taken down. We will have two sizes of ramps, one for downhill and Super-G and one for giant slalom and slalom. The ramps for the speed events are about twice as long as the ones for the technical disciplines, which are the same size as current City Event ramps. We can change the gate configuration based on the type of race being run on the ramps. For the slaloms we will also use slalom poles instead of gates. It will be just like a race on a natural ski run, only the athletes will compete side-by-side as they do in the current City Events.
BB: How will a super-combined race be run? Will there be two ramps?
Kasper: We will use the downhill/Super-G ramp, but the slalom course will start halfway down the ramp. The racers will still compete side-by-side; but one side will be set up for the slalom and the other for the downhill. One racer will start on the slalom and the other on the downhill. Then they will switch and the two times will be added.
BB: How will the courses be set?
Kasper: The FIS will set the downhill courses and ensure that both sides have the exact gate configuration. The other events will be set by representatives from the various countries, just like they are now. Nations with racers in the top 15 in their respective disciplines are eligible to set the courses. Course setters will be determined before the season begins.
BB: What about Ante Kostelic? Will he be allowed to set any courses?
Kasper: Not on your life! If Croatia has skiers in the top 15, the FIS will designate an alternate course setter. There is no way Ante Kostelic will be allowed anywhere near a course!
BB: Will you use the same single elimination format as the current City Events?
Kasper: Yes. The racers will do two runs, one on each side of the ramp. Winners are determined by the combined time of both runs. If there is a tie after both runs, the skiers will play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who goes on to the next round. The skiers will compete in rounds until there is a winner. The two semi-finalists who did not make it to the final will also compete for third and fourth places.
BB: Will the point system change, and if so, how?
Kasper: Yes. We will keep the traditional system of the top 30 racers getting points. Since there will be 32 competitors in a race under the new format, two racers will not receive points. First place is worth 100 points, second 80, third 60 and fourth 50. The skiers who get knocked out in the quarter finals, which would be places five through eight, will each get 25 points. The racers who are eliminated in the second round, places nine through sixteen, will each receive 10 points. All of the skiers who lose their first round races, except for two, will receive one point for participation.
BB: How will you determine which two skiers will not get a participation point?
Kasper: After the first round, we will put 16 pieces of paper in a bowl. Fourteen will have a number 1 printed on them. The other two will have a sad face. The skiers who lose their first round races will draw a piece of paper from the bowl. The ones who get the papers with the 1 will get a point. The ones who draw a sad face will get zero.
BB: The City Events have been criticized as being exclusionary because only 16 men and 16 women can participate. How will the FIS determine who will get to participate in the new races? In a traditional race there can sometimes be over 70 participants.
Kasper: As I said earlier, the new system will allow 32 men or women to compete in a race. The week before the race, all of the racers who are interested in participating will put their names into a Tombola. A representative from the FIS will pick 32 racers to compete and also three alternates. The alternates will compete only if one of the original 32 racers is too injured or ill to compete. All athletes will have their names on only one piece of paper. They don't get extra chances because of their World Cup ranking. Therefore, every athlete has an equal chance of getting to race on a given weekend. During finals the top 15 ranked skiers in each discipline will compete along with the junior world champions, with only 15 getting points.
BB: So if previous World Cup overall winners like Lindsey Vonn, Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Tina Maze, Carlo Janka, Aksel Lund Svindal, Benni Raich, Ivica Kostelic, or Marcel Hirscher never get chosen for a race, what happens?
Kasper: It's too bad for them. They have the same chance as anyone else of being chosen. We will not show any preference toward any racer, though if the paper with Christof Innerhofer's name seems to be missing from the Tombola, we will say that we can't understand how that could have happened.
BB: Now let's talk about where these races will take place. Will all of them take place in the middle of a city? What about traditional race venues like Soelden, Wengen, or Kitzbuehel?
Kasper: We will keep races in the traditional places, but they will be on the ramps instead of the pistes. There will also be races in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Wellington, and New York City for the men. Women will race in Nairobi, Rio, Wellington, and Los Angeles. Finals will be held in Dubai for both men and women.
BB: Wait a minute! Most of these places are either south of the Equator, where it's summer during World Cup racing season, or they don't have a real winter. How do you expect to hold a ski race in Dubai when it isn't cold enough to snow?
Kasper: All of the non-traditional venues where we will hold races have indoor skiing halls. The air conditioning in the skiing halls will be on to keep things cold. The snow just has to last the two hours of the race. We have already checked to ensure that our ramps will fit in the indoor arenas.
BB: Why didn't the FIS choose places in cold weather cities? Wouldn't the people who live in colder climates tend to ski more than those in warm cities?
Kasper: A lot of people who live in the Los Angeles and New York City areas ski. There are ski resorts that are a short drive away from both of those cities. Many of the ski teams do their summer and fall training in South America or New Zealand. We are also trying to generate interest for skiing in Africa and Asia. Think about the populations of Africa and Asia. That is a lot of people who could take up skiing or attend a race. We need to bring the races to them and then they will want to ski themselves. Dubai is the sports capital of the world. Every sport has a major tournament there. World Cup skiing is the only sport that does not have a competition in Dubai. With Dubai hosting the World Cup finals, skiing can become part of the sporting culture there. If the 2017 finals are successful, Dubai may even become a regular stop on the World Cup tour.
BB: How do the athletes feel about racing on a ramp? Won't they feel shortchanged because they are going from a real piste to a much shorter ramp?
Kasper: All of the important people at the FIS have unanimously approved this new racing format. We heard from the athletes, but did not like what they had to say. The two most important priorities at the FIS are safety and always being right.
BB: What about the 2017 World Championships? Will they be on a ramp?
Kasper: Yes, of course. It will be the most exciting World Championships because the spectators will actually be able to see the full races.
BB: What about the 2018 Olympics?
Kasper:  The Olympic ski races will also be on ramps and not on the real pistes.
BB: How will Olympic and World Championship teams be decided? The current system allows up to four skiers per event per country.
Kasper: Up to four skiers per team on each event will be able to place their names in the Tombola. Five days before the race, FIS officials will draw 32 names. Those 32 skiers will be the ones who compete in the races.
BB: That seems rather unfair that a skier who has been training for many years for the Olympics or World Championships could be denied a chance to compete because his or her name was not drawn.
Kasper: Not really. Everyone who shows up for the Olympics or World Championships now has an equal chance to compete and win a medal. It won't be just those from the skiing powerhouse countries who will earn medals. Those who don't make it into the individual competitions can always compete in the team events.
BB: Don't you feel that the next few seasons will be sad because they will be the last ones run on real pistes?
Kasper: Our sport needs to change with the times. If we never changed, the athletes would still be racing on wooden skis and wearing sweaters and stretch pants instead of speed suits. Think of this change as our sport growing and evolving just like changes with ski technology and clothing. Anyway, TV ratings for City Events are even higher than for traditional races. While safety is of course a priority, TV ratings are also very important to the FIS. The team event at World Cup finals, which is run similarly to a City Event, gets even higher TV ratings than the men's downhill race. We need to satisfy our fans. If the fans want City Events, that is what the FIS will give them.
BB: I see. Herr Kasper, I want to thank you for your time. I'm sure that ski fans all over the world are looking forward to these changes. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview.

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