Sunday, September 22, 2013

World Championship Team Competition Format to Change

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

Before we begin this interview, we want to inform our readers that 2013 downhill world champion Marion Rolland is out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. We will miss her this season and wish her a full recovery.

Our friends at the International Ski Federation (FIS) just can't leave well enough alone. In an ongoing effort to make our beloved sport even more confusing, the FIS decided to change the format of the team competition at the World Championships and World Cup finals starting in 2015. Instead of the traditional parallel slalom format, the teams will engage in a different sort of competition. Here to talk with one of our intrepid reporters about this change is FIS Women's Race Director Atle Skaardal. Let's find out what he has to say.

BB: Mr. Skaardal, please tell our readers about this exciting new change in the team competition format.
Skaardal: Instead of a side-by-side parallel slalom race, the skiers will do a team dance competition.
BB: Wait a minute! This is Alpine ski racing, not "Dancing With the Stars."
Skaardal: Yes, but "Dancing With the Stars" is incredibly popular. People can't seem to get enough of it. People also love the dance routines that the Norwegian men create during summer training. They get a lot of hits on YouTube. In an effort to get a bigger audience for ski racing, we need to find out what people like and give it to them.
BB: But the team competition at both the World Championships and World Cup finals always gets very high ratings. Why change?
Skaardal: Because we can get even higher ratings with a dance competition instead of a parallel slalom race. Our main priority at the FIS is safety. But another big priority is TV ratings. Think of the ratings we would get when Alpine racing is combined with "Dancing With the Stars." It will be unbeatable! The Football (soccer) World Cup final won't have such high ratings.
BB: I don't think that Alpine skiing will ever outdo the Football World Cup finals.
Skaardal: Our focus group in Austria thought that a dance competition for ski racers beat football every time.
BB: I see. (slight pause) So tell us how this competition would work.
Skaardal: Each team will consist of four competitors: 2 male and 2 female. They will compete in each round.
BB: How many rounds will there be?
Skaardal: Two. There will be one compulsory dance and one dance routine that each team can create. The compulsory dance will be about 1.5 minutes long and the routine that each team creates will be 3 to 4 minutes long.
BB: What sorts of compulsory dances will there be?
Skaardal: The standard dances: waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, minuet, tango, and ballet. Before the season starts, the FIS will pick one out of those six dance types and accompanying music. There will be one compulsory dance routine that the teams will learn, in the chosen style of dance. The FIS will send dance instructors and videos to each participating team to teach the skiers the compulsory routines. The teams are responsible for creating their own optional routines. They will have the whole season to learn their routines.
BB: Do the optional routines that the teams create have to be in a classical dance style?
Skaardal: No. They can be any style to any piece of music. Jazz, modern, hip-hop, folk, ballet, square dancing, line dancing, or any other dance style can be used in the optional routine. This is the time for the teams to get creative.
BB: How will the skiers be dressed? It seems like high heels or ballet slippers would not work in the snow. Or would the competition be indoors?
Skaardal: Ski racing is an outdoor sport, so therefore the team dance competition will  be held outdoors. The athletes will wear their speed suits, boots, and helmets. They will also have bibs with their numbers on them, just like in a real race. If the Norwegian men can dance to "Beat It" in their racing gear, then anyone else can too.
BB: You said that one of the possible compulsory dances is a ballet. In ballet it is very important to point your toes and work en pointe. It's impossible to point your toes in ski boots.
Skaardal: Whoever designs the compulsory routines will take that into consideration.
BB: I understand. How will this competition be scored? Will there be an elimination round?
Skaardal: There will be no elimination rounds. Each team will perform their compulsory dance. After the compulsory round, each team will do their optional dance. The compulsory dance will count for one-third of the total score. The optional dance is worth two-thirds. A panel of international judges will score the routines. A perfect score would be 30 points: 10 for the compulsory dance and 20 for the optional.
BB: You said that you will have an international judging panel. Who will these judges be and how will the scoring work?
Skaardal: There will be six judges. The high and low scores will be thrown out and the middle four scores will be averaged. The judges will come from nations that are members of the FIS and will be chosen by lottery. Each judge will be from a different country to prevent bias. At first we will use professional dancing judges, who will also train people from the FIS on how to judge dancing. Once the FIS has enough judges trained, then we will use our own.
BB: Do you think that Norway will have an advantage because of its experience in choreographing dance routines?
Skaardal: I don't think so. Well, maybe in the optional round, but they also need to have a high score in the compulsory round.
BB: How do you think the fans will react to a dance competition instead of a parallel slalom race?
Skaardal: I think they will enjoy it because they can see both speed and technical skiers in this competition. The parallel slaloms are done mainly by technical skiers. A dance competition gives speed skiers the chance to be part of a team competition. In fact, speed skiers have been complaining about how they feel left out of a team competition because it is a technical race. Now they have their chance to earn a team medal.
BB: What about teams which have fewer than four members?
Skaardal: Two teams which have less than four members can combine into one team. For example, let's say that only two of the Japanese racers are interested in participating in the team competition. They can combine with athletes from another small team, like Slovakia, and be eligible. The only restriction is that combined teams have to be from countries that are not already participating in the team competition.
BB: Wouldn't it be hard for a combined team to practice its routines?
Skaardal: Yes. But it can be done.
BB: If a combined team were to win a medal, which country would get it?
Skaardal: Both of them.
BB: If a country has a large number of racers, like Austria, can it form two or more teams?
Skaardal: No. Just like at the World Championships or World Cup finals, there will only be one team per country.
BB: The parallel slalom format was easy for fans to understand because it was two skiers against each other and the clock. The team with the fastest skiers won. A judged competition is subjective and depends on the judges' preferences.
Skaardal: I understand that. But the concept of being the fastest is very outdated. Speed is overrated. If the FIS wants to keep its viewers, we must step into the 21st century. Those who are not as fast on the pistes also deserve a chance to win a medal.
BB: What will the skiers be judged on in each dance?
Skaardal: Everyone must do the same dance in the compulsory round. The skiers will be judged by how close they come to an ideal for that dance. Of course the judges will take into account that the skiers are wearing speed suits, helmets and boots. Compulsory routines also allow the judges to directly compare the skiers against each other.
BB: And what about the dance that each team creates?
Skaardal: The skiers will be judged on how well their dance moves fit the music or song, originality, and dance ability in general.
BB: Tell us about the music.
Skaardal: The compulsory routines will be performed to the same pieces of music for each dance. Let's say that the compulsory dance is a waltz. It will have one piece of music and prescribed steps and moves that everyone must perform in the same order. But in the optional round, the teams can choose any music they wish. It can be instrumental or vocal.
BB: How do the athletes feel about this new format? They are already so busy with training on snow and in the gym plus traveling from one location to the next. It would be hard for them to find time to practice two dance routines.
Skaardal: We didn't ask the athletes how they felt. I would imagine that countries with stronger speed teams would like it because they would actually have a chance of winning a team medal. But it doesn't really matter how the athletes feel. They have gotten used to every change that the FIS has made and lived to tell about it.
BB: Let's say in a few years "Dancing With the Stars" fades out. Will the FIS still keep the dance competiton or go back to a parallel slalom?
Skaardal: We will make that decision when the time comes. For now, the team competition will be a dancing competition.
BB: I'm sure that the FIS will come up with even more ways to keep ski racing exciting and following the popular trends. Mr. Skaardal, I want to thank you for your time. We are looking forward to the debut of the team dance competition at the 2015 World Championships. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview.

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