Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Rules for Olympic Qualification

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

Just when you think you have heard everything from the International Ski Federation (FIS), it comes up with something else that makes you shake your head in wonder. The FIS has proposed new limits on the numbers of ski racers who will be able to participate in the Olympic Games in Sochi next month. There are also new requirements for qualification to the Olympics. Our intrepid reporters were sent to the FIS headquarters in Switzerland to get all of the details. Nobody in the higher echelons of the FIS was willing to talk with us. Our favorite contact at the FIS, who is known as Bob, talked with our intrepid reporter. Let's find out what Bob has to say.

BB: Bob, you always seem to have the time to talk with us. Don't you do any real work?
Bob: Yes. A big part of my job is dealing with the media. I enjoy talking with you because I know that the Blickbild has the most intrepid reporters in the business.
BB: We certainly do. (short pause) Can you tell us the new rules for Olympic qualification?
Bob: Of course. There are two requirements for each team. First of all, each team will be limited to a maximum of ten racers.
BB: Would that be 10 male and 10 female racers?
Bob: No, that is a total of 10 racers from each team. Countries can decide on the number of male and female racers as long as they have a maximum of ten.
BB: Will there still be a limit of four racers per country in each race?
Bob: Yes. That won't change.
BB: That doesn't make sense. Most racers are either speed or technical specialists. There are very few true all-around ski racers anymore. Teams need more than 10 racers to fill all of the available slots in the races. 
Bob: We had to come up with these limits. In the Olympics only 320 Alpine skiers will be allowed to compete. The International Olympic Committee wants representation from as many countries as possible. In order to let skiers from Togo and Fiji compete, we had to reduce the number of racers from the powerhouse countries like Austria and Switzerland.
BB: The Olympics are where the world's best compete. Spectators would rather see more skiers from Austria, who are the world's best, than a snowplower from a country in Africa that nobody can find on a map.
Bob: That is where you are wrong. The important thing is not winning, but taking part. If a racer from Upper Volta competes, that fulfills the Olympic ideal more than an Austrian medal sweep. It's not about the medals; it's about letting those from the little countries who have no chance at a medal feel good about themselves because they are Olympic athletes.
BB: Upper Volta no longer exists. It's now Burkina Faso.
Bob: Regardless, having skiers from non-powerhouse nations in the Olympics will generate interest in ski racing in those countries. One day Burkina Faso could supplant Austria as the world's best skiing country.
BB: That will be when pigs fly. Anyway, tell our readers about the second requirement for Olympic qualification.
Bob: The qualification period started last January and continues until the end of this month. Racers need to have had a podium finish in a World Cup race during that time for automatic qualification in that discipline. If there are still open spaces on each team, then those with top-5 or top-10 finishes will be allowed. Skiers from small nations must be ranked in the top 3 from their countries in order to compete at the Olympics. Racers must also have a valid result in at least 8 races in a discipline for that period.
BB: Is there an exception for super-combined races? There were only two last season and there will only be one more before the qualification period closes.
Bob: No exceptions.
BB: That basically means that there will not be a super-combined race at the Olympics, since nobody can fulfill the requirements. 
Bob:  Super-combined is the least interesting discipline and nobody would miss it.
BB: That's not true. A lot of people like super-combined because a racer needs both good speed and technical skills. The fans like to see the true all-arounders who can excel in both the downhill and slalom. 
Bob: There will still be downhill and slalom races at the Olympics. Because of the limits on the number of team members, a team can have a slalom specialist compete in a downhill race or vice versa.
BB: You said before that a podium finish in a World Cup race gives a skier automatic qualification to the Olympics. What if a country has more than 10 racers with podium finishes during the qualification period?
Bob: We will allow those racers to compete, but they must pick a different country to compete for. The country that they choose must have less than 10 racers on it.
BB: So if there are 12 Austrians who gained automatic qualification through podium finishes, then two must compete for another country?
Bob: That is correct. The two extra Austrians can compete for Mexico, Thailand, Malawi, or any other country with fewer than 10 racers.
BB: I see. What about racers who were injured for part of the qualification period and could not compete in the required number of races?
Bob: They should have had better timing with their injuries. They knew when the qualification period was and should have gotten injured at a different time.
BB: Bode Miller was injured last season and did not compete at all. Are you saying that he won't be able to defend his Olympic super-combined title because he was injured and could not compete in the required number of races?
Bob: Yes. But that is not really such a big deal because there won't be a super-combined race anyway. Nobody was able to meet the minimum race requirement for super-combined, so that is a moot point.
BB: Let me see if I have this right. I'll go through each point. Each country is allowed a maximum of 10 members on its team. 
Bob: Correct.
BB: Any racer with a podium finish in a World Cup race gets automatic Olympic qualification. If more than 10 racers from one country have automatic qualification through podium finishes, then the extras have to choose a different country to compete for.
Bob: Right.
BB: How will a country with extra racers decide who competes for a different one?
Bob: It's up to each country to decide how to handle the extra racers. The most fair ways seem to be: drawing straws, playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, or having a spelling competition.
BB: If a country does not have enough racers with World Cup podium finishes, then it can choose those with top-5 or top-10 results in World Cup races. Also, each racer needs results in at least 8 races in the qualification period. There also will not be a super-combined race at the Olympics because there were fewer than 8 races during the qualification period. 
Bob: Yes to all of those.
BB: There will be no exceptions for those who could not compete during the qualification period because of injuries. 
Bob: That's right. Don't forget that racers ranked in the top 3 in their countries are automatically eligible to compete in Sochi. We will see the very best ski racers from Tonga, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Nicaragua at the Olympics. That will be an experience that the fans will never forget.
BB: Especially if those Tongans or Nicaraguans are really Austrians or Italians. Well it looks like we are out of time. Bob, I want to thank you for your time. You have been very informative, as usual. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview. 

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