Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Proposal for Slalom Races

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

Our friends at the International Ski Federation (FIS) never rest when it comes to thinking of new ideas for changing classic ski racing disciplines. The latest proposal is to increase the number of runs in a slalom race. We tried to interview Bob, our usual contact at the FIS, about this proposal, but he actually had real work to do. But we scored a journalistic coup by convincing Austrian Ski Federation (OeSV) president Peter Schroecksnadel to speak with us. Let's find out what he has to say.

BB: Two seasons ago Austria tried to take back Germany's Fritz Dopfer in exchange for cake and ice cream, but he stayed with Germany (see this story). After last season ended Felix Neureuther, another German racer, announced that he was going to ski for Austria but later told everyone that it was an April Fool's Day joke. Why does Austria seem to have a problem acquiring or keeping German racers?
Schroecksnadel: First of all, it was not just cake and ice cream. It was Sachertorte and ice cream from the shop on the Schwedenplatz in Vienna. There is a big difference. Secondly, how could the OeSV possibly have known that the Germans don't like coffee flavored ice cream? That was the real deal killer. But in our Austrian hearts, we all know that Fritz is one of us. Felix never intended to ski for Austria, as he would have been ineligible. He was trying to play a mean trick on us. We won't forget his antics when racing season starts.
BB: Speaking of racing season, it sounds like the FIS's latest proposal is to increase the number of runs in a slalom race. Tell our readers about it.
Schroecksnadel: The original proposal was just to leave slalom races with two runs. That is how they have always been. But TV ratings for slalom races have been declining, even with our superstar Marcel Hirscher and the US prodigy Mikaela Shiffrin. TV ratings are as important to the FIS as safety.
BB: We are aware of the importance of TV ratings. But that can't be the only reason for the change.
Schroecksnadel: It isn't. The other reason was that fans felt ripped off only seeing two slalom runs. If they are spending the money on a ski racing ticket, they want to buy an all-day experience. With that in mind, the FIS decided to increase the number of runs in a slalom race.
BB: How many runs would a slalom race have if the FIS's proposal passes?
Schroecksnadel: Six.
BB: Six?!?
Schroecksnadel: Yes, six. It's the number between five and seven.
BB: Wouldn't that be awfully tiring for the athletes and the spectators?
Schroecksnadel: No. The FIS originally proposed three runs, but they decided if three was good then six must be better.
BB: How will a slalom race with six runs work?
Schroecksnadel: The original proposal with three runs was that everyone would race in the first run. The top 30 would compete in the second run, just like they do now. For the third run the top 15 from the second run would go on to the third.
BB: One of the things that makes slalom racing so exciting is seeing athletes who are 27th after the first run have a great second run and end up finishing in the top 10. We would lose that with half of the racers being eliminated in the second run. 
Schroecksnadel: It will still be very exciting. Let me explain how the 4th to 6th runs will work, and you will agree that slalom races will take on a new dimension. Run 3 has 15 skiers. After the times are tallied, the top 8 go on to the 4th run. The fastest four athletes after the 4th run will make it into the 5th. Then the 6th run will have the top two from the fifth. It will be so thrilling for the spectators, both live and on TV.
BB: Speaking of watching a six run slalom race on TV, how long will that take? In the winter there are other sports like biathlon, ski jumping, and curling on TV. Will longer slalom races take away from the other winter sports?
Schroecksnadel: The other winter sports don't count. Anyway, a six run slalom race will take up just a little bit more time than a traditional two run race. Instead of three hours between the start of the first and second runs, the next run will start within 15 minutes of the previous one ending. The athletes will have plenty of time to finish their run and take the lift up to the start.
BB: How will the points work?
Schroecksnadel: Just like now, the top 30 will earn points. The number of points for each position will remain the same.
BB: I see. What about course setters? Each race will require six course setters. If you are only allowing 15 minutes between runs, how can the courses be set fairly?
Schroecksnadel: The FIS is working on that issue. Right now the proposal is to have two parallel courses on the same hill. While the racers are competing in the first run, the course setters are on the other side of the course setting up the second run.
BB: If there is such a short time between runs, how can there be a proper course inspection? Has anyone asked the athletes how they feel about competing on a course without a prior inspection?
Schroecksnadel: Of course nobody asked the athletes. According to my friends at the FIS, they never like any of its proposals. Therefore, the FIS never asks for their input anymore. Who wants to be around a group of Negative Nancys? Anyway, the athletes in the World Cup are professional racers who should be used to any course. If they can't ski a course without inspecting it first, maybe they should not be in the World Cup.
BB: Whoa! That's an awfully strong statement. I thought that safety was a priority of the FIS.
Schroecksnadel: Of course it is! But TV ratings and creating excitement for the fans outweigh little things like course inspections, which take up time and make fans want to change the TV channel to curling. Fans at a live race would leave because they got bored waiting for the athletes to inspect the course.
BB: I see. Back to the course setters...Will there really be six per race?
Schroecksnadel: That is one possibility. The other is to have three setting alternate courses or even one who sets every course. The number of course setters has not yet been decided. We may even keep the same course for all six runs. The possibilities for figuring out how course setting will work are endless!
BB: Do you think that so many slalom runs would swing the pendulum back to having a speed specialist win the overall globe? After all, with six runs, there are six times more chances for a DNF than in a speed race. 
Schroecksnadel: Technical races always had a higher chance of DNFs than speed races. Yet the past four overall globe winners have been technical specialists.
BB: But the racers who make the fifth and sixth runs will be very tired and practically burned out. That may make it hard for a technical specialist to win the overall globe if he is worn out before the season is half over.
Schroecksnadel: That is why physical conditioning and endurance are so important for ski racers. The top skiers in a City Event do more than two runs and they survive the experience.
BB: Assuming this proposal for six run slalom races becomes reality, when would it begin?
Schroecksnadel: The FIS is thinking about starting in Levi this November with a three run slalom. If that is successful, then the slalom races after Levi will have six runs. The FIS was originally thinking about having seven runs, where the winner of the 6th run would be the only racer in the seventh. Think of it as a victory lap. But that was voted down.
BB: If the proposal for a six run slalom does indeed go through, the fans will be in for a rather interesting season. 
Schroecksnadel: That is what the FIS hopes for. The fans want excitement and don't want to see the same things over and over again. TV ratings for ski racing will soar!
BB: Let's see what happens. Well, it looks like we are out of time. Herr Shroecksnadel, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us. A six run slalom will definitely be different. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview. 

The Boston Blickbild. Our motto is: If two of our intrepid reporters cover a story, that is good. But if six cover the same story, that is too much of a good thing.

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