Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Soelden Advance Preview

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

Recently Lindsey Vonn and Roger Federer had a tennis match in the Swiss Alps. Even though the first races of the season are just under two months away, we got a sneak peek at what could be the main event of the Soelden race weekend. What does the Soelden race weekend have to do with Lindsey and Roger, neither of whom will even be there? One of our intrepid reporters went to Soelden and was able to meet up with Burgermeister (mayor) Ernst Schoepf to find out how the Vonn/Federer tennis match and the Soelden races are related. Let's find out what he has to say.

BB: How are the preparations for the races going?
Schoepf: Very well. The performers are rehearsing for the opening ceremony and the other featured acts are also preparing to be on the world stage.
BB: Most of the racers have started their on-snow training to prepare for Soelden. Judging from some of the summer race results, we may see a surprise or two.
Schoepf: You never know. Speaking of surprises, we will have an event that will make the ski races seem dull and boring by comparison.
BB: Wait a minute! Soelden is all about the opening races of a new ski season. Nothing is more important, or exciting, to the fans than seeing who wins the first races of the season.
Schoepf: Oh, you are so wrong! Forget about Ted Ligety winning again in Soelden. Our Battle of the Sexes 2014 will be the highlight of the season.
BB: Battle of the Sexes? The International Ski Federation (FIS) ruled two years ago that women cannot compete in men's races and vice versa.
Schoepf: Lindsey Vonn and Roger Federer competed against each other a couple of months ago. Nobody told them that they couldn't play tennis against each other.
BB: It was not a very memorable match, since our intrepid research team could not find one person who knew who won. Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs have Lindsey and Roger beaten by 41 years. Everyone knows that Billie Jean was the clear winner in the original Battle of the Sexes tennis match.
Schoepf: How are they supposed to know about a tennis match from 1973? Neither Roger nor Lindsey was even born then. Anyway, this competition will feature animals instead of people.
BB: Animals? 
Schoepf: Yes animals. It will be a canine Battle of the Sexes.
BB: This is getting more and more intriguing. You are saying that a dog race will be more appealing to ski racing fans than the giant slalom races?
Schoepf: That's right. The female dog will be Marcel Hirscher's former seeing eye dog Whitey (see this story). She will compete in a special match race against Felix Neureuther's dog Buddy.
BB: Who will you cheer for?
Schoepf: I will cheer for Whitey. I think that Buddy is a very good and fast dog, but I must cheer for my fellow Austrian.
BB: What kind of race will it be? Whitey was Marcel's guide dog for a couple of seasons and would have the advantage on a ski slope. 
Schoepf: They will compete side-by-side on special skis.
BB: Are you telling me that there are special skis for dogs?
Schoepf: What do you think Whitey used when she guided Marcel?
BB: She didn't use skis but simply ran. Whitey was fast enough by herself that she didn't need skis. She was one of the very few dogs who could keep up with Marcel on a ski slope, which is why she was his guide dog. (short pause) So you are saying that this is basically a parallel slalom race but with dogs instead of people?
Schoepf: No. They will ski down one of the pistes in Soelden, which will be turned into a downhill course for this event. But they will be side-by-side so that the fans can directly compare them. Ski racing fans of course look forward to the races in Soelden. But they must wait even longer for the speed races to start. What better way to give the fans technical races and a speed race in the same weekend! You also have a male and female racing against each other, which adds to the excitement.
BB: I'm sorry, but this sounds absurd, even by our standards.
Schoepf: It is not absurd at all. If Whitey beats Buddy, then the FIS may start allowing women to compete in men's races. Lindsey Vonn could get her wish to compete against men after all.
BB: OK, I can see dogs possibly being forerunners in the giant slalom races. That would be something new and different for the opening races of the season. But racing against each other on skis? Have they even practiced on skis?
Schoepf: Of course they have. They are turning in some training times that could even challenge Aksel Lund Svindal or Matthias Mayer on a real downhill course.
BB: How did anyone even come up with this idea?
Schoepf: I wish that I could claim the credit for it. But it was HEAD's idea.
BB: Hold on here! People are going to think that they are reading the Onion instead of the Blickbild. 
Schoepf: HEAD has come out with a new line of skis for dogs. They are so that the whole family can vacation together, even the dog. Instead of having to find someone to take care of the dog while the family takes a ski holiday, Fido can join in the family fun on the pistes. HEAD originally wanted to invite Lindsey Vonn's dog Leo to participate in the race. In fact, Whitey was looking forward to racing against him. But Lindsey turned us down because she won't be in Soelden this year and doesn't want to be separated from Leo. However, Felix Neureuther volunteered Buddy to compete against Whitey.
BB: Neither Felix nor Marcel use HEAD equipment. Why would they want to promote a brand that they don't use? 
Schoepf: Atomic and Nordica, Marcel and Felix's sponsors, don't make skis for dogs. HEAD is the only one so far and hopes to stay that way.
BB: One more thing. The last big match race between male and female animals was a horse race between the filly Ruffian and Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure back in 1975. It turned out very badly for Ruffian and she had to be destroyed. (see this article) How would you feel if Whitey got injured? She is now the Austrian team's mascot and much loved by the whole team. If Buddy got hurt, how would you justify it to Felix? He loves his dog too. 
Schoepf: We are taking many precautions to protect the animals. It would look bad if the first male-female ski race had to be stopped due to an injury. Whoever wins this race will have the glory of winning the first FIS-sanctioned race of a male versus a female. If it is a success, then HEAD could expand its line of skis for pets to include cats, hamsters, and rabbits. Think of all the videos of cats on their HEAD skis that would be shared on Facebook! I am looking forward to this match race and I'm sure the fans will too.
BB: I'm sure they will. Somehow I don't see a mass exodus to ski shops to buy equipment for  dogs and cats. But I have been wrong before. Well, it looks like we are out of time. Herr Schoepf, I want to thank you for another interesting pre-Soelden interview. We will see you in Soelden in October for both the canine and the human races. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview. 

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