Friday, October 16, 2015

No More Olympic Downhill?

A Boston Blickbild Exclusive

There is a proposal by the FIS to eliminate the downhill at the Olympic Games starting in 2022. At first we thought that those who posted this story had time traveled back to April Fools' Day. We could not believe that this was a real story; it seemed like something that we would print. After all, every day is 1 April at the Blickbild. But our intrepid research team checked it out and it was indeed real. One of our intrepid reporters went to Switzerland to interview Gian Franco Kasper, but he was not available. However, our friendly FIS contact Bob was able to speak with us about this issue. Let's find out what he has to say.

BB: Hi Bob! It's nice to see you again. Are you still working in media relations?
Bob: Yes. The powers that be at the FIS have read my interviews with you and felt that I was a good spokesman for them. 
BB: I knew that we were good for something. (short pause) Why would the FIS eliminate the downhill from the Olympics? It's the premier Alpine skiing event.
Bob: Downhill is one of the events that we are seeking to eliminate. The others are long-course cross-country races and possibly some ski jumping events. 
BB: But why downhill and not the team event or the super-combined?
Bob: Believe it or not, downhill gets the lowest TV ratings out of all the Alpine disciplines. Downhill is not made for TV like the other disciplines. You know that TV ratings are very important to the FIS.
BB: Of course we do. They are as important as athlete safety, if not more so.
Bob: Whoa! Athlete safety is the most important thing at the FIS. But TV ratings are a very close second. 
BB: Anyway, what is it about downhill that makes it so boring for the spectators? It is one of the three classical disciplines, the fastest, and the scariest. 
Bob: Yes, that is true. But people stop watching after the 25th racer has finished because of how we do the start order. All of the top racers are in the top 30, but the very best go 16th through 22nd. After the 30th racer has come down, then we start the award ceremony.
BB: If you want to make the fans watch until the last racer, the FIS needs to shake things up. Why not eliminate rankings as a factor in the bib draw, and make it totally random? In a 50-skier race, fans would pay attention if Anna Fenninger had Number 5, Lara Gut Number 23, and Lindsey Vonn Number 47. 
Bob: That sounds a bit unfair. The racers who go later in the race have a disadvantage. Anyway, the fans like seeing the best going down close to each other and not staggered. 
BB: Not true. If the later racers are really that good, they can overcome the disadvantage of a late start. Tina Maze won a race with a start number in the 50s and Carlo Janka got second place in a downhill after starting 65th. 
Bob: I see your point. But it is rare that someone with a high start number wins a race or gets on the podium. 
BB: Maybe that could change with a random start order. It sounds like another priority at the FIS is resistance to change.
Bob: That is not true! We change with the times, just like any other sport.  After all, you don't see the racers on wooden skis wearing stretch ski pants and beanies. 
BB: Point taken.
Bob: We have also changed downhill courses to make them steeper, faster, and much scarier than in the past.
BB: Maybe for the men, but you obviously have not seen a women's downhill in a while. A lot of the courses are easier gliding courses where the larger women have a built-in advantage. Lake Louise, Cortina, and Meribel are powder puff courses compared to the men's classic courses in Kitzbuehel or Wengen. Even in Garmisch, where men and women go down the Kandahar, the women go on a shorter course. (short pause) Our intrepid research team also heard that if downhill is not eliminated, it would be a short-course race. Is that because there are no ski hills in Beijing that can accommodate an Olympic downhill race?
Bob: The size of the ski hills in Beijing has nothing to do with making downhill a sprint event. After all, what is the most popular event at the Olympics?
BB: Women's figure skating.
Bob: OK, what is the most popular Summer Olympics event?
BB: Women's artistic gymnastics.
Bob: I see that you are partial to events that feature scantily-clad teenage girls. No, let's try again. The premier Olympic events are the sprints, namely the 100-meter and 200-meter races.
BB: How are downhill skiing and track and field sprints remotely alike?
Bob: I'm getting to that. To keep fans interested, we will start off with a field of 50 racers. Each athlete will ski on a downhill course that is the approximate length of a World Cup slalom course.
BB: Wait a minute! At the speeds that downhill racers go, the race would be over in about 10 seconds.
Bob: The 100-meter dash takes about 10 seconds and nobody complains about how short it is. In fact, it is so exciting because it is short with a small margin of victory. Anyway, the first heat will be all 50 racers taking one run.
BB: The first heat?
Bob: You heard me correctly. After the first heat, the 32 fastest will go on to the next round. The 32 athletes will be randomly drawn into four groups of eight. Then there will be another heat where each group goes down the course.
BB: All at once or individually?
Bob: Individually. The four fastest in each group from the second heat go on to the third round, which has 16 racers.
BB: Suppose  the 5th place skier in the first group is faster than the top skier in the third group. What happens then?
Bob: He or she is out of luck. It's the same thing that happens in track and field or swimming. What counts is how you do against the others in your group. The remaining 16 skiers are then randomly divided into two groups of eight. Again, the top 4 in each group go on to the final. The eight skiers who are left will be the ones competing for a medal.
BB: Will the times from the heats carry over, like in a technical race?
Bob: No. Everyone starts a new heat from zero.
BB: Won't the racers in the final be tired from doing so many runs?
Bob: That's the beauty of doing a sprint or short-course downhill race. The skiers are taking 20 to 30 seconds to do each run instead of close to two minutes. The fans will also be paying attention to the whole race because they will have to wait until the final run to know who gets on the podium. That is much better for our TV ratings than the current system of knowing the podium before half of the racers have done their run.
BB: How do the athletes feel about this? I'm sure that those who trained to race on a proper long downhill course will be disappointed about having to do a sprint race. 
Bob: We didn't ask the athletes because they never like anything we suggest, even if it boosts TV ratings and fan interest. At the FIS, we are always right even if the athletes don't think so.
BB: Of course you are. Does the FIS have any other proposals up it sleeve to radically change the sport?
Bob: Remember, change is good. The racers and fans may not like it at first, but they will come to embrace it. They will look back and wonder why athletes ever did downhill races with one long run that took about two minutes.
BB: I'm sure they will. Well, it looks like we are out of time. Bob, it was great to see you again. Thank you for another enlightening interview. I'm sure the fans are looking forward to the 2022 Olympics with either a sprint downhill or none at all. And that concludes another Boston Blickbild exclusive interview.

The Boston Blickbild. Our motto is: Our reporters never took short journalism courses.

The Boston Blickbild is on Facebook. If you enjoy our unique perspective on World Cup Alpine skiing, please like us on Facebook. We are also on Twitter as bostonblickbild.

No comments: