SÃ¶lden Report: The teams, the manufacturers, the FIS and the hillThe traveling World Cup circus has descended on SÃ¶lden. The day before the season is set to begin, this Austrian town has the feel of an industry convention, as athletes and journalists scramble around the small village for press conferences and parties. Thousands of fans are expected to start arriving in the next few hours, but for now, the ‘World Cup family’ is having its annual reunion with unseasonably warm temperatures adding to the pleasant atmosphere.
The International Ski Federation
The first gathering of the day was the FIS ‘Forum Alpinum’ where several announcements were made to several hundred journalists and national team representatives. With FIS president Gian Franco Kasper leading the meeting, the international governing body welcomed Hong Kong to as the 102nd affiliated nation, and confirmed that the FIS is planning to disperse 23 million to the national associations for development. Kasper also said that although he believes the Torino Olympic Committee is well prepared ‘on the sport level’ for the Olympics, he is certain there will be a shortage of accommodations.
Sarah Lewis, secretary-general of the FIS, confirmed that this year the federation will conduct blood testing of competitors in all FIS disciplines. The FIS is especially concerned about the possibility that HGH might be used on the alpine tour (Kasper discusses this in a recently posted exclusive interview at this website).
Gunther Hujara, the race director for the men’s World Cup, said that he hoped the new format for World Cup combined (one run of slalom and one run of downhill) would encourage more racers to join the event, which is a point bonanza on the World Cup and traditionally favors the slalom skiers (because there have been two runs of slalom). ‘We hope that if we provide this format, some more nations can participate, and develop downhill skiers that way’ said Hujara. ‘I am pretty concerned about downhill in the future.’
The National Teams
With men’s and women’s teams together in one place for the last time before the World Cup Finals, the SÃ¶lden event is a perfect time for national teams to formally present their programs. In the Freizeit Arena the town’s convention center the press scrambled from room to room, as athletes were brought out in their new uniforms.
Slovenia once again announced proudly that Josef Strobl has gained Slovenian citizenship, as well as approval from his former home nation Austria, but will not race until after November 12, when the FIS Council meets and is expected to approve the transfer.
Finland gathered on the stage, where Tanja Poutiainen announced that she will branch out more into super G (her teammate Kalle Palander insisted that he would not). The team’s spokesperson announced that Palander’s appeal to have the results of last season’s notorious slalom at Park City thrown out had hit a brick wall at the highest level: the Court of Arbitration for Sport. ‘The case is closed and that’s it’ he said.
Representing the U.S. Ski Team, alpine director Jesse Hunt said that the U.S. hopes to make another medals haul in Bormio. ‘We had six medals in the last World Championships, and we’re shooting for eight this year’ said Hunt. A few moments later, after asking to have the microphone back, Hunt added another ambition: ‘And we want the gold in the new team event.’
The Austrians said that the retirement of Stephan Eberharter, along with several other veterans, had altered the chemistry of the men’s team. ‘In the last three years Austria has won 24 downhills’ said Toni Giger, speaking of the men’s team that he coaches. ‘Stephan won 16 of those. The average age is now 26, whereas before it was almost 30.’ Giger also said that about 50 percent of his team had switched either skis or boots or both, and that the Austrian team has signed a contract with Treble Cone, New Zealand, agreeing to train there for the next five years in the off-season.
The Equipment Manufacturers
Atomic and Rossignol held back-to-back receptions, intending to introduce their line-ups for the next two years. Each factory has a star-studded roster, with a diversity across disciplines, sex and nationality.
Rudi Huber, the race director of Atomic, paraded his athletes into a conference room in the Hotel Central, where they posed with their skis and boots. Spilling off the edge of the small stage, the Atomic stable was impressive. The athletes were available for comments afterwards. Ski Racing asked Bode Miller if he’d paid attention to the Boston Red Sox upset two nights before. ‘It was two in the morning over here, so I couldn’t see it’ said Miller. ‘But my sister’s a big fan, and I lived it vicariously.’
During the Rossignol meeting, each Rossignol athlete gave the assembly a quick update. Carole Montillet of France got married this summer, Lindsey Kildow of the U.S. said that she had done some fitness training in Monaco, and Allison Forsyth of Canada explained how proud she was of her team’s success in the technical disciplines. ‘A few years ago, I was here with Canada’s one nation spot’ said Forsyth. ‘Now we have nine girls starting. Nine girls is incredible for us. And five of the nine are 21 or younger.’
The Race Hill
It’s warm in SÃ¶lden, and by all accounts the condition of the race hill has deteriorated in the last few weeks. ‘We are in difficult conditions’ said FIS World Cup race director Gunther Hujara. ‘We expect very warm temperatures this weekendâ€¦It might happen that the glacier will show its face to us this weekend’ referring to the ice underneath the snow.
‘There is winter snow on the pitch’ said Daron Rahlves, whose goal this season is to score top-10 results in GS. ‘It’s soft on the flats like spring snow: slushy and wet. They put some PTX in it today, so it should firm up tonight. But for me it could be good. That soft snow might get cleared away by the top guys.’
‘It’s soft snow, and then suddenly it’s 10,000-year-old ice’ reports Aksel Lund-Svindal, the young Norwegian prospect. ‘It’s so rough and bumpy, but watching Lasse Kjus it doesn’t look bad. He is skiing so well. It’s like he has shock absorption on his legs.’