Racers remain agitated and perplexed about the shoddy preparation of the Lino Lacedelli piste – the site of Cortina’s men’s slalom qualification.
Fifty-eight of 109 starters – competing in a world championship qualifier in which 46 national ski associations were represented – failed to complete a first-run course that some suggested was more suitable for ice hockey than ski racing.
Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe of Mexico – skiing at his 19th world championship – led the barrage of complaints and dissatisfaction, accusing organizers of “spreading tons of water like un-experienced fire brigades to make the course unskiable and unenjoyable” in a fiery Instagram post.
The 62-year-old skier failed to navigate the slick slope on an otherwise near-perfect morning in Cortina, icing all hope to race again in Sunday’s slalom final.
“They just senselessly watered it in a very bad way,” Von Hohenloe tells Ski Racing Media. “It was all uneven – you didn’t know when you’re going to catch one of the icy parts. It was unskiable.”
Von Hohenloe, a six-time Olympian and local Cortina resident, added that FIS has “no empathy and sensibility for how to stage races for small nations.”
“They obviously don’t put enough thought into…we have Armenia, Morocco and Haiti here – we cannot give them conditions they are not used to,” the veteran Mexican ski racer said, continuing his diatribe. “You have Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain, they are coming, it’s not just Austria and Switzerland. They should be celebrating this.”
Demetri Maxim of Cyprus was one of many other racers who also expressed bewilderment over the unexpected course conditions. Maxim, 23, a former captain of the Stanford University Ski Team, finished 41st, posting a time of 1:01:04. Surviving the poorly prepared slope, he secured one of 50 spots for Sunday’s slalom.
“This was a one-of-a-kind course,” Maxim said. “I consider myself pretty experienced having skied all kinds of conditions growing up in the U.S., skiing on the East Coast, but nothing can compare to this.
“I felt like we were playing hockey and not ski racing.
“Everybody was pretty upset after the first run,” Maxim added. “To spend all this money to come to Cortina and then to ski five gates – that was a source of frustration.”
Japan’s Seigo Kato clocked the fastest first run time – 47.02 seconds, on a 57-gate, relatively flat course, with its 165-meter vertical drop, nestled in Cortina’s scenic 5 Torri area.
Alex Leever – ranked just outside the top 50 in WCSL slalom points – adroitly handled the unfavorable conditions, qualifying for Sunday’s slalom with a 10th place result and time of 48.93 seconds. Considering the overly icy surface on an otherwise tame hill, the U.S. racer noted his game plan was to ski strategically, and not push, in order to punch his ticket for Sunday.
“I had to finish top 25 to qualify, and essentially I knew I’d be top 25 if I just made it down,” Leever explained. “I took it extremely conservatively and just finished. Not any sort of skiing to write home about, just making sure I crossed the finish line.”
Leever, 25, sympathized with some of the less seasoned racers.
“It was just inappropriate for the level of some of the skiers – the higher level skiers, the top 10, top 15 skiers, had no issues because they’ve skied on injected ice before,” Leever said. “For some of those not as experienced skiers, it seemed just a little unnecessarily aggressive.
“It was much, much harder snow than the race on Sunday – it seemed a little backwards,” he continued. “Some people I know from World Cup races this year were like this surface is harder than Schladming,” Leever said, referring to Austria’s revered slalom piste.
International Ski Federation men’s race director Markus Waldner advised that he didn’t have time to make it make it to 5 Torri area and scout the qualification slope. He admitted water should not have been used preparing the surface.
“I was informed that the course was too icy and during the slalom it was also breaking in some new gates,” Waldner tells Ski Racing Media. “Our colleague (Markus) Mayr from the women’s team made the final preparation there.
“I think the complaints coming from the small nations side are absolutely right.
“They did not have great fun and for the next world ski championships we just have to make it better and not work with water on the qualifications courses.”
World Cup coaches offer opinions
U.S. men’s technical coach Forest Carey, who set the course, elaborated on the mistakes made leading to the problematic slope.
“FIS should know if you just spray water on top of an already groomed surface – it creates a polished cap, basically an ice skating rink,” Carey explained. “Not appropriate for a qualification race.
“The ice was similar to the middle third of the GS race, where a lot of the top guys had problems, including (Marco) Odermatt,” the veteran U.S. coach noted.
In the 2nd run, with racers once again skiing extremely cautious, the number of DNF’s were reduced to five, among the 50 racers.
Swiss men’s technical coach Matteo Joris, the course setter for Sunday’s world championship slalom, offered his perspective, along with a few ideas to amend the world championship structure in order to avoid similar scenarios moving forward.
“As a coach, I think at world championships you take the best of every nation – maybe four from the big nations and maybe just one from the smaller nations,” Joris said. “Olympic Games are a totally different extreme, you need to have all the nations, but for the world championships you just need the high quality.
“Or maybe you do more races before to qualify – not just one,” the Italian coach suggests. “Maybe four races – two GS and two slalom – and there you gain points with the first five from here qualifying.”
Racers also theorized as to how and why FIS might have lost the Lacedelli slope.
“I don’t think it was malicious – I just think there wasn’t enough thought put into it,” Leever surmised. “They might have wanted to inject it to make it hold up for a 120-person field, but maybe they neglected to think about the quality of some of the skiers.”
The experienced Von Hohenloe took a somewhat different stance.
“It has been too many times – I believe they do it on purpose to show how bad we are and intimidate us,” he said, while adding: “I don’t know.”
“I think FIS looks at the world championship, obviously, at the highest level,” said Maxim, a dual U.S. and Cyprus citizen. “Maybe they didn’t make the distinction between the qualifying race and the medal race.
“There could have been a lot of improvement – FIS really wants to favor the top athletes, but I wish there was a way to accommodate everybody.”
Von Hohenloe said he is “looking forward to the new (FIS) president soon and helping him change things for the better.”
Reflecting upon this dramatic Italian tragedy – with wine glass half-full – at least FIS has two more years to contemplate and cultivate a new qualification varietal, one that is pleasurable to everyone’s palate. Here’s hoping that the world’s extended ski racing family – arriving from all corners of the globe – will enjoy a rosier experience at the 2023 world championships in Courchevel-Méribel.
Follow Brian on Twitter – @brian.pinelli