Cortina world championships 2021 has been framed by unparalleled beauty and colored in by some of the most spectacular performances I have seen in ages, from both the favorites and the unheralded. But it will also be remembered for the two weeks in which the rule book was poured over and read by more people than in the history of the sport. The men’s slalom tomorrow won’t stray far from that theme.

It was announced during the team captains meeting tonight that rather than stick with reversing the top 30 skiers in the second run, the norm, they will reverse only the top 15 because of the forecasted warm temperature and the likelihood of severe course deterioration. The rest will run after, in the order of their first-run finish. You will find, deep in the rule book, that the jury has the right to just that option — an option that was used only one other time since the reverse-30 format was employed, and it was 20 years ago, roughly.

“We saw how the track was reacting this afternoon, it’s under control,” explained men’s race director Markus Waldner before announcing they would reverse on the top 15. “We need to respect the top stars.”

Almost immediately, U.S. men’s technical coach Forest Carey interjected, “It seems like an extreme measure to me.”

Walnder’s reply was quick and decisive. “You were not on the hill today,” he said. “And I just tell you this is an option the jury can make and we decided to do it.” End of discussion. Carey and U.S. technical coach Ryan Wilson were apoplectic. Their skiers — Ben Ritchie, Jett Seymour, Luke Winters and Alex Leever — have all fought from high numbers to make the top-30 flip, but to reach the top 15 in warm conditions was another dagger in their chances for a good result.

Alex Leever (USA).

“I’ve not been coaching for that long,” said the 33-year-old Ryan Wilson, who is in his second year coaching the U.S. slalom team, “but I’ve been to a bunch of races at the FIS level, NorAms, Europa Cups and World Cup where I haven’t seen anyone have the balls to flip top 15 to protect ‘our superstars.’ It’s bullshit. I don’t understand the thought process. I’ve never actually seen it at any level of racing.”

Short of a protest or change of mind by the jury — and they have that right, as well — we will all see it tomorrow.

Only, here is the rub …

This decision, rather than protect the stars, might very well be their undoing. There is a trail of evidence already this season to suggest that reversing the top 15 might actually help lower seeded racers to the top of the podium. Switzerland’s Sandro Simonet jumped from 30th to third in Chamonix the day after his teammate, Luca Aerni, jumped from 26th to fourth. It was warm and the snow was springlike, requiring salt to harden it. Same in Madonna, same in Zagreb. In all those cases, most of the rapid course deterioration happens in the first five-or-so skiers and then the breakdown tends to stabilize and become more incremental.

The men’s field is so deep with talent that if you give finisher 15, start No. 1 in Run 2, the odds he wins go WAY up. On average, finisher 15 will be about 1.5 seconds behind the fastest finisher, rather than 2.5 if he were 30th. By the time the first-run leader comes down, after all the serious deterioration has happened, he will struggle to hold his advantage. What’s more, second runs tend to break down faster because temps are on the rise, so this is not something that necessarily balances out in the end.  

It feels like a no-win decision, but for their sake, I do hope I am wrong.

UPDATE: Ivica Kostelić weighs in on flip-15 controversy … like only he can

Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR).

If I am, I think this course and conditions have Henrik Kristoffersen’s name all over it. Steep, rough, springlike is slalom the Norwegian’s dreams are made of. He showed that in Madonna this past December, charging from 12th to victory in the eroding second run. It was a run for the ages, but it still wasn’t faster than Sweden’s Kristoff Jacobsen, who has twice this year won second runs with an early number in Run 2 — you get my drift. 

Marco Schwarz has been good across all conditions, and leads the slalom standings because of it. And Ramon Zenhausern is like a D9 dozer when conditions get warm and junky. Review his slalom from Kranjska Gora, Slovenia in 2019 if you need a reminder.  

But, if I’m a betting men, I hold my money until after the first run and see who is ranked between 10 and 15 and go from there.

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A former U.S. Ski team downhill racer turned writer then broadcaster, Porino hails from a family of skiers. He put on his first pair of skis at age three. By six, he had entered the world of racing, and in 1981, at the age of 14, he enrolled in the Burke Mountain Ski Academy in Burke, Vt. In 1988, he earned a spot as a downhill racer on the U.S. Ski team and raced for the national team until 1992. Porino also coached the Snowbird Ski team in Utah from 1993-96 while completing his communications degree at the University of Utah. He currently resides in Sun Valley, Idaho, with his wife Amanda, daughters and son, and he still enjoys hitting the slopes.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Not sure why the US Men’s team would have a problem with it. Field a decent competitive men’s slalom team and then argue the point. Otherwise, simplify the national program so other athletes have a chance, then complain. Otherwise, nobody has a problem with our rich children not getting a chance. The team should go back to more representative athletes from each region, instead of the scions of former generations getting a leg-up on all the other kids whose families spend a fortune before they even have a chance to go to Nationals.
    Fix the broken problem, otherwise I feel no sympathy. The Olympics will be a better opportunity next year – make sure the team is ready to go.

    • Case in point…US slalom team has been so hyped up on this site. Highest performer was Alex Leever with a hype article from Jim Taylor. Alex’s picture above (Bib 12, Cortina, Slalom Race) was the men’s slalom qualifying today where he lost by >3 seconds to a skier who has never scored World Cup points in >10 races.

      And another article about Europa Cup Podiums. Great…but all the WC caliber racers normally on the WC probably sat that one out to train for Cortina (or they were skiing in the other events). “Best in the World” needs to mean just that. I’m not putting the blame on anyone in particular, just pointing out the level of skill that I see. Another mention worth making — Tanguy Nef. Was cut from the Swiss team, came to NCAA, dominated the circuit, and is now scoring consistent top 10 in WC.

      Why can’t any Americans do that at 25 yo? Just a rhetorical question. Bryce Bennett’s article comes to mind, with a lot of huff and puff about how elite WC is relative to NCAA. Bryce is our speed # 2 right now and he doesn’t have a single WC podium…an elite skier, but not the voice of reason for WC success. Maybe Bode has some ideas … he was always one to shake things up and do things his own way.

      • Why is the NCAA supporting European racers? If we want to support racers in this country, put them on our college teams. Norway can take care or their own athletes.
        Joe

  2. Agreed……….the US has some of the fanciest and most expensive ski academies in the world and when is the last time the USST has placed a male racer on the podium in men’s slalom? Even in GS we had one racer finish 11th. Granted two of our best racers were injured but we could only field one racer??? The USST needs to focus more on talent acquisition and hard work, rather than the upper crust or whatever you want to call them.

  3. Well, here we are at mid-race… by Porino’s logic this could give a medal to Luke Winters (15th in first run 1.12 sec out) and a hot shot to Jett Seymour (10th 0.68 sec out and 0.52 sec from third place). The US coaches may be eating their words and, in their athletes’ interest, had better hide from the FIS officials until this is over.

  4. We can NEVER,NEVER, NEVER best MOTHER NATURE. All we can do is try. Maybe the ski world and others did not agree, it had to be tried. Congratulations to EVERYONE! Keep on skiing!

  5. USA needs to quit whining. The change ended up good for US with two skiers in top 15. To bad the skiers couldn’t deliver with the better track. Even with them skiing out it was encouraging to at least see the USA have a slalom team and have two in top 15 and another at 18 after run 1. Thankfully we have the college programs to develop skiers for the WC.

  6. It seems as though the NBC announcers- and some US commentators- will just spew stuff out of their mouths without first passing it through the brain. If no one “had the balls” to do what’s right before this race (or only once in 20 years), that’s an argument in Waldner’s favor, dummy. The parallel event was a joke- the medals went to the women who ‘won the coin toss’ and got the red course second. Not necessarily the best skiers. The men’s race had a few slipups on the red course, but it was similarly unfair.

    In The World Championships- like in other events- the race director should look to MINIMIZE the luck of the draw. There is already unavoidable luck in ski racing since the course always changes over time. This is a dilemma in slalom and GS- you want to give the winner of the first run an advantage by going last- she knows how hard to charge and can sometimes win by skiing safe. That skier has EARNED the advantage. By making her go 30th, she skis a tougher course. Porino even makes the point HIMSELF by referring to Simonet who went from 30th to 3rd. He MAY have just had a better run (sample size is too small to prove it either way) but most likely he got an unfair advantage. If he had finished 31st in run 1, he would have been out. Just luck.

    But Porino gets the logic ass backwards. True, there is a chance that the number 15 guy will get the unfair advantage instead of the number 30 guy. But the distance between 1 and 15 is less than between 1 and 30, so any ‘injustice’ is less. Fairness would dictate that the first run winner get a CHOICE of when to run in the second. But they want drama at all costs. To make a better race in the combined, they now let the speed winner go first. Because the speed racers would not have any chance at all if they also got stuck with the disadvantage of course deterioration in the slalom. Porino even contradicted his own logic by saying during the race that the 16-30 group had no chance at all. In fact, Luke Winters, at 16th, went 16th, because they also flipped the bottom 15. This is AS IT SHOULD BE!. Why should the 30th guy get a huge advantage??? Let him go 30th, and if Esther Ledecka happens to upset the call that’s great drama also- even if NBC keeps switching to Heidi…

    There were some terrible race calls this year. A women’s downhill should have been cancelled this season after several racers all crashed hard in the same compression- and others almost went down. Instead they kept going, and Alice McKennis got injured in the same spot. The parallel event was stupid because of lowering the max deficit to .5- just for more TV drama. Kudos to Waldner- or whomever- for calling off the first two days of World’s because of snow and fog- safety. That also takes balls.

    The sport is hard enough, and gold and silver are often 1 or 2 hundredths of a second apart. Why not have rules that are most likely to let the best man win. The first 2 or 3 down a slalom course always have an edge, but the difference in the ruts after 14 versus after 29 can be huge. More logic, less babbling please…

    • perhaps we disagree on the “stars”
      the jury sought protect. for me that’s top 7. in short, if the jury had reversed top 15 in Chamonix when he course went from clean to dished and chunked in the first 5 skiers, you would have had zero stars on the podium- as in the skiers starting 15-10. that was my point. ultimately all points were moot because the course held up beautifully making this and the jury decision much ado about nothing. had it come apart like Cham, again there would have been zero stars on the podium as 15th was 1.1 off the leader not 2.5 or 3. Again, when all the serious breakdown happens early, 1.1 is not much time to make with a field that deep in talent. I really like waldner, and his role is definitely one of lightening rod, but in this case I did not hear any resounding support, mostly critics including Italian medal hope Alex Vinatzer, who ranked among the stars this was intended to protect. you may also have read the opinion of kostelic?

  7. Take the NFL. For many decades, sudden-death overtime was the rule. Sample size was small, and offenses were not as dominant. Finally over time, it became obvious that giving the kicking team a guaranteed possession (only after a field goal, for now) eliminates some of the unfairness of the arbitrary coin toss.

    In women’s slalom the unfairness of the second run order has been hidden because the top 2 (now 3 or 4) have been so dominant that the disadvantage was not determinative of the results. But the men’s field post-Hirscher is so open that a number 30 guy is a threat. A top guy like Aerni could get lucky with a bad run and score from the 30 slot- not a tragedy… But someone in the middle who had no real chance at a podium could theoretically hold back on the first run deliberately to game the race. ESPECIALLY in the WC where points don’t matter. (It’s not that this would be “unethical”, but why encourage it at all?).

    Just like seeding in a tennis tournament, home field in the playoffs, or the current chess champion getting white in the first game of a series… past performance should gain a competitor any advantage that is otherwise unavoidable. (Also note why they went to a draft pick lottery in the NBA- otherwise the worst teams would have an incentive to lose as often as possible at the end of the season.) They do this in speed and in the first run of tech- higher ranked skiers get a choice of bibs. It’s time to fix the second run rules. There are several possibilities: (i)give the leaders some choice; (ii)break the final 30 down into 2 or 3 sets- can be the 15 and 15 used here OR some other split; (iii) use more forerunners to reduce the edge of running first, or more slippers before the final bunch.

    Drama is fine, but fans also want to see a fair race with the best skiers on the podium- not the lucky losers…

  8. Slalom is a black art. There is no way for officials, course setters or anyone else to determine the outcome. Reverse 30 has been the norm since almost forever. It is best to let the fastest skiers battle the conditions, whatever they may be together on the secondo manche. Cortina did, otherwise put on an amazing show. I agree with Signore Pinorelli about the reverse 15 debacle.
    Graci,
    Joe

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