It’s often forgotten that prior to 2005, there were no World Cup Finals. Season titles were claimed at various times and venues when the last race of each discipline was held. Somewhere in there, the overall would be clinched, occasionally in the absence of the victor’s presence. Not very dramatic.
These days, thanks in large part to some enterprising Swiss from Lenzerheide, the World Cup Finals, as we know them today, bring all the contenders together, male and female, to create a collective finish line for the season. It’s got sporting drama … and some. This year, the titles that remain undecided include men’s overall, GS and super G. On the women’s side, the overall, slalom, and downhill remain in play.
And now for the “and some” part. The rules state that if a race cannot be held due to weather, it’s canceled. No alteration will be made to the calendar. That has been a prickly subject over the years. As designers of the “finals” concept, Lenzerheide has been something of semi-permanent home for the event since 2005. This will be the sixth. (In even years, finals are typically held at the venue where the world championship will be held the following year.) In the five previous editions, the notoriously unpredictable spring weather in this region has played a major role in the outcome of titles.
In 2013, all the speed races were canceled for both men and women. In 2011, Lindsey Vonn hit a fevered pitch when she pulled ahead of eventual overall winner Maria Hoefl-Riesch, of Germany, after the downhill. Her lead was 27 points. Then, the fog moved in, forcing cancellation of the super G and GS, disciplines where she ranked better than the German.
Abiding the “no-changes” rule, they held the final slalom even though Marlies Schild had already clinched that title. They did not replace it with the giant slalom, a title that was still live. Hoefl-Riesch, the better slalom skier, closed the gap and won the overall by three points. Vonn was incensed and made it known. Still, imagine the German’s rage had the slalom been replaced by a GS or super G, and you can understand why no changes are made to the calendar. That more time is not allotted to hold the final four races for both genders is another story for another time.
As for 2021, be prepared for drama. Snow and wind forced cancellation of the downhill training for men and women Tuesday. A strong northerly wind in the upper part of the course carried 90 centimeters of snow into some parts of the track and completely covered the safety nets. They will try everything for Wednesday, but they know chances of success are slim with another 40-50 cm of snow forecasted along with more high winds. Both men’s and women’s training runs are scheduled for tomorrow morning, followed by races in the afternoon, an ambitious schedule in the best of weather.
Much at stake Switzerland tomorrow:
Both Swiss women Corinne Suter and Lara Gut-Behrami trail but could overtake standings-leader Sofia Goggia, of Italy, for the downhill title. Goggia injured her knee a month ago free skiing down after the race was canceled in Garmisch. The injury forced her to miss the last two downhill races including the world championship, where she could be seen hobbling around on crutches.
Somewhat miraculously, Goggia has shown up to defend her lead. She has not let on as to the kind of condition she is in, but happy to remind people of her fabric and her propensity to speak in prose. She had only this to tell me via text: “Momento Audere,” a Latin phrase coined by Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio meaning “remember to dare.” No doubt she will.
If she can muster eighth or better, the title is hers. Gut-Behrami will need to win, but even then she will need Goggia to finish outside the top 15 and Suter to finish third or worse. For Suter, it’s second or better to have a chance, but she will require Gut-Behrami to finish behind her, and Goggia to land ninth or worse.
If it’s canceled, Goggia will win the downhill title and Gut-Behrami will lose a likely opportunity to chip away at the 96 points by which she trails Petra Vlhova, of Slovakia, in the overall, with Lindsey Vonn watching from home saying, “been there.”
For the men, a cancellation would seem all the more cruel. Marco Odermatt, of Switzerland, trails Alexi Pinturault, of France, by 31 points in the overall. This is the skier who missed the parallel event due to Covid. He was wearing Bib 31 when the first of two downhills in Kitzbuehel got called official, but were over after Bib 30. He finished 10th in the second downhill there. Then, the first of two downhills in Saalbach was canceled altogether, but he finished fifth in the second. It’s hard to imagine the 23-year-old would not be leading the standings without those omissions.
As these two approach the finish line of the season — Pinturault who skis all disciplines but downhill while Odermatt skis all but slalom — a cancellation tomorrow would mean a season of seven downhill races versus 11 slalom races assuming the final slalom is contested. None of this would have mattered 50 years ago, when all the greats skied all the disciplines. These days the overall has its imperfections.
Perhaps the only thing without a blemish is Swiss hero Beat Fuez. He hasn’t been outside the top 10 in more than three years and 33 races. He needs only to finish eighth to secure his fourth-consecutive downhill title to tie a record held by legend Franz Klammer. A podium would pull him even with Klammer’s 40 podium finishes as well. If the race is canceled, he wins. Only Austria’s Matthias Mayer has a mathematical shot of winning, which will require him to finish second or better and Feuz to have one of his worst performances in over three years.
All of which is to say, one way or another, there will be at least one Swiss celebrating tomorrow. That you can bank on.