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Changing course(s) in the middle of ski event: Who makes the call?

USA 6 days ago Denver Post 0

Persistent high winds that have pounded the mountain venues at the PyeongChang Olympics forced officials in charge of Tuesday’s alpine combined to make course changes that favored some racers and worked to the disadvantage of others, but it’s nothing new in alpine racing.

It may well have affected the outcome of the men’s combined — one run of downhill, one run of slalom — when course officials lowered the start and made course adjustments to decrease the amount of “air” coming over jumps on the downhill course because of the wind. That made it even more likely that Austrian slalom ace Marcel Hirscher would win the combined that was shown Monday night in the U.S., which he did.

But it’s not unusual for the start of a downhill to be lowered because of weather. In fact it happened this season in December at Lake Louise, Alberta, where the women ran their first two World Cup downhills of the season. Cornelia Huetter of Austria won the first race with a time of one minute, 48.53 seconds. EagleVail’s Mikaela Shiffrin won the second day in 1:27.55 after weather moved course officials to lower the start nearly 500 vertical feet.

Decisions like this at the Olympics are up to the international governing body of the sport, in this case the International Ski Federation (FIS). The conduct of races — on the World Cup, at the Olympics and at the biennial world championships — is managed at each venue by a “jury.” In the case of Monday’s combined, the jury was composed of FIS technical delegate Thomas Gurzeler of Switzerland, FIS referee Markus Waldner of Italy, assistant FIS referee Hannes Trinkl of Austria, chief of race Inki Hong of South Korea, start referee Bryan Lynam of Canada and finish referee Nobuhiko Kanzaki of Japan.

Trinkl set the downhill course — that is, deciding where to place the gates — and Jani Hladnik of Russia set the slalom course.

Decisions like the ones in the combined inevitably favor some athletes while working to the detriment of others. When the downhill start at Beaver Creek is lowered to the super-G start, for example, it eliminates 30 seconds of “gliding” at the top of the mountain. Thus the “good gliders” (racers who excel at riding flat skis on relatively flat terrain) are at a disadvantage to racers who are not as good at gliding.

While decisions like this often elicit griping and second-guessing among the racers affected adversely by them, the goal is always to make the race safer or more fair.

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