Since the beginning of this season, bib numbers in the Downhill and Super-G are assigned in a new way. The change should boost TV appeal. However, opinions on the subject clearly differ.
The system allocating bib numbers has constantly changed in the hope to make it better. Until last year, the group of 30 best ranked racers were assigned bib numbers by lottery: the top 7 got numbers 16 to 22, 8 to 15 got numbers 8 to 15 and the remaining 15 racers were assigned bib numbers by lottery ranging from 1 to 7 and 23 to 30. This has changed since the Downhill in Val d’Isère two weeks ago: the best ten racers can pick an odd number between 1 and 19, the remaining ten are assigned an even number between 2 and 20 and bibs 21 to 30 are then assigned by lottery. In either scenario, anyone ranked higher than 30 will be assigned their ranking as bib number.
Why was this measure necessary? “When I sit in front of the TV, the new format offers so much more excitement” explains Technical Delegate Wilfried Däuber. Traditionally, the distribution of eyeballs reaches its peak during numbers 16 to 20 so we wanted to somewhat broaden that window” adds FIS Chief Race Director Markus Waldner. “The tenth ranked is currently the black sheep because he does not get the opportunity to watch any racers ahead him. This is less of an issue during the race when starting with bib number 1 can be an attractive option.”
Opinions on this new way differ among the racers: “I agree because the previous regulation was kind of unique. No other sport disadvantages its best athletes like this” says Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal. “That would be like Merceds, Ferrari and Red Bull having to start from the last series to make a Formula 1 race more exciting.”
In principle, South Tyrolean Christof Innerhofer is also for the measure: “It is more difficult to beat the best and to deliver any surprises. However, I find it good that pure luck is diminished. Previously, two racers who are ranked next to each other on the ranking list could end up competing with bibs 1 and 30, respectively. That can make a huge difference. Frenchman Adrien Theaux, however, says: “The first three racers are clearly advantaged and that’s why I don’t agree with the new system.”
The regulation will remain unchanged this season but discussions on refinements are already underway in the back-rooms. “There are many ways to easily change the new system to solve for this problem. We will be doing this at the end of this season.” says Mr. Waldner. Until then, however, racers will have to live with the current situation: “It is what it is and we have to make the best of it” say the coaches of Hannes Reichelt and Andrew Weinbrecht, who so far were the ones assigned the opening bib in Val Gardena/Gröden.