Saslong 2014: Nothing Can Stop the Favorites

Temperatures way above freezing point, a lack of snow and a pipe leak less than week before the races: never in the 50-year history have the races of the World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden been in such limbo as in 2014.

Weather and technical difficulties pushed the organizers almost to their limits, but the favorites to win the races have not been affected by any of this: the Downhill went to the now three-times winner Steven Nyman (USA) and the Super-G was captured by current speed dominator Kjetil Jansrud (NOR).

The World Cup organizers in Val Gardena/Gröden had to leave no stone unturned to host the Downhill and Super-G on the Saslong: the course was covered in man-made snow over a period of three days, parts of the track had to be dug open to fix a broken water pipe just one week ahead of the race, one training run was cut due to the precarious snow conditions and the Downhill was moved to Friday to go easy on the race track. All this hard work paid off and Val Gardena/Gröden had two perfect races in 2014 with Nyman and Jansrud two worthy winners, Dominik Paris from South Tyrol on the podium twice and – last but not least – record audience numbers both on Friday and Saturday.

Anxious to the End
With one week to go to the first race, nobody thought this outcome possible as it wasn’t clear if the races would even take place. FIS confirmed the two races with only five days to go – on Sunday, December 14th. The go-ahead to the teams to make their way to the valley was given literally at the last minute. “We were worried for some time, but never gave up hope” says CEO Stefania Demetz. New FIS Director Markus Waldner compared the snow production to a small miracle: “It is incredible what the Organizers were able to pull together under these conditions. The course isn’t just raceable, it is in great shape. We are in Val Gardena/Gröden and not in Lourdes, but this seems like a small miracle to me.” The snow check and confirmation of the races on Sunday still didn’t guarantee that the Downhill and Super-G would actually take place: The jury decided to cancel the second training run after the first day to go easy on the course and to keep it impeccable for the races on Friday and Saturday. Also, it was decided in the first Team Captain’s meeting to swap the races and to hold the Downhill on Friday and the Super-G on Saturday to avoid further compromising the course due to the repeated course changes.

All this surely pushed the true protagonists – the fastest skiers in the world – temporarily to the background.  Nevertheless, the races itself didn’t hold too many surprises, at least as it relates to the rankings.

Downhill: Nyman going Once, going Twice, Sold!
Steven Nyman takes home the Downhill – and it’s not his first time. This is the American’s third World Cup victory and his third win in Val Gardena/Gröden after taking home the gold in 2006 and 2012. There was no one who could even come close to Nyman’s performance aside from the current speed dominator Kjetil Jansrud (+0.31 seconds). Nyman already confirmed he’s in tip-top shape when clocking the training run’s best time. The 32-year-old American clearly underscored his dominance as Val Gardena/Gröden specialist: Since his debut twelve years ago, all three World Cup victories were celebrated here in the valley and this year he arrived after a strong showing with a bronze in Beaver Creek earlier this season. Nyman was the only Downhill racer who completed the course top to bottom without errors. He managed to increase his lead to almost a second in the middle section of the race to the Camel Humps and he also skied fastest along with Kjetil Jansrud from the exit of Ciaslat to the Finish. Which explains why Jansrud was the only one who managed to at least somewhat keep up with Nyman clocking a delay of about 0.3 seconds.

Third on the podium was Dominik Paris. The South Tyrolean already showed he’s in great shape in the races overseas and during the one training run. He placed third in the race with 1.15 seconds delay settling a score with the Saslong that was outstanding from last year: he came to a fall during the training on the Ciaslat taking home a tedious muscle injury. And speaking of the track, the Salsong was extremely challenging and tiring this year due to the very thin snow cover. The jumps, particularly those over the Camel Humps lead to airborne skiers and the Ciaslat was bumpier than ever.

Super-G: Jansrud sets the Hierarchy straight
In Saturday’s Super-G, Jansrud set this season’s Super-G hierarchy straight again. After four victories and two second places, the Norwegian didn’t let anyone even come close in this super-fast Downhill-like Super-G on the Saslong.

Jansrud was the fastest top to bottom and clearly dominated all key sections from the Wall to the Ciaslat meadow and to the entry of the Finish. His final time was 0.46 seconds ahead of Dominik Paris. This might not seem like much, but it shows how well Jasnrud skied considering that only 0.37 seconds separate Paris from eight-placed Romed Bauman (AUT).

Dominik Paris confirmed that he is no longer a pure Downhill skier but has developed into a top Super-G contender placing in the top five in all six speed races before Val Gardena/Gröden. This silver was actually Paris’ career best in the Super-G. Along with Paris, Christof Innerhofer (5th) and Matteo Marsaglia (7th) contributed to an exceptional team result for the “azzurri”.

Record Spectator Numbers
The organizers can also consider themselves winners in these races: the switch between Downhill and Super-G ended up being a great move as it attracted a record number of spectators for the Downhill already on Friday. The fans including 25 fan clubs with about 600 members were rewarded not only with a great atmosphere on the newly installed steep grand stands but also with a podium for Dominik Paris. The fans of this South Tyrolean had to “content” themselves with a second place in the fan parade competition with the winners being the fan club of Otmar Striedinger.

All is Well That ends Well
Two thrilling and spectacular races on a perfect track: that about sums up the 2014 World Cup races in Val Gardena/Gröden. Behind this statement is an immense world load like it has never been seen before in the 50-year history of the races in the valley due to missing snow falls and high temperatures. “The situation was dire, but we never gave up hope. And that’s why we got rewarded. “ says OC CEO Stefania Demetz.