Saslong 2014: Val Gardena/Gröden isn’t Lourdes... or is it?

Downhill winner Steven Nyman (USA)

Downhill winner Steven Nyman (USA)

The 2014 World Cup week under the Langkofel mountain had it all: high temperatures and lack of snowfalls already compromised the World Cup calendar in the Alps this season so far; the Val Gardena/Gröden OC was worried...

and had to put everything in motion to be able to stage the Downhill and Super-G races on the Saslong. Two perfect races put an end to an organizationally and athletically thrilling week: in Nyman and Jansrud Val Gardena/Gröden had two worthy winners; Dominik Paris, a local favorite, made it on the podium twice; and, last but not least, record audience numbers were set on both Friday and Saturday.

Val Gardena/Gröden is not Lourdes (or maybe a little it is?)
The FIS confirmed the two World Cup races scheduled for December 19th and 20th only five days earlier, on Sunday, December 14th. The decision came at the very last minute just in time to let the World Cup teams make their way to the valley.
As FIS Race Director Helmuth Schmalzl stated at the end of his last inspection on the Saslong on Sunday morning, the lift company was able to produce the lacking amounts of snow and distributed it on the critical sections on the course. In particular, the Finish schuss had to be prepared properly due to a burst water pipe in the Finish area that had to be dug out less than one week before the races. When it rains it pours…
Despite a broken water pipe and above-freezing temperatures, there was enough snow on the Saslong. “The impossible was made possible” said FIS Race Director Mr. Schmalzl. A total of 50 staff members, six snow cats and 65 snow canons were in action since the first cold snap in December to finalize the racing profile of the course. Three FIS snow checks were necessary before the final go-ahead for the Races by FIS.
“We have been worrying for a long time, but were always optimistic.” said OC CEO Stefania Demetz. The new FIS Race Director Markus Waldner compared the snow production on the Saslong with a small miracle: “It is unbelievable what the organizers were able to achieve under these conditions. The course isn’t just ready for the race, it is in very, very good condition. Although we are in Val Gardena/Gröden and not in Lourdes, what has been done here, seems like a miracle.”

First home game for the new FIS Race Director, Farewell to a Saslong Confidant
Markus Waldner who this year succeeded Günter Hujara as FIS Race Director, is a South Tyrol-native and celebrated his home debut on the World Cup stage right here on the Saslong. Despite the adverse circumstances, he mastered his role expertly.
A new face appeared and a familiar one bid farewell on the (active) World Cup stage this year: Of all things in his last year, FIS Race Director Helmuth Schmalzl had to put in a few extra working shifts due to the precarious snow conditions. He was rewarded not only with two perfect races but the organizers gave Mr. Schmalzl a special farewell gift.
Schmalzl and the Saslong: those two names go together. The 64-year-old Mr. Schmalzl started his first World Cup races on the Saslong in 1969, came to a fall during the World Championships as a racer over the Camel Humps, was Safety Director of the World Cup course in Val Gardena/Gröden and served as FIS Race Director and thus continued to be involved with the Saslong for the last 15 years. Mr. Schmalzl will be succeeded by former Downhill Champion Hannes Trinkl who has already been in action this year assisting Marks Waldner.

TV documentary and preparatory work
Mr. Schmalzl wasn’t just in the company of Course Director Horst Demetz during his many course inspections and snow checks. He was also followed by two camera teams. Ironically, they had chosen this particularly challenging year to film what goes into preparing the World Cup. It’s not just simply hosting two races when the entire ski World Cup is visiting the valley for the weekend. Rather, the races are just the tip of the iceberg: Throughout the year, preparations are running high to make the races possible, including working on the course and fixing 25 kilometers (!) of safety nets and countless meetings and discussions. Two filmmakers Marco Polo and Thomas Vonmetz granted an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the World Cup. The film was broadcast on the local TV station RAI Südtirol on the eve of the first race.

Switch Downhill - Super-G
Races were still not a sure thing, even after the snow checks and official confirmation on Sunday and the filmmakers would have captured a lot more improvisational talent by the organizers during the last few days leading up to the races.
After the first training run for the World Cup Downhill race, the jury decided not to hold a second training in order to protect the course for the two races on Friday and Saturday. Already at the first team captain’s meeting the decision was made, to flip-flop the two races and stage the Downhill on Friday and the Super-G on Saturday to avoid unnecessary resetting and readjusting of the course. And speaking of team captain’s meetings, they took place in a new location in the new Culture Center for Selva/Wolkenstein.
The switch turned out to be a stroke of luck, since the Downhill attracted a record audience already on Friday. The fans, including 25 fan clubs counting 600 members were rewarded with a great atmosphere on the new steep fan grand stands, but the local crowd saw one of their own - Dominik Paris - climb on the podium. On the other hand, they had to “settle” with a second place in the fan club competition behind the exceptional fans of Otmar Striedinger.
Dominik Paris arrived to Val Gardena/Gröden in top form also racing on to the podium in the Super-G making him the first South Tyrolean in the 45-year history of the World Cup on the Saslong to finish in the top 3 in both races.
The home team isn’t the only one that did well. The winners of both races possibly put forward two record breaking performances: Steven Nyman won the Downhill - not for the first time. The American captured his third World Cup title after winning in 2006 and 2012. Nobody was even close to Nyman’s time aside from current dominator Kjetil Jansrud (NOR; +0.31 seconds). Nyman already showed that he is a top contender for the race after clocking the leading time during the first, and only, training run.
In the Super-G, Jansrud set the record straight again: He firmly out-skied everyone in this very fast Super-G and thus winning four and placing second twice in the first six speed races this season. Dominik Paris (ITA) came in 0.46 seconds behind Jansrud, but only 0.37 seconds separate him from 8th placed Romed Bauman (AUT).

All's Well That Ends Well
Two exciting and spectacular races on a perfect course: that is the conclusion of the 2014 World Cup races in Val Gardena/Gröden. A huge work load is hiding behind this statement, more than ever before in the almost 50-year history of the World Cup on the Saslong. "The situation was critical, but we never thought of giving up. And for that we have been rewarded." said OC CEO Stefania Demetz.