An Interview with Chief Race Director Markus Waldner
Markus Waldner has been FIS chief race director since 2014. The 53-year-old South Tyrolean was in Val Gardena the end of July to meet with his assistant Hannes Trinkl (AUT), Saslong Classic President and Race Director Rainer Senoner as well as Course Manager Horst Demetz and representatives of the television production agency Infront to perform a site inspection on the Saslong which will host a Super-G and a downhill in December. On this occasion, www.saslong.org has met up with Waldner.
Photo (from left): Armando Carenini (TV Production/Infronstsports),Walter Mussner (Catering), Horst Demetz (Course Manager), Hannes Trinkl (FIS Race Director), Markus Waldner (FIS Chief Race Director), Rainer Senoner (Präsident Saslong Classic Club/Race Director), Michele Boniello (TV Production Infronsports)
Question: Mr. Waldner, how did the inspection go?
Markus Waldner: The inspection went well. A few small adjustments have been made here and there, but major interventions on the course were not necessary. It is important that changes are kept up to date each year.
Q: How do you see the races back in December?
M.W.: One must not forget what was accomplished in 2015 to be able to perform both races. It was a small miracle. Despite warm temperatures, perfect race conditions prevailed, as did also in 2014. The organizers deserve a huge compliment. The World Cup circuit often forgets very quickly what was accomplished the previous year.
Q: What was crucial to ensure that the race could take place?
M.W.: The fact that the race could even take place was due to all the right work that was done during the previous ten years. For instance, the lift company has invested in new technologies that enable perfect snow production at higher temperatures. This clearly paid off now. If you take the right steps, you can respond better to climate change in ski racing.
Q: What does the Gardena experience mean for the FIS Ski World Cup?
M.W.: Val Gardena FIS has always been able to provide a guarantee that races can be carried out even under adverse conditions. Therefore, I often mention Val Gardena/Gröden when talking with other organizers as a great example. A few prestigious races had to be cancelled last winter. This could have been avoided if the right investments into new snow production facilities and their improvements had been made early. These upgrades will be done in many places in time for the upcoming season. Cancellations hurt economically and belittle the value of the circuit.
Q: What TV viewership did the races in Val Gardena/Gröden generate?
M.W.: Ratings were as high as ever counting 195 million viewers. We have found that the race in Val Gardena/Gröden ranked just behind Kitzbühel and Wengen in the analysis. That is a tremendous result and speaks for the excellent organization and the high quality standards.
Q: On another subject: How does the new starting order (*) affect the races in Val Gardena/Gröden?
M.W.: The top stars will choose interesting starting numbers primarily based on weather conditions. This will indeed have an impact on TV ratings. Increased sunlight on the track is in fact making the track faster for those skiing with higher numbers. Athletes are expected to usually choose lower numbers in other classic downhills. In Val Gardena/Gröden they may start later thereby maintaining a higher level of interest by TV audiences and commentators and for the race in general.
Q: What future do you see for the speed disciplines Downhill and Super-G?
M.W.: The FIS has several ideas in mind. They are first discussed directly with the organizing committee, then reviewed by several FIS committees and finally approved by the FIS Council. These changes, however, will take effect by 2020/21 at the earliest. I cannot say more. The development of the ski racing product is interesting and will hopefully attract new viewers, too.
(*) The FIS Congress in June in Cancun (Mexico) has introduced a new starting order for the speed disciplines Downhill and Super-G. This stipulates that the ten best ski racers in the world rankings can choose an odd number between 1 and 19. For the athletes ranked between 11 and 20, a number between 2 and 20 is drawn, then a number 21 to 30.