#Davos2018 – Looking Into The Future Of Our Sport

The athletes have moved on. A select few turn their focus to PyeongChang and competing in the Olympic Winter Games. Most return to their respective Continental Cup series in the Far East, Europa Cup or Nor-Am Tour. There are NCAA Carnivals and Invitationals, along with catch-up time in class.

WJSC logo1For all, there will be the memories of a Junior World Championship experience – the thrill of competition, of testing limits amongst the best 16 to 21 year olds in the world.

While the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships are classed by the International Ski Federation as a ‘level 1’ competition on par with Continental Cup, they are unique. The only high-level competition – reserved for juniors. This is distinct from Continental Cup races where the best are trying to break through to the World Cup. The European Cup is dominated by seniors (21 or older). Nor-Am, Far East and the Southern Hemesphere Cups of South America and Australia/New Zealand have healthy contingents of elite seniors and juniors, but largely from each respective geographic region.

This makes the World Juniors a very special.

The Championship is an important step of the athlete development pathway. Athletes are still learning, gaining experience and preparing for “The Show”. Competition venues are targeted to be at a high level and organization is expected to be on par with a World Championship, but the technical challenge is tailored for juniors – not yet at the World Cup standard.

Second, the World Juniors are an important benchmark opportunity for National Ski Associations, to measure the progress of their athletes and how they measure up against the competition. There is a fairly high – but not absolute – correlation of success between the World Juniors and subsequent World Championship or Olympic podium results.

The core message: only a precious few burst onto the World Cup quickly from the World Junior ranks. The vast majority of athletes may take as long as ten more years to mature into stars. So to coaches, parents and National Ski Associations – be wise, be patient, be supportive and play the long game with your talent. You may be surprised how commitment and hard work may be the key ingredients for ultimate success.

As five-time Gold medalist Marco Odermatt told the FIS Newsflash, “I am extremely happy with my results here at Junior Worlds. It is still a big step to World Cup level, so there is lots of work ahead of me”.

fullsizeoutput_40fThere were high expectations for Team Canada’s juniors going into this season, particularly in the men’s speed events and to defend their World Championship title in the Alpine Team Event. The Team suffered an enormous setback in October, losing Ali Nullmeyer to a double ACL injury. Nullmeyer had won Silver in slalom and was a core member of the Gold medal crew that dominated the Alpine Team Event (ATE) in 2017.

The timing of the 2018 World Juniors posed a real challenge for National Teams who wanted to give Olympic experience to younger athletes, particularly those with speed or alpine combined skill. Travel, proper acclimatization to Korea and the start of official training (which began February 7th) overlapped the races in Davos. But if an athlete is ready for Olympic experience, the chance only comes every four years. So 2016 medalist Jack Crawford made the tough choice and accepted nomination to the 2018 Olympic Team, a good choice in for his long-term development.

This was a Team that is known for charging and the Championship started on a positive note in the men’s downhill, with Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) taking silver – only .02 hundredths from Gold – and Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) .29 behind in 6th. Cameron Alexander (Whistler Mt./BC Ski Team) posted an excellent result with his 5th place in the men’s Super G, but the remainder of this competitive crew were amongst a large number that missed gates or had mishaps in a very tricky set. Similar mishaps beset the Canadian Team in the Alpine Combined. They ran up against a Swiss Team that had tremendous experience with the track.

Two youngsters, born in 1999, joined the Team for the technical events: Declan McCormack (Osler Bluff/Ontario Ski Team) and Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team). For both, this was their first opportunity to race in Europe, a constructive, positive eye-opener, as these two will be the anchors of Canada’s future World Junior Teams.

Our ladies Team was small with the absence of Nullmeyer and election of Amelia Smart (Team Panorama/Denver) and Cassidy Gray (Team Panorama) to defer participation this year. The attending trio of Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.), Marina Vilanova (Tremblant) and Stephanie Currie (Osler Bluff/Dartmouth) gained good experience with multiple top-20 results. Nullmeyer, Smart and Gray are all juniors next year and eligible for the 2019 Team.

So results were certainly not what the Team expected. But over the past four years the 1996 to 1998 cohort has a solid record: 23 top ten results, including eight medals. They are competitive in all events, so can move on from junior competition knowing they are in the mix as they mature and prepare for the highest level – aiming for Olympic, World Championship and World Cup competition. They also have a wealth of experience gained in the 2017 World Juniors at Åre, Sweden, which will hosts FIS Alpine World Ski Championships next winter.

The World Juniors are a crystal ball into the future of our sport. This is the future of ski racing, with exciting competitions, large contingents of parents and friends on-hand to cheer on the Teams. We’ve seen glimpses of future greatness, tremendous skill, emotion, passion, tears and cheers. There is much to be positive about – in Canada and around the world – with this snapshot of our best juniors. Fifteen nations placed athletes in the top-10. Eleven nations won medals. We need to be smart and bold with managing speed events in the future, especially for ladies, but the tech events are robust. The skill level is high throughout the field. The future is indeed, bright.

The World Juniors offer a chance to network with the leaders of youth programs from around the world. It is an incredible opportunity to observe the commitment made to youth development, to discuss their goals and hear of their challenges. Perhaps best of all is the privilege of meeting future champions before they step up to an international podium.

Thank you, Davos, for this contribution to our sport, to our athletes.

Now, we look forward to the 38th edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships in Val di Fassa, located in the beautiful Dolomites of the province of Trentino, from February 18th to 27th, 2019.

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Day 10: #Davos2018 – Norway’s Lie Sweeps Speed Crowns

IMG_6261A little patience was required, as a dusting of overnight snow and unexpected fog delayed the start of today’s ladies downhill, the final event of the 2018 FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships.

“The light snowfall and fog actually helped the track”, said FIS Technical Delegate Bernd Lauth. “It has made a better surface and we should have a very good race”.

LRG_DSC00970As the athletes completed their inspection, the fog which blanketed the lower half of the track began to dissipate, prompting the jury to delay a 1/2 hour. By noon, the track was bathed in bright sunshine and ready for the best junior athletes in the world.

Norway had dominated training and Kasja Vickhoff Lie confirmed her dominance of the speed events of these World Juniors adding the downhill gold to her earlier Super G gold. Swiss pride was salvaged as Juliana Suter took silver and Iulija Pleshkova of Russia captured the bronze.

LRG_DSC01035It was a tightly packed field and Canada’s lone athlete, Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) skied a clean, fast top on the steep upper slope of the Jakobshorn, placing 4th only .07 off at the first split. The final result, Fleckenstein finished in 13th place, 1.07 off the pace set by Lie.

Georgia Willinger, racing for New Zealand but a long time member of Kananaskis Ski Club based at Nakiska, was also racing today, finishing 31st.

As the Championship wrapped up, the prestigious Marc Hodler Trophy was on the line with only 7 points separating the top two nations: Switzerland and defending champion Austria.

Once again, home field advantage provided the edge, as the Swiss athletes Juliana Suter (Silver) and Noemi Kolly (6th) outpaced fourth place Julia Scheib who was the lone Austrian speed skier to crack the top ten to score points for the Team overall competition.

Switzerland regained the Marc Hodler Trophy for the first time since 2011 at the last World Juniors to be hosted in Switzerland,  with 127 points ahead of Austria with 113 and Norway with 90. Canada finished in 8th.

LRG_DSC01079“Having this kind of outcome at home Championships is something truly amazing and something that is hard to achieve”, silver medalist Juliana Suter was quoted by FIS Newsflash, as she commented on Switzerland’s great success.

For full results from all competitions, click here.

For an archive of all videos from the livestream production, click here.

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Day 9: #Davos 2018 – Arrival Of A French Rising Star

clement-noelThere was one emerging World Cup rising star and 128 students who were given a lesson in racing on slick surfaces in today’s slalom, the final race for the men at the 2018 World Juniors.

Clement Noel (FRA) who has two World Cup top-10 results this season (6th in Schladming and 8th in Kitzbuhel), provided a masterful display on the water-injected slalom track.

Noel easily outpaced the entire field in the first run by a 1.8 margin and widened the gap in the 2nd from the 30th start position, to win by 2.77. Alex Vinatzer (ITA) claimed silver and Joachim Jagge Lindstoel (NOR) took bronze.

“He skis a very precise smooth line” said French Team Leader Joe Cornec. “With his experience on this surface from World Cup, he is able to be up to 50 centimeters closer to each gate and over a 60-gate course, this is a big advantage.”

From here, Noel will join the French Olympic Team in PyeongChang as the 20-year old junior was selected as their fourth slalom athlete after his breakthrough results on the World Cup. He joins Alexis Pinterault, Victor Muffat-Jeandet and Jean-Baptiste Grange to represent ‘les Bleus”.

Five of six Canadians finished the first run, with only Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team) going out.

Riley Seger (photo courtesy Steve Fleckenstein)Riley

Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) led the Canadian Team in 8th spot, Simon Fournier (Tremblant) 16th, Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.) 22nd, Declan McCormack in 28th and Riley Seger was agonizingly close finishing 31st from start position 63.

In the second run, Fournier moved up to 15th and Mulligan to 19th. Read, McCormack and Seger all had mishaps and did not finish.

It was a high attrition day, as only 30 athletes finished out of a field of 129.

Under beautiful blue skies, in preparation for the last event of the 2018 World Juniors, the ladies had a third training run. Stefanie Fleckenstein posted the 17th time. Norwegians dominated, taking the top two spots and placing four in the top seven.

In the Marc Hodler Trophy, with one event to go the Swiss lead has dwindled to 7 points – which demonstrates the depth of the Austrian Team vs. the medal haul of the Swiss stars. The Marc Hodler Trophy scoring is for the top-10 only in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 format.

Canada now sits in 8th position.

Follow the ladies downhill race on livestream: https://www.swiss-ski.ch/davos2018




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Day 8: #Davos2018 – Odermatt Gold Rush

Marco Odermatt made his mark on this edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships taking a record fifth gold medal. Today’s result was in giant slalom where he won his first Championship gold in the Sochi World Juniors.

For the record: winning five gold in one edition of the Championship is a new standard. His total of six Junior Golds ties him with Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) of Norway for most in a career.

“This is incredible to me”, said Odermatt as quoted in FIS media. “We have celebrated every medal so far and they just kept coming. I am extremely happy with my results here at Junior Worlds. It is still a big step to World Cup level, so there is lots of work ahead of me.”

It was a near perfect day on the Jakobshorn. One hundred and twenty-nine junior men from 36 nations were tested on a water-injected track, a surface few had ever raced on. “This will be an eye-opener for many of our athletes competing today” said Peter Gerdol, FIS Europa Cup Race Director. Indeed, the track was rock-hard, varied and up-tempo.

Austrian Fabio Gstrein narrowly edged out Odermatt in the first run by .06. A number of the favourites had miscues with the World Cup surface.

In the reverse-30 for the second run, Odermatt’s skills shone through. Skiing from 29th position, the Swiss junior star skied smoothly through the chop to post the fasted time, 0.58 ahead of Alberto Blengini (ITA) who was 2nd fastest on the run, and nearly a second ahead of silver medalist Gstrein and bronze medalist Albert Popov (BUL).

In the first run, Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) straddled a very tough gate that had troubled a number of the first seed skiers. Riley Seger (Whistler) had similar problems at the same gate.

Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) had a choppy upper section (63rd), but recovered on the second half of the GS to snare 30th spot. Liam Wallace (Sunshine/Alberta Ski Team) moved up from 67th to 44th spot, Declan McCormack (Osler Bluff/Ontario Ski Team) came in 45th and Simon Fournier (Tremblant) had difficulties on the pitch and came in 70th.

In run two, Read posted the 14th best time to finish 18th. Fournier posted the 38th best time to end up in 43rd place. Wallace nearly completed the steep pitch mid-way in the track but got off-line and went out. McCormack was thrown wide in the rough conditions and hip-slid off the course.

Of the 129th athletes at the start, only 60 finished both runs. A clear indicator of tough race conditions that these juniors will need to adapt to as they look towards competing at the World Cup level where such water-injected surfaces are the norm.

The ladies began training for Thursday’s downhill, with a wise decision by the Race Organizers to offer two training runs – one on the full track, a second which covered about 2/3 of the track. Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) is the only Canadian entered and was 12th in the first training run and 13th in the second.

Canada is now ranked 7th in the Marc Hodler Trophy standings, with the Swiss holding a 9-point lead over Austria with two races remaining in the Championship.

Photo Credit: Steve Fleckenstein


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Day 7: #Davos2018 – Why Is There A Swiss Gold Rush?

IMG_6248(Edited) Another day, another Gold medal for the host nation. Swiss technical ace Aline Danioth added a fifth gold today for the home team, as the ladies wrapped up their speed events with the Alpine Combined.

Due to the visibility on the north-facing Jakobshorn slopes, the organizers reversed the usual Super G format, going with the Slalom first. This was a dual between two juniors who have already made their mark on the World Cup: Meta Horvat (SLO) who placed 3rd in the Lenzerhide WC slalom and Danioth who has three top 20 results this year on the higher circuit. After this first leg, they were 0.28 apart, but well ahead of the rest of the field.

An unfortunate outcome of running the slalom first, was the high attrition on a water-injected track. From 54 athletes starting, only 32 carried on to the Super G.

In the Super G leg, despite a strong challenge from Franziska Gritsch (AUT), who is also having a banner Championship as she captured bronze and her fourth medal, Danoith slightly increased her lead over Hrovat to take gold by 0.56.IMG_6252

Canadian hopes rested with Stephanie Fleckenstein (Whistler) and Marina Vilanova (Tremblant). Fleckenstein delivered a solid first run to hold down 18th spot after the slalom. Vilanova had a bobble on the steep upper pitch, but ended up 26th. In the Super G, Fleckenstein was able to move up two spots to 16th and Vilanova placed 25th.

With such a gold-medal rush, is there an explanation why the Swiss have become so dominant in this Championship?

Talent would be the first factor to consider. Both Austria and Switzerland put a high emphasis on their development programs, working collaboratively with their ski-gynasiums (Ski Academies). The Austrians have nine, the Swiss three. Both nations also blend their juniors into their World Cup or Europa Cup training groups, giving those who earn a spot on the World Junior Championship Team good exposure to the more mature senior athletes.

But any nation must still be fortunate to have leading talent emerge and this is clearly the case with the Swiss. Marco Odermatt is a confirmed talent who first made his mark in 2016 at the Sochi World Juniors, winning the giant slalom at age 17. He qualified for the top-30 in World Cup GS twice early in the 2016-17 season but missed part of the season due to a knee injury. While he has yet to qualify on World Cup this season, his Europa Cup results include three podiums in deep fields. Danoith is a double-World Junior Champion prior to this year, who also missed last year due to a knee injury, but as noted earlier, has been frequently in the top-30 in World Cup slaloms. In addition to the two leaders, Semyel Bissig is an emerging tech talent, Stephanie Jenal is emerging in speed along with Lars Roesti. Camille Rast, a 17-year old who captured gold last year in slalom, bolstered the Team Event.

But beyond talent is planning.

Since Davos was awarded the World Junior Championships in 2014, the Jakobshorn has been a busy race venue. The past three seasons, the Swiss have organized Europa Cup GS and Super G events, National Championships with all events including a Team competition and several FIS events. In the National Championship lineup in speed – downhill and super G – the Swiss juniors have had 6 races in 2015, 10 in 2016 and 5 in 2017. And in speed, experience counts.

A limited number of juniors from other countries have raced on the Jakobshorn through Europa Cup events, but as most teams are dominated by seniors trying to work their way up to the World Cup, the opportunities for juniors are few.

The strategic advantage of Swiss-Ski has been their effective management of events – use the National Championships which is an event dominated by juniors – to give them venue familiarity and race confidence toward the goal of preparation for the 2018 World Juniors.

You always need the talent, but providing outstanding home field advantage, particularly on a hill that is not terribly tough but does have very tricky terrain – is terrific athlete management.

And of note: the last time Switzerland won the Marc Hodler Trophy as the leading Junior Nation, was in 2011 at Crans-Montana, Switzerland, where the same venue-athlete management was deployed.


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Day 6: #Davos2018 – The Swiss Gold Rush Continues

It was another busy day on the slopes above Davos with the ladies opening their speed races with the Super G and the men wrapping up their speed week with the Alpine Combined. To mesh the schedule, the men started with the slalom leg, followed by the ladies Super G race, and the day wrapped up with the men’s second leg of the Alpine Combined with their Super G.

The emerging story of this Championship is Swiss rising star Marco Odermatt, who made it four gold in a row today leading a Swiss double win. Semyel Bissig who took silver after winning the slalom leg of the Combined.

It was a day dominated by the two leading alpine powers of ski racing. Switzerland and Austria took the top seven positions. Ralphael Haaser, who won two silvers in the 2017 World Juniors, was the leading Austrian in third place, adding a bronze to his collection.

Canadians were positioned well after the slalom, with Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) as top Canadian in 14th position, followed by Simon Fournier (Tremblant) in 17th, Cam Alexander (Whistler/BC Ski Team) in 25th and Sam Mulligan hiked to finish so he could still race in the Super G.SimonAC_SL

The top 30 start in reverse order for the Super G, with Alexander posting 9th best time and moving up to 13th in the Alpine Combined, ending up as top Canadian. Read, booted out and hip-slid early in the Super G but still finished and ended up 17th. Fournier was 18th and Mulligan 29th (4th best time in the SG).

In the ladies Super G, it was a day of misses and attrition similar to the men’s Super G yesterday. The track down the Jakobshorn is north-facing, with no sun on the first pitch. The track is best characterized as wide-open rolling terrain, with dips and bumps. Both sets required skillful negotiation of the line to thread the needle through the dips and blind rolls. Of the 53 athletes at the start, 25 did not finish, an abnormally high rate for any Super G.

StefSG2Kajsa Vickhoff Lie of Norway negotiated the tricky set to take gold, ahead of Austrian Franziska Gritsch who added a second silver to her 2018 medal haul (silver medalist in slalom) and Swiss Stephanie Jenal added another bronze to the host country medal bonanza.

Two Canadians raced the Super G. Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) finished 18th and Marina Vilanova (Tremblant) did not finish.

Tomorrow, the ladies take centre stage with their Alpine Combined. A reminder that all the action is both archived and live-streamed at: swiss-ski.ch/davos2018

In the Marc Hodler Trophy, Switzerland now has a commanding lead over Austria, with Norway in 3rd. Canada sits 5th.

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 9.56.10 PM

Photo credits: Steve Fleckenstein

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Day 5: #Davos2018


The focus of the Junior World Championships shifted to the Bolgen t-bar of Davos-Platz, an ideal location to host the Alpine Team Event. With ease of access a raucous crowd was on hand to cheer on the Swiss Team which has been on a roll.

The Team Event was first introduced to the World Juniors in 2012, as part of the FIS lobby to gain Olympic recognition. It was important that all World Championship events – senior and junior – included this race format to convince the IOC. This parallel mixed gender competition was formally added to the Olympic Program for the upcoming Games.

Canada has a strong record of success, capturing a bronze in 2013 and were crowned World Champions in 2017. Two of the members of the Gold medal team are part of the 2018 Team: Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler) and Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine), with Marina Vilanova (Tremblant) and Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.) the rookies to the event.

The seeding for the Team Event is based on the standings of the Marc Hodler Trophy from the previous year.

in the opening round, Canada (6th) took on France (10th). Marina Vilanova easily out-skied her competitor. Jeffrey Read showed his strong dual skills and put Canada up 2:0. Stefanie Fleckenstein narrowly lost her round, but Sam Mulligan hung on to take the win and move Team Canada into the quarter-final round.

Next were the Italians, who had easily disposed of Great Britain in the opening round. The confident Azzuri Squad defeated Canada 3:1, with Jeffrey Read the lone Canadian win for the round. This placed Canada 7th in the final standings.

Austria (ranked 1), Switzerland (2), Italy (3) and Norway (4) were the Nations that progressed to the semi-final. The first surprise was Norway knocking off Austria 3:1. Switzerland squeaked by Italy based on time after a 2:2 deadlock. With a tie, the combined time of the best male and best female time determines who progresses.

Switzerland had to rely again on the fast skiing of Aline Danioth and Semyel Bissig to break another 2:2 tie, to earn a spot in the gold medal round.

The Swiss were not to be denied, in front of the large home crowd who loudly cheered on the local favourites. Norway was no match, falling to the new Champions 4:0, leaving Norway with the silver. Austria took the bronze over Italy, winning the small final on times after a 2:2 tie.



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