After a brilliant opening to the 2016 World Juniors, day 2 dawned to the forecast rain and fog. The FIS Race Directors wisely spurred the men out for a very soggy inspection of the track, to permit a jam-packed program to work for tomorrow.
Monday will include a quick inspection, men’s race at 9:00am, followed by reset, inspection and race for the ladies.
A lay day enables time to reflect.Why is a Championship for juniors important? What benefits does an event like this bring in the long journey towards the highest levels of our sport?
Over the ten years I’ve Chaired the FIS Alpine Youth subcommittee which oversees the FIS Alpine Junior World Championships, it has been great to see how the event has been elevated in importance by National Ski Associations, by organizers and by athletes.
A little history
First, let’s talk about organization. The quality of the Championships has risen, year-over-year as host use this event to lift the skill of their people, source infrastructure resource or as a stepping-stone to the major events.We’ve seen television emerge, starting with one event in 2010 to every race on Russian TV this year. The staging is impressive with all the standard ceremony expected of a World Championship.
Here’s a snapshot of the past ten years:
- Our current host, Sochi, is hoping to use the 2016 Championship as a springboard to get on the World Cup calendar, making good use of their 2014 legacy and organizational experience to profile their capabilities.
- Last winter, Hafjell’s objective was to prepare their committee for the hosting of the 2016 Youth Olympic Winter Games.
- 2014 hosts Varna (Slovakia) positioned the event to bid for a return to the World Cup by demonstrating they had the new infrastructure, slopes and passion to be a fixture on the senior tour.
- Quebec (Mt St-Anne and le Massif) hosted in 2013 with excellent organization, but sadly the speed venue which has always offered such promise now sits unused – and unavailable to ski racing.
- In 2012, Rocarasso (Italy) was an infrastructure play following the major earthquake in the region outside Rome.
- Crans Montana (Switzerland) used the 2011 Championship to fine-tune their organization, communities (there are five to coordinate) and investment to bid for a return to the World Cup – and are now an annual fixture on the Tour.
- 2010 profiled the Region Mont-Blanc, a partnership of Chamonix (slalom), les Houches (dowhill and GS – site of the World Cup races) and Megeve (national speed training venue for the French Ski Federation).
- Garmisch used the 2009 event to train their organizing committee in advance of the 2011 World Championships.
- Formigal (Spain) hosted in 2008, using the Championship to profile one of the largest ski resorts in Europe.
- Austria hosted in 2007, using the combined resources of Zauchensee (national speed training centre and World Cup venue) and Flachau (annual ladies World Cup slalom venue).
The calendar for next three years is already confirmed. Aare, Sweden hosts the 2017 Championship, using the strategy of Garmisch to train their people and test their venues in advance of the 2019 World Championships. Davos, Switzerland takes centre stage in 2018, followed by Val di Fassa/San Pelligrino, Italy in 2019.
Why are the junior championships important?
When asked why should an athlete attend the World Juniors, I give two key reasons.
Events like the World Juniors are important in preparing a young athlete for the big events – the senior World Championships or Olympic Winter games and even managing a World Cup at home. This is a major event with training wheels – TV is becoming ever more present, the pagentry is the same a as a World Championship, crowds are present but not overpowering, the competition pressure is there but not as intense. It is a stepping-stone in preparing for the big leagues. There are all the attributes of a major event, but on a manageable scale. There is pressure, but within an age range (junior). Media is present, but not pervasive. The presentation, positioning and profile of the event is like the big event, but without the pressure-cooker environment. So a great place to learn.
The other main reason is benchmarking. Every leading ski nation takes the World Juniors very seriously. This is the focal point of the year for their junior programs. Each of these National Ski Associations are investing heavily into their future potential, knowing that the athletes attending today will form the backbone of their National Teams within a few years.
The success of Norway on the senior tour is no surprise to those of us watching the World Juniors. Norway has captured the Marc Hodler Trophy, the Nations Cup of the World Junior Championship, in four of the last six years. the emergence of a young wave of talent was already on display at the World Juniors – if you were attending and watching.
As we are at a recent Olympic venue, it was enlightening to look back to see if there is a correlation between Olympic medals and World Junior medals. And of course there is. Of the 25 individual Olympic medalists, 18 were on the podium as juniors.
But what is equally interesting and insightful: who did not medal at the World Juniors. Some of the biggest names of our sport: Bode Miller (did not attend), Dominique Gisin (one top 10), Christof Innerhofer (did not attend), Steve Missillier (one top 10), Jan Hudec (one top 10) and Tina Maze (three top 10 results).
It’s not that surprising. The World Juniors are still early in the athlete pathway and for late developers like Innerhofer. The standard measuring stick used is to aim for a top 10 as an indicator of future World Cup potential.
It’s just a great experience
The first medal ceremonies of these Championship underscored what a great experience the World Juniors can be. It’s pretty special to have the privilege of presenting a gold medal to a World Junior Champion from your nation. To watch the Canadian flag raised and hear your national anthem. For her Team to be present an experience this – which despite our success in winter sport, is still rare to WIN.
Perusing social media today, the pride was evident in the profiling of World Junior success. The Swiss Team “presented” their silver medalist. The US was pretty excited about their Team success in speed.
It’s equally inspiring to watch a race with the parents of other nations. Who have supported their children through the journey, knowing these Championships are the last easily accessible big event for them to watch and enjoy.
Our kids go through many levels on their pathway towards excellence. We want them to get involved in sport so they have clear constructive goals and to develop as individuals. In early years the goal may be a FIS Children’s event like Topolino or Whistler Cup (and there are many more FIS Children’s events in the calendar) or the U16 Nationals. It progresses to the U18 Nationals and then the World Juniors. Suddenly (it seems) the big leagues of World Cup and the Olympics don’t seem so distant.
So it is important to enjoy these moments where you can walk into the medal ceremony without security, without a ticket – and are encouraged to get up front and take a picture – mix and mingle with the Teams. It’s fun, it’s relaxed. But it is important to the athletes here. This is their season focal point, their highlight of the season. And memories they will carry with them for a lifetime.