(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.
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.