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.

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Photo credits: Steve Fleckenstein

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Day 5: #Davos2018

IMG_6240

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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Day 4: #Davos2018

IMG_6228Courtesy Johan Monsen

It was an action-packed day of racing on the Jakobshorn above Davos as the men took centre stage for the Super G.

The skies cleared as predicted, but left more than 30cm. of snow, prompting an enormous effort by the race crew and volunteers to prepare the track. The start was delayed from 10:00 to 12:00 due to the heaver than anticipated snowfall. This delay forced the cancellation of the ladies Super G, which will now be held on Sunday.

It certainly turned out, in the words of FIS Technical Delegate Bernt Lauth, to be “an interesting race”.

The track was race-ready, winds light and the early morning sun had just tucked behind clouds to darken the track, but the light was good.

Marco Odermatt (SUI), skiing out of position #11, added another gold to his growing collection of Junior World Championship titles, smoothly outpacing the field by .88. The US had a banner performance with two on the podium led by River Radamus (Vail) taking silver, Luke Winters (Mt. Hood) taking bronze and Kyle Negomir (Vail) in 7th.

Cameron Alexander (Whistler Mt./BC Ski Team) put in a solid performance charging from position #21 to lead the Canadians in 5th place, Simon Fournier (Tremblant) the only other Canadian to make the finish ended up 31st.

fullsizeoutput_3f7Cameron Alexander on the awards podium – 5th place

The speeds were high and combined with rolling terrain and jumps built into the Championship, it was critical to negotiate air smoothly, maintain good snow contact and anticipate the dips and rolls to keep on line. Fourteen of the first twenty athletes failed to finish, snared by the tricky set and terrain. Unfortunately, this included Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.), Jeff Read (Banff Alpine) and Riley Seger (Whistler).

Such is the challenge of Super G. No training runs, only free-ski on the hill, an inspection of the set and the art of the event is to negotiate the race using experience, feel and reaction. A tough lesson learned for those who did not finish.

Next on the program is the Alpine Team Event, which takes place under the lights in the heart of Davos-Platz. Sixteen nations will go head-to-head in parallel racing action with teams made up of two ladies and two men. You can follow the action on live streaming at: swiss-ski.ch/davos2018

Looking further out, on Sunday both ladies and men will be back in action. The day will start with the slalom leg of the men’s Alpine Combined, followed by the ladies Super G and wrapping up with the Super G leg of the men’s Alpine Combined.

Canada remains in 4th place in the Mark Hodler Cup standings, as the Swiss extended their lead over Austria and USA moved up to 3rd.

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Day 3: #Davos2018

The weather forecast for Day 3 of the 2018 World Juniors proved accurate and according to coaches reports, there was probably more than 15cm. of new snow that fell overnight on the Jakobshorn. The ladies and those men who did not participate in yesterday’s downhill had their free-ski on the Super G track, to prepare for the scheduled SG races on Friday.

So a lay day provides the opportunity for a backgrounder on the World Juniors.

Davos 2018 is the 39th edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships. Originally run as the European Junior Championships, in 1982 the FIS adopted the World Championship status with FIS medals and the designation of “FIS Alpine Junior World Champion” to the gold medalist of each event. WJSC logo1

All of the “official” FIS race formats are held at the World Juniors, including a separate alpine combined and Nations Team Event – or, as it is now officially known as the “Alpine Team Event”, with this format now included in the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. Canada is the defending champion in this event.

Davos is Europe’s highest city and home to the World Economic Forum, which annually hosts business and political elites to discuss weighty social and economic issues of the day. It is home to one of the three ski-academies of Swiss-Ski, with athletes of the eastern region attending the equivalent of high school as they integrate into either the regional team or National Training Groups of the Swiss Ski Team. (note: Switzerland assigns Team status based on world ranking, but manages their athletes in ‘training groups’ based on the appropriate level of competition – World Cup, Europa Cup, Junior.)

When Davos originally bid for the World Juniors in 2015, they faced competition from Val di Fassa, Italy for the 2018 nod. After evaluation by the FIS Race Directors, FIS Council who awards all World Championship decisions, selected Davos to host 2018 and Val di Fassa 2019. The main reason being the Italian ski resort, based in the Trentino region, did not have an existing downhill track but committed to building one.

Davos had all race venues ready, although their proposal included the 2-run downhill format for the men as the vertical of their track is 455 metres. But the 2-run format has been an approved race format since 1977 when it was first used. The 2-run race will debut on the World Cup this Saturday in Garmisch.

Davos-Klosters is one of the largest ski regions in Switzerland, perhaps not as well known as Wengen in the Bernese Oberland (home to the Lauberhorn), chic St-Moritz which is home to the annual ladies stop on the World Cup, or the Matterhorn and Zermatt. Similar to these iconic venues, Davos-Klosters offers enormous variety with the Jakobshorn and Parsenn lift complexes with a blend of funiculars which feed to a network of high-speed lifts and trams.

LogoParsennderbyDavos is also home to the Parsenn-derby, a leg-burning downhill that was first run in December 1924. It’s a peak to valley downhill race from the top terminal of the Parsenn Peak to Klosters. In 1924, the winning time was 22 minutes, 27 seconds. The record time on the full Parsenn track was posted in 1990 at 3.49.37. Several prominent athletes have won this event including Kristian Ghedina, Urs Lehmann, Walter Vesti and Christl Haas. But the Parseen Derby is a “people’s downhill” for thousands of avid recreational (but very serious) ski racers.

Day four of the 2018 World Juniors is Super G action, weather permitting. Fingers crossed.

Live streaming: swiss-ski.ch/davos2018

Listing of previous World Junior organizers and results: https://data.fis-ski.com/alpine-skiing/results.html?place_search=&seasoncode_search=all&sector_search=AL&date_search=&gender_search=&category_search=WJC&codex_search=&nation_search=&disciplinecode_search=&date_from=01&search=Search&limit=50

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Day 2: #Davos2018

IMG_6216It was a jam-packed day on the Jakobshorn slopes with the ladies slalom and a unique 2-run downhill format for the men.

An approaching weather front, which threatens to bring high winds and 15+cm of snow, prompted the organizers to move the men’s downhill forward one day. As the downhill vertical is only 455 metres, the FIS had mandated the men’s Championship must be a 2-run format (note: there will also be a 2-run format in the ladies World Cup race in Garmisch this weekend). Run one in this format is staged as any downhill – first 15 select their start number, next 15 are drawn randomly, the balance of the field is by world-ranking. The second run is reverse 30 of the 1st run times.

The ladies started the day first, with less than half the field able to negotiate the water-injected track. It was shaping up to be a repeat of the ladies GS, with Austria holding down the top two positions, but first run leader Katharina Liensberger hip-slid to hand the gold medal to Mita Hrovat (SLO). Franziska Gritsch (AUT) took silver and Aline Danioth (SUI) gave the host nation their first medal of the Championship.

IMG_2300Stephanie Currie (Osler Bluff/Dartmouth) spent some time in the leader box with the 12th best time in the second run which moved her up from 29th to 19th place. Marina Vilanova (Tremblant) held down 22nd place after the first run but DNF’ed run 2. Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler) came agonizingly close in run one, crashing just before the finish.

With clear blue skies and virtually no wind, the conditions could not have been better to hold the men’s downhill. After the one training run yesterday, Canadian hopes were buoyed, but the Swiss were not to be denied. Similar to the 2010 World Juniors in Crans-Montana, the Swiss Team have a multi-year plan to build performance at a home Championship, having hosted three separate competitions on the slopes here in Davos last season, including the Swiss National Championships. Their Team came out charging with Marco Odermatt posting the leading time, Lars Roesti sitting 5th and Semyel Bissig in 9th.

Canadian hopes remained high with Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) sitting 3rd, Jeff Read (Banff Alpine) is 6th, Riley Seger (Whistler) 7th, Simon Founier (Tremblant) 10th and Cam Alexander (Whistler) 12th.

fullsizeoutput_3ecThe Swiss took full advantage of home-field edge and charged in run 2. In an unbelievably tight finish, it was a Swiss 1-3, with Odermatt taking gold and Roesti bronze.  The Swiss placed 5 athletes in the top 11.

Sam Mulligan split the Swiss taking silver, a mere .02 off the top spot of the podium. Jeff Read finished 6th, only .29 behind. Cam Alexander finished 17th, Simon Fournier 18th and Riley Seger 20th.

With the pending snowstorm, Wednesday will be a training day for the ladies to inspect the super G track.

 

Men’s DH results: https://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/results.html?sector=AL&raceid=91288
Ladies SL results: https://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/results.html?sector=AL&raceid=91287

In the Marc Hodler Trophy, which recognizes the leading junior nation at the World Juniors, after day 2 host nation Switzerland leads. Canada sits in 4th position.

Marc Hodler Trophy standings as of 31.01.18: https://data.fis-ski.com/dynamic/marc-hodler-trophy.html?seasoncode=2018&sectorcode=AL

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