#NextGen Champions: The World Juniors

For 36 years the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships has gathered the best ski racers in the world to compete in the six Olympic disciplines. Athletes between the ages of 16 and 21 from over 45 nations (and growing) gather at a ski resort selected a minimum of two years in advance, to compete and to gain experience in their pathway to the higher levels of our sport.

IMG_3889The World Juniors are unique. Convention suggests they are similar to the Continental Cup level – Europa Cup or Nor-Am – but this actually is not accurate, as senior athletes still dominate these levels. The World Juniors are the only competition worldwide that is exclusively for the best juniors.

“This event is a very important stepping stone for our program” said Canadian Men’s Development Team Head Coach, Johnny Kucera. “This is the first level where our athletes must qualify for a world competition. But it’s much more than that. Once here, they get their first taste of a major event: the huge number of teams, the pageantry, learning to manage the major Games environment. It’s an important step.”

The major National Ski Associations (NSA’s) use this event for benchmarking their athlete pathways. Typically, World Junior teams are made up of a blend of athletes. A very small number are already competition on the World Cup. The majority focus their season to the Continental Cup (Europa Cup, Nor-Am, Far East, South America & Australia/New Zealand Cup), the remainder are juniors that come from provincial teams and clubs. Through selecting the best juniors, NSA’s can measure the quality of their programs and the depth of their talent.

The leading nations of alpine ski racing make a significant commitment to their Development Teams. From Austria to Sweden, France to Slovenia, these nations ensure their best juniors are outfitted as a Team, fully supported by coaching, equipment service and team support staff and are prepared through year-round training groups. They profile their athletes as full members of their National Teams and provide media support to publicize their results as they too rely on sponsors and financial contributions to contribute to team budgets.

IMG_3902

Is there a correlation between a podium result at the World Juniors and subsequent World Cup, World Championship and Olympic podiums? Results support this, but not entirely. Using the Olympic Winter Games of 2014 and past two World Championships (2015, 2017):

  • Who did not medal: Approximately 60% of World Championship/Olympic medalists were on the podium at the Junior Worlds, but around 40% did not medal. Those who didn’t include some of the most successful athletes of our sport: Tina Maze, Erik Guay, Jean-Baptiste Grange, Felix Neureuther, Sophia Goggia, Leif Kristian Haugen, to name but a few.
  • Patience is a virtue: Reviewing the timeline of progression from junior to elite, generally it takes around 8 to 10 years to move from World Junior participation to contending for the podium at the world elite level. Looking forward, the juniors who competed in Are this winter should be some of the leading contenders for the World Championships of 2025, Olympic Winter Games of 2026 and World Championships of 2027.
  • A better benchmark to predict future success: The best measure of future success at the World Juniors is the top 10. With two exceptions, 100% of World Championship/Olympic medalists placed in the top 10 at the World Juniors. The exceptions? Two-time World Slalom Champion Jean-Baptiste Grange (best result 18th) and three-time World Championship slalom medalist Frida Hansdotter (best result 13th).

Those who guide athlete development and selecting National Teams, use the World IMG_3896Juniors as one benchmark, amongst many. Juniors are developing athletes who have not yet reached their physical or mental maturity – and may not for another few years. A limited number of athletes will soar quickly into the limelight. Most work diligently forward and will use a full decade to mature into contenders.

There are other factors that influence outcomes at the World Juniors. Equipment can be a major factor, as some nations will ensure their best are equipped with skis from their World Cup teams. Also, not every venue is a useful measure of excellence. At the 2016 World Juniors in Sochi, extreme spring-like conditions made start position a key factor for success. This year, in the men’s downhill at Aare, four athletes in the top 10 had start numbers of 30 or higher – a testament to the quality of the track and snow surface.

Some may question the quality of the experience at the World Juniors, that it is a waste of money and competing against the powerful teams can demoralize younger athletes. But if the goal is to compete at the world level, an athlete must start somewhere – to step up against the best. Every athlete will face tough moments that push their skill set and their self-confidence, where they discover they are no longer the best on their home hill. The sooner an athlete widens their view and seeks out tough competition to push, motivate or learn from – the better.

Athletes thrive on competition. They want to know where they stand. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses, what gaps may exist in technique, conditioning or mental attitude and to understand what they need to do to push their envelope. An aspiring athlete needs to be exposed to the work necessary to be a high performance athlete.

IMG_3934World Junior athletes get their day in the spotlight and then return to their respective Continental Cup series, National Championships and spring FIS races, bringing with them new experience. This, in turn, motivates those who aim to make the team in coming seasons, who aim to make their own mark even though they may have missed the big event. It is important to communicate throughout the athlete pathway that the World Juniors are a worthy goal to aim for.

This annual event offers an incredible opportunity to network with the leaders of youth programs from around the world. It’s a chance to observe the commitment made to youth development, to discuss their goals and hear of their challenges.

Best of all is the privilege of meeting future champions before they step up to an international podium.

The 37th edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Championships will be held in Europe’s highest city, home to the World Economic Forum and the historic Parsenn-Derby: Davos, Switzerland – January 28th to February 8th, 2018

 

– 30 –

2018Davos_logo

Posted in 2018Davos, FIS, Investing in athletes, Olympic sport, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Åre 2017: Tusen Takk Sverige! On to Davos ….

Sveriges Alpina Nationalarenan, Åre – The 36th edition of the FIS Alpine Junior World Ski Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PMChampionships wrapped up today under threatening skies but firm racing conditions. The men took to the same slopes that will host the world in 2019 for their final event, the men’s slalom.

An up-tempo, tight slalom set on the varied slalom hill triggered an enormous exit from the first run, with only 49 of 130 athletes making it to the finish. Causalities from the first run included the marquee athlete of the event: Loic Meillard (SUI) and four of the Canadian contingent: Jack Crawford (Whistler Mt.), William Bruneau-Bouchard (le Massif) Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) and Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.).

Norwegian athletes Timon Haugan and Bjoern Brudevall stood 1-2 after the first run with a substantial lead, but the second run would take it’s toll. As the final racer of the top 30, the crowd was waiting for Haugan, who skidded out just before the steep final pitch which prompted a loud reaction from the large number of Norwegian spectators who had travelled to Åre. In this final race of the Championship, Adrian Pertl (AUT) overcame a 0.88 deficit to capture gold, narrowly beating Brudevall. Simon Esmonov (RUS) took the bronze.

IMG_3951Simon Fournier (Tremblant) and Huston Philp (Banff Alpine) made good use of moving into the top 30 after the first run. Simon moved up from 46th start position to place 20th and Huston from 41st to place 24th. Both delivered solid races in the 2nd run, with Simon placing 6th in the run to move up to 14th and Huston placing 4th in the run to end up 16th.

 

Marc Hodler Trophy Awarded

The final award of the Championship is the prestigious Marc Hodler Trophy which recognizes the top nation. Austria easily defended with a commanding win over Switzerland and Italy. Canada ended up 6th.

For the first time, 15 nations were ranked. Which means athletes from 15 different countries placed in the top 10, which demonstrates the widening appeal of alpine ski racing worldwide.Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 7.21.32 AM

On the medal chart, Austria led the way with a command performance capturing 12 medals. Switzerland took 2nd, the USA 3rd and Canada tied for 4th. Of note: 11 nations won medals.

IMG_3953

The Closing Ceremonies wrapped up with four athletes from host nation Sweden passing the FIS Flag on to four athletes from Switzerland who will host the 2018 Championship. Europe’s highest city – Davos  – which will host the best junior athletes of the world next winter January 29 to February 10, 2018.

Tusen Takk (a thousand thanks) goes to Hans Olsson, the boss of the 2017 World Juniors and Chief of Race for the men along with his Team of volunteers and professionals who worked long hours to set a new standard of excellence in hosting this important event which profiles the future champions of alpine ski racing.

————————————————————————

There will be one more column about the World Juniors, to be posted in coming days. This will focus on the importance of the World Juniors, to our sport, to competing nations and to the athletes.

 

 

Posted in 2018Davos, FIS, Investing in athletes, Olympic sport, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Åre 2017: Slalom Silver!

Sveriges Alpina Nationalarenan, Åre – Today was the busiest day of the 2017 World Juniors, opening with the men’s giant slalom and a field of over 130 athletes, followed by the ladiesScreen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PM slalom which was run under the lights in the Swedish Alpine National Arena.

Ali Nullmeyer (Georgian Peaks) extended the strong results of the Canadian Team, adding a silver lining to the golden glow of the Team Event World title captured last evening, with a 2nd place finish in the slalom. Starting with #1, Nullmeyer posted the 4th fastest time in the first run. Laying down the fastest time in the second run, Nullmeyer nearly closed the gap on race leader Camille Rast (SUI), finishing .09 off the top step of the podium. Chiara Mair (AUT) finished in 3rd.

IMG_3948.JPGThree other Canadians rounded out the Team with Marina Villanova (Mt. Tremblant) finishing 21st, Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) 22nd and Amelia Smart (Team Panorama) did not finish the first run.

In the men’s giant slalom, Jack Crawford (Whistler Mt.) had to settle for his second 4th place finish of the Championships. In tricky conditions thanks to the dramatically warmer weather and threatening skies,  Crawford posted two solid runs to narrowly miIMG_3937ss the podium by .15.

World Cup regular Loic Meillard (SUI) took gold, followed by Timon Haugan (Nor) and Victor Guillot (FRA).

Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) finished 30th and Huston Philp (Banff Alpine Racers) 49th.  William Bruneau-Bouchard (le Massif) and Riley Seger (Whistler) did not finish the first run. Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine Racers) did not finish the second.

IMG_3949

As we head into the final day of competition, Austria holds a commanding lead in the prestigious Marc Hodler Trophy, the “Nations Cup” for the World Junior Championships. The standings, including the Nations Team Event (not currently posted to the FIS web site) are:

  1. Austria
  2. Switzerland
  3. USA
  4. Canada
  5. Italy
Posted in FIS, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Åre 2017: Team Canada takes gold!

Sveriges Alpina Nationalarenan, Åre – (updated) – Team Canada ended a string of close brushes with the podium with a dramatic win under Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PMthe lights on a steep, challenging track that will host the 2019 World Championships. The exciting Nations Team Event, which will be staged for the first time in the 2018 PeyongChang Olympic Winter Games, took centre stage and Team Canada lived up to their growing reputation as tough competitors in dual racing with a solid performance to take the gold medal.

The quartet of athletes selected to represent Canada included Ali Nullmeyer (Georgian Peaks), Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.), Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine Racers) and Jack Crawford (Whistler Mt.).

Seeded 3rd, based on the Marc Holder Trophy standings (Nation Team standing) from the 2016 championship, Canada faced Poland in the opening round. They moved forward after a 2:2 tie based on time (ties are decided by adding the fastest female and male time from each opposing team) based on the wins of Nullmeyer (Georgian Peaks) and Read (Banff Alpine Racers).

In round two, Canada knocked out the host nation Sweden 3:1 with wins from Nullmeyer, Fleckenstein and Crawford.

Round three Canada won on time differential over Germany after a 2:2 tie, again using times from Nullmeyer and Read. In this round, Read posted the fastest time on blue course for the entire race (17.69). This ensured Canada moved into the Big Final against a powerhouse Austrian Team that has been dominating the 2017 Championship.

In an exciting finale to this fast-paced competition, the Canadian quartet took a quick 2:0 lead with wins by Nullmeyer and Read (who posted the fastest time of the day on the red course of 17.70). Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) was narrowly beaten, but Jack Crawford posted a resounding win in the final matchup giving gold to Canada with a 3:1 margin to capture the World Junior title.

It was a team effort. All members of the Canadian Team at the World Juniors were on-hand to cheer on the participating athletes. The coaching staff, service and support team where on site after a long day following the ladies giant slalom run earlier in the day.

Each athlete on the team made a significant contribution. Nullmeyer raced first in each round and was the steadiest member of the team winning all of her races. Read was blistering fast with his starts and was fastest on both courses, especially when it counted in the semi-final and Championship Round (Grand Final). Fleckenstein demonstrated solid skiing in and won when it counted against the Swedes. Skiing the anchor leg, Crawford pulled off an incredible reaction in round 2 when his competitor from Sweden made a mistake and veered into Jack’s course – he lept over the athlete averting disaster. And in the final round, Crawford ‘sealed the deal’ by winning the final matchup of the Grand Final.

Canada’s gold medal demonstrates continued strength in this new Olympic event. The Canadian Team took bronze in the 2011 World Juniors and the senior team won silver at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail. At the 2017 Worlds, Canada narrowly fell to the Swiss by .06 and finished 5th.

IMG_3935.JPG
Team Canada – all athletes, coaches, service and team support.

IMG_3936

L-R – Jeffrey Read, Ali Nullmeyer, Stefanie Fleckenstein, Jack Crawford

Earlier today, Laura Pirovano (ITA) took gold in the ladies giant slalom over Katharina Liensberger (silver) and Chiara Mair (bronze) of Austria. Ali Nullmeyer (Georgian Peaks) led Canadians in 20th, followed by Marina Vilanova (Mt. Tremblant) in 24th and Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) in 40th. Amelia Smart (Team Panorama) was DNF in the second run.

 

Posted in FIS, Olympic sport, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Åre 2017: The Juniors show their skills

Sverige Nationalarenan, Åre – Under glorious blue skies and spring-like conditions, 103 of the best male juniors in the world took to the track in the Alpine Combined.

The up-tempo super G set by the veteran French coach Christophe Saioni tested the field Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PMin the opening leg of the race. Several of the favourites, including defending super G champion Mattieu Bailet (FRA) and silver medalist Jack Crawford (Whistler Mt.) were fast but could not hold the line in their aggressive attack.

Sam Morse (USA) broke up a Swiss party, finishing the super G in a time of 1:16.72, just ahead of a trio of Swiss skiers led by Semyel Bissig (2nd), Lars Roesti (3rd) and Loic Meillard (4th).

IMG_3901Canadians were led by Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine) who finished in 8th place, Riley Seger (Whistler Mt.)in 11th , Simon Fournier – pictured to the left – (Tremblant) in 21st, Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) in 30th and Huston Philp (Banff Alpine) in 51st.

Suited up for the slalom, Sam Mulligan took full advantage of starting first to place 5th in the slalom and move up 21 positions to finish 9th as top Canadian. Jeffrey Read briefly hip-slid which pushed his finish back and was tied with Simon Fournier in 13th position. Riley Seger came within five gates of the finish before straddling a tricky flush. Huston Philp also went off course after a direct confrontation with a gate that broke his face guard.

IMG_3902
Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee)

Gold went to Loic Meillard (SUI), fresh off the World Cup Tour, who blistered the slalom with a 1.18 winning margin. River Radamus (USA) combined solid super G (9th) and slalom (6th) results to take silver. Georg Hegele (GER) used a solid slalom result(3rd) to move up from 19th after the super G to take bronze.

IMG_3904

Action continues tomorrow with the ladies giant slalom, followed by the Nations Team Event in the evening. Canada is seeded 3rd in this event, based on the performance of the Team in Sochi.

IMG_3900Huston Philp (Banff Alpine Racers)

 

Posted in FIS, Olympic sport, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Åre 2017: Alpine Combined in focus

Sverige Nationalarenan, Åre – Day 5 – The Alpine Combined took centre stage today. In the Junior Worlds the two-run event is based on super G and slalom.

The weather shifted dramatically as blue skies disappeared to be replaced with a high fogScreen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PM and much warmer temperatures. With flat light on the track, the finish rate dropped with several athletes failing to negotiate a fairly up-tempo super G. Included in those who couldn’t find the finish was Amelia Smart (Team Panorama), a favourite for the slalom leg of the race. Smart unfortunately mistimed a jump and crashed mid-course.

Austrian Nadine Fest continued her domination of the speed events, easily moving into the lead after the super G and she hung on for the win with a solid slalom run. Meta Hrovat of Slovenia, daughter of the mayor of Kranskja Gora, put together solid runs in both legs to take silver. The Austrians continued to pad the medal haul with Franziska Gritsch taking bronze.

Canadian colours were carried by Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt. Ski Club). Skiing from outside the top seed (which is ranked by alpine combined points), Stefanie moved into the flip 30 with a 26th place finish in super G. Then she took advantage of her early start to lay down a solid 5th place finish in the slalom, to move up to 14th place in the alpine combined final standings.

IMG_3896.JPG

A field of 103 men take over the Nationalarenan tomorrow for their Alpine Combined race.

Wonder where we are in Sweden?

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.25.42 PMÅre is a 1,000-year old community that has become Sweden’s hub for alpine wintersports. Located 600 km. north of Stockholm, the ski resort was founded in 1909 and is now Sweden’s largest ski resort and the highest vertical.

The variety of slopes and rich history of ski racing made Åre an ideal venue to host the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 1954 and the resort became a regular stop on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup after the Tour was founded in 1967. The World Championships returned to Åre in 2007, with Canadian Jan Hudec taking a surprise silver in the men’s downhill.

Sweden has a serious bid in development for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games. Åre would be the venue for alpine skiing. Before that, though, the community will host the 2018 FIS Alpine World Cup Finals in March/2018 and their 3rd FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in February/2019.

 

 

 

 

Posted in FIS, Olympic sport, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Åre 2017: Oh so close for Canada, again

Sverige Nationalarenan, Åre – Day 4 – Under brilliant blue skies action turned to the super G events for men and ladies. “This is not an easy track to set a Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 1.22.13 PMsuper G on” said Franz Heinzer, Swiss team coach and course setter for the men. “The upper section is open and moves well, as does the lower part. But in the traverse in the middle it is steep and tricky to keep the speed right for junior racers.”

Heinzer’s set was fairly technical, but no one expected the race to be so tight. Only two hundreths of a second separated the top three, With Nils Alphand (FRA) squeezing out the win in 1:17.91. Raphael Haaser (AUT added a silver medal to his bronze from the downhill in 1:17.92. Semyel Bissig (SUI) was hard on his heels in a time of 1:17.93 for bronze.

IMG_3886Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt. Tyee) had to settle for 4th a mere .02 off the podium with a time of 1:17.95. Mulligan led three Canadians into the top 13 with Jeffrey Read (Banff Alpine Racers) in 11th with 1:18.42 and Riley Seger (Whistler Mt.) in 13th with 1:18.53.

The remaining Canadian story was Jack Crawford, silver medalist in super G from the 2016 Championship leading at the second split, but went off course; Simon Fournier (Mt. Tremblant) came in 44th in 1:20.37; Huston Philp (Banff Alpine Racers) in 49th in 1:20.67.

“We really wanted a medal” said Team Leader Dusan Grasic, “but I must say I am very happy with three in the top 13 and Jack in the lead. This was a strong team performance from the guys.”

In the ladies super G, Austria dominated taking the top four spots, led by Nadine Fest who is currently leading the Europa Cup super G standings. Fest dominated the field with a commanding 1.19 second win over teammate Franziska Gritsch with silver, Dajana Dengscherz with bronze and Nina Ortlieb in 4th. Top Canadian was Stephanie Fleckenstein (Whistler Mt.) in 31st, with Amelia Smart (Team Panorama) placing 44th. Antonia Wearmouth (Grouse Mountain Tyee) did not finish.

In the Marc Hodler Cup, Austria has taken a commanding lead ahead with 50 points, ahead of USA and Switzerland whoa re tied for 2nd with 29 points. Canada currently sits in 6th with 14 points.

Tomorrow the ladies take centre stage with the alpine combined (super G and slalom). The men have a one-day break before resuming racing on Saturday with their alpine combined.

FullSizeRender
Amelia Smart (Team Panorama)

IMG_3885

Team Canada at the #jwsc2017: Cameron Alexander (Whistler), Sam Mulligan (Grouse Mt.), Jack Crawford (Whistler), Antonia Wearmouth (Grouse Mt.), Simon Fournier (Tremblant), Jeff Read (Banff Alpine). Kneeling: Riley Seger (Whistler), Amelia Smart (Team Panorama), Stefanie Fleckenstein (Whistler). Missing are: Ali Nullmeyer (Georgian Peaks), Huston Philp (Banff Alpine) and William Bruneau-Bouchard (le Massif)

 

 

Posted in FIS, Olympic sport, Ski Racing, Uncategorized, World Juniors | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment