BY: Mike Janyk PHOTOGRAPHY: ACA/Pentaphoto.
After 50 years, the World Cup needs to restore the balance between athletes and fans.
The alpine World Cup circuit is 50 years old this season, and the rising sentiment from within and around the world of ski racing is that it has fallen flat. It’s true that as athletes, we seem to love to complain almost as much as we love to ski: The coach is working us too hard, or not hard enough. It’s too cold. It’s too hot. My start number sucks. The lift is too slow. I have done a fair share of complaining myself over a 10-year career on the World Cup and, since retiring from competition, as a member of the FIS athletes’ commission.
But it’s clear there are real challenges here. Statistically, the TV figures have remained relatively level over the last few seasons, although it is noteworthy that more total broadcasting time is required to achieve the same overall media impact. At the same time, Rogers Sportsnet has dropped World Cup ski racing from its broadcasting line-up. Our current state can be considered solid on the surface, but shaky within.
On the plus side, all that complaining can be turned into motivation to succeed, and sometimes can actually bond a team, especially once all the BS is aired out. It can also spark some really great discussions with constructive ideas to bring positive change.
In his opening remarks during the latest International Ski Federation (FIS) conference, Niklas Carlsson, chair of the alpine World Cup committee, suggested that alpine skiing might be in “a midlife crisis.” This was reiterated in questions posed by FIS alpine committee chair Bernhard Russi: “Do we know who we are, where we are, and where we want (have) to go?”
To me, these remarks are refreshing, like coming up for air after being underwater far too long. These words represent a readiness for change and the possibility to discover a new way forward.
Before looking for a possible solution, let’s look at Russi’s questions and see if we can come to answers about who we are, where we are and where we want to go by looking back at where we started, where we’ve gone and who we were in the beginning.
All the way back in 1966, at the hotel/lodge/only thing in Portillo, Chile, two national alpine directors – Bob Beattie of the United States and Honoré Bonnet of France – met with French journalist Serge Lang to try figure out a way to bring major ski athletes together and, at the same time, fulfill a request from Jacques Goddet, then-director of the French sports paper L’Équipe, to educate the paper’s readers about the ski racing alpine circuit.
I’m picturing this remote building located beside a picturesque alpine lake, nestled at the bottom of a bowl created by the surrounding Andes Mountains.
Inside, the fireplace roars hot, but it is not necessary, as the three men are heated from the passion that fuels their words. Outside, snow falls onto the frozen lake, and a few hotel guests silently take in their winter surroundings. Back inside, our three allies sit in silence for a moment, then a few moments longer, as cigarette smoke gently drifts through the still air. All at once, their eyes rise and meet. Eureka! They jump up, and with a few handshakes, the World Cup is born. At least, this is how it goes in the opening scene of my mental screenplay.