The Team Combined Must Wait
Hahnenkamm Races to include a Downhill on both Friday and Saturday again.
First of all, things rarely turn out as expected and secondly, sports politics is complicated. But let’s start with the good news. Spectators and fans of the upcoming 84th Hahnenkamm Races will once again enjoy the opportunity to experience two Downhill events: the first on Friday, 19th January 2024, and the second the day after. The traditional Hahnenkamm Slalom on the Ganslern slope will follow on Sunday. However, the newly planned additional Slalom run on Friday, which was to be rated together for the first time with the Downhill as a Team Combined event, was – to everyone’s surprise – heavily criticised by the athletes.
Now let’s take this one step at a time. For around two years now, the FIS Athletes' Commission has been working on replacing the Alpine Combined at major sporting events such as World Championships and the Olympic Winter Games with a team event comprising of one downhill racer and one slalom racer. The underlying premise is that this competition will be integrated into the World Cup. After a request last winter, Kitzbühel Ski Club has proven to have an open ear for athlete’s concerns by including the Team Combined on the Friday of HKR week. A set of FIS regulations was also personally initiated by the KSC president in order to get everything on track. All decisions were made unanimously in May 2023. The organising of this highly demanding sports programme in terms of material, personnel and costs was planned throughout the summer with our main partners.
So, it was a complete surprise for all World Cup officials to receive a letter from Greek slalom runner-up AJ Ginnis on the weekend before the recent FIS autumn meetings, supported by 112 of the top 60 athletes from various disciplines, both women and men, from 18 different countries. The crux of the criticism: the Team Combined – in its planned form – is unfair, non-collegial and goes against the spirit of sport, especially with regards to the awarding of World Cup points and qualification requirements. The athletes’ plea was to either stage the Team Combined without assigning it to an official discipline with the associated allocation of overall World Cup points, or to only allow the top 30 athletes of the respective world rankings to participate, who can then choose their team partner from any country (in order to promote the competition as a fun, show event).
Kitzbühel, however, could not support this demand, as for local fans and investors, it is a basic requirement that the Hahnenkamm Races are a sporting event of the highest calibre, with utmost importance for the World Cup, which presupposes the awarding of points. A second attempt was made, with the help of the head coaches present at the FIS autumn meetings, to once again ask the athletes about their planned participation in Kitzbühel or Crans Montana (women). Their responses, however, were again somewhat sobering. Many of the top athletes did not respond, or only reluctantly hinted at participation. In order to minimise potential damage to all main participants of the event, the emergency brake had to be pulled. Kitzbühel's willingness to host a Team Combined in 2024 was withdrawn by the OC chairman and KSC president, Michael Huber. This was done after preliminary consultation within the KSC and in consultation with the World Cup Director and the Austrian Ski Federation.
This gives KSC time to think about potential methods of implementation with regard to World Cup points and transnational team configurations and to discuss it within the framework of the relevant skiing policy committees. For Kitzbühel Ski Club, this adventure has been put on the back burner for the time being. First, the planned implementation at the World Cup in Saalbach-Hinterglemm in 2025 and at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Cortina will be observed and further feedback awaited.