OpinionProduct NewsMass Start Pursuit is Boring: Bring back the 2-day Pursuit — UPDATED!

FasterSkier FasterSkierFebruary 28, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Rob Whitney and Ian Case. They do not neccessarily reflect the view of Fasterskier.com as an entity. Enjoy!

Swedish Skidsport.com has started a petition in an attempt to eliminate the mass start in pursuit and other long races that the World Cup has been favoring the last few years. Over 1000 fans in Sapporo have signed a petition with hundreds more signing on every day. Scandinavian news reports that Swedish and Norweigian TV viewers have been bored out-of-their minds watching cross country racers ski in a group for 99% of the race with lousy tempo, and then a furious sprint the last 200 meters!


Women's mass-start pursuit in Torino. Photo by Sharbel Dussault.

So what is better: mass-start or individual start races? Or was the old 2-day pursuit better than today’s continuous/rolling pursuit? Would XC skiing be better off with the old 2-day pursuit run as a same-day event (as in the 2002 Olympics), with say, a 3-hour break between the classic and skate techniques?

Now, perhaps some of you who are not die-hard race addicts and are getting a bit confused with all this technical jargon. That’s OK. Here’s some fill-in info for you: The old 2-day pursuit used an individual start classic race to determine the start order of the second day skate race. If an athlete won the classic race by 10 seconds, then that same racer started the skate race 10 seconds ahead of the # 2 racer and so on down the line. It seems like the main problem with this format was that medals were awarded for the classic part and for the final skate/pursuit part. Some skiers entered the classic race, medaled and then “skipped” the second day skate race. The simple solution to this would be to not award classic medals — only a pursuit medal. On the other hand, it could be argued that it would be more fair to give the stronger classic skiers the same number of chances at medals as the stronger freestyle skiers, by awarding medals for both days as in the past.

It seems like the (Scandinavian) feelings are the same for 30km and 50km mass start events like the upcoming classic 30/50km mass start coming up in Sapporo. Now, there are those who tend to disregard traditionalists as being sticks in the mud unwilling to accept any change (remember the Scandinavian protests when Koch started using skate techniques… and winning.) But, isn’t there some point at which too many format changes result in the sport losing identity? Furthermore, if the format changes result in the competitions becoming games of chance to a large degree rather than a relatively fair test of ability, then how deep an interest can fans (from any country) maintain?

Realistically, one might doubt whether a petition is going to change the FIS Big-Wig’s reasoning in planning race events, but maybe it can at least start some dialogue. They seem to be convinced that the new formats are what will make the sport good for TV, but is this really even true? What is this…an obese person’s, beer guzzling sport like Nascar racing? The majority of viewers of skiing are the complete antithesis of a sedentary Nascar fan. (well, they do 12oz curls quite well….) There have been lots of changes in the XC skiing world: sprints have developed and are quite interesting to watch, but at the same time the longer races have transformed into mass starts. The reason it has changed is because some TV companies think that a 50km race with individual starts takes too much air time. They also believe that the viewers do not understand interval starts. Is this really true?

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