New FIS Group to Scrutinize Team Sprint

Nathaniel HerzOctober 11, 2010
Norway's Petter Northug passes Germany's Axel Teichmann in the finals of the team sprint at the 2010 Olympic Games.

The days of the world championships of interval training may be numbered.

That’s the moniker that some Europeans use for the team sprint, which appears on the schedule for every Olympics and World Championships—but rarely on the World Cup.

According to U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Nordic Director John Farra, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has convened a working group that will investigate the potential for doing away with the team sprint and replacing it on the schedule for major championships with a second individual sprint.

No decisions have been made about the fate of the event—the goal of the group, Farra said, is to “honestly research” the implications of any changes. But if its four members—Farra, FIS Cross-Country Race Director Jürg Capol, and representatives from Estonia and Slovenia—decide that a change is necessary, they could introduce a proposal as soon as FIS’s spring meetings in June.

Since 2007, the team sprint has been held just twice a year on the World Cup circuit: once in the German city of Dussseldorf, and once elsewhere. The event features pairs of athletes trading off laps of a short course, with two semi-final rounds feeding into a single final.

Eliminating the team sprint from the championship schedule had come up during last spring’s FIS meetings in Turkey, but Farra said that “almost nothing’s been done” since then.

At the federation’s fall meetings in Switzerland earlier this month, Farra said that he “kept forcing the issue, just in that the meetings from the spring suggested we’d create a working group.”

Now that such a group has been created, Farra said that it will investigate, among other things, whether the team sprint is truly favoring sprinters, or whether it’s favoring “distance-type athletes.”

“If that happens, there’s an argument to say, ‘maybe, really, we should have something for our sprinters. Maybe the event has become too long, too unwieldy,’” Farra said.

Countries with deeper teams appear to achieve the most success in the event: pairs from Germany, Russia, Italy, Norway, Finland, and Sweden have captured all but two of the 36 podium places available in the team sprint over the last two seasons. (The other two? Slovenia and Canada.)

Any changes would not be made lightly, though, because modifications to the World Championships schedule would likely have to be mirrored at the Olympic level. With so many different sports clamoring for Olympic status, FIS could risk losing a medal event by rocking the boat, Farra said.

“It’s not just going to be a popularity contest,” he said. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t offer up the opportunity for them to say, ‘well, wait a minute—you already have one sprint. You don’t need another.’ And then we lose an event—it’s something some of us are concerned about.”

The group will present its findings to a FIS committee at the federation’s spring meetings next June. If Farra and the other three members decide that changes are needed, “we’d make a proposal right then and there,” he said.

The end result could see the event being dropped entirely, or simply modified, Farra said.

No Tour de Ski Championships for 2012

Farra and Capol also confirmed that there will be no world championship in the Tour de Ski in the 2011-2012 season.

Such an event was floated by FIS and approved in concept at its June meetings as a possible means of sustaining excitement during the one year in every four that does not include an Olympic Games or World Championships.

A trial run could have taken place at a stage race held in Canada in 2012, but those plans went south when the country’s governing body declined to host the event (though Farra did say that Canada does seem to be “firmly in possession” of two weekends of World Cup racing in December of 2012).

There was a small chance that FIS could have come up with an alternative venue in time for a race next year. But those plans were scuttled by the federation’s TV deal with the European Broadcasting Union, since FIS’s pre-existing long-term contract doesn’t include televising such an event.

“They [the EBU] don’t want to pay more money, and they’ve already negotiated,” Farra said.

Now, the inaugural edition of the event appears to be set for 2016, by which time Capol said he hopes that the contractual issues can be resolved.

“Everything can be fixed, but it needs a year,” he said. “Realistically, by 2016.”

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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