FIS Athlete Representative Randall Readies for Spring Meetings: Two Day Pursuit, World Cup Calendar and Prize Money Top Issues

Nathaniel HerzMay 6, 20111

Ski fans who get nostalgic thinking back to the days of the two-day pursuit can take heart—you’re not the only ones.

When cross-country skiers Kikkan Randall and Sami Jauhojaervi travel to the International Ski Federation’s (FIS’s) spring meetings, they could be advocating a revival of the format, based on feedback from their colleagues on the World Cup circuit.

As the two athlete representatives to FIS from the discipline of cross-country, Randall and Jauhojaervi, who’s Finnish, will speak for their teammates and competitors alike when the meetings get underway in Portoroz, Slovenia, in early June.

After compiling a laundry list of requests and complaints from athletes in a preliminary brainstorming session at the World Cup Finals in Falun, Sweden, in late March, the two have been working since then to narrow down and refine them, so that they can present a clear and persuasive picture when the FIS meetings roll around. In an interview in Sun Valley during the SuperTour Finals, Randall said that she was in the process of designing a survey that will be sent to the World Cup athletes to gauge opinion, since many of them were hesitant to weigh in verbally, in Falun.

“Hopefully, if there’s any major themes or pressing issues, then we have a month to plan, so that when we get to the meetings in Slovenia, we can be prepared to…fight for something,” Randall said. “Last year, we kind of showed up…we could say, ‘we talked to some athletes, and this is what we’re hearing.’ But now, this gives us a chance to say, ‘no, the majority of athletes really feel this way, and we need to change it.’”

Thomas Alsgaard, shown here skiing to gold in the 30km at the '94 Olympics, was the last man to win an Olympic two-day pursuit, making up 24 second on teammate Bjorn Daehlie in the skate.

Just what kinds of things do the athletes want? Randall described a half-dozen preliminary ideas that came out of the gathering in Falun: –First, there was the suggestion, from “several athletes” from different countries, to run the traditional two-day pursuit, instead of the continuous, mass-start race that’s on the current schedule. “There’s some people that are in favor of that…If you’re in a case where you’re in a major championship, and there’s the individual skate race, and then [the] duathlon, it’s supposed to be equal, but it favors the skaters,” Randall said. “It’s also a huge logistical challenge for the teams, because they’ve got to have two pairs of skis ready on a day, and tons of resources go into it.”

–The burgeoning World Cup calendar was another topic in Falun, Randall said, with some athletes complaining that there are too many races on the schedule. “There’s some concern that if you truly want to be in contention for the overall, then you have to be in most of the races. And if, after several seasons of chasing these races, we’re going to start burning out skiers—we’d lower the age of our skiers,” she said. One potential solution, Randall said, would be to structure the season more like biathlon’s, with more races each weekend, and longer breaks in between.

–In that vein, Randall said that the athletes discussed the persistently poor attendance at the Rybinsk World Cup, in Russia, and potentially instituting rules requiring a minimum number of starters or nations in attendance at an event, before points can be awarded.

–The season-opening mini-tour in Kuusamo has also been a hot topic, Randall said—in fact, she sent out a survey afterwards that drew 40 responses. She said some athletes felt that the event is skewed towards distance skiers, with just one sprint out of three races, and a strict quota limiting the number of sprinters who can contest the whole event. “All your sprinters can’t necessarily do the sprint,” Randall said, “and it’s only half points, and the prize money only goes to the top three.” (In normal World Cup sprint races, prize money is awarded to the top 10.)

“We just need to discuss ways to make the sprint a little more important,” she added. “Whether you make it a stand-alone event, and for those that want to continue on, it factors in, or you award full points, or you make the prize money deeper, or something.”

–Prize money was another theme. In both mini-tours—in Kuusamo, and in Falun—as well as in the Tour de Ski, cash is awarded to the top 10 in the overall, but only to the top three in each stage. “A few people make out like bandits, and then, [for] a ton of people that just did—in the case of the Tour de Ski—eight hard races, or maybe pretty close…it’s pennies or nothing,” Randall said. “So that’s going to be a good discussion.”

–Finally, there was the new double-pole start used for skate sprint races, which many athletes, Randall said, felt was “stupid,” and even “dangerous,” in the case of some of the men. “Their idea was just to keep the look of it consistent,” Randall said. But “all of the guys…apply so much power to their poles that when they’re amped, and ready to really bust out of the gate, some people, like [6’7”] Jesper Modin, might break their poles.”

Big Jesper Modin (R) double poles past Petter Northug (L) during the World Championship team sprint.

After their most recent survey comes back, Randall said that she and Jauhojaervi would correspond with FIS officials about the topics that they’d like to see on the agenda when the federation’s cross-country committee meets in Slovenia. While the athlete representatives don’t have the power to write proposals, or bring them to the table, Randall said that the committee has been open to her in the past.

“I’m optimistic that everybody listens,” she said. Readying for their trip to Slovenia has been one of the tasks for Randall and Jauhojaervi—but it hasn’t been their only one. Since the beginning of the season, the two have also been working to create a committee of athletes within the sport of cross-country, to better facilitate the transfer of information between the skiers, their representatives, and FIS.

That initiative was set back somewhat as the season got rolling, Randall said, and “we didn’t get quite as much work done as we would have liked.” But, she added, “we have identified representatives for about two-thirds of the major countries—so that’s a start.”

There are other ways for Randall to canvass her colleagues, too. An e-mail list of World Cup athletes is edging up on 100 members, she said, and there’s a Facebook group for them, as well. At this point, the biggest problem may not be getting the word out, but rather, getting people to voice their opinions.

“It’s surprising how a lot of people have complaints, but they don’t necessarily speak up,” Randall said. “Most people are pretty quiet.”

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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One comment

  • Martin Hall

    May 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Kikkan—here is something I wrote after watching the Falun Finals for the World Cup in March—I think this concept really needs help.
    The World Cup Finals – Was a flop this year!!! What to do to make it exciting? I know they (FIS) are scratching their collective heads to try to make this series of races work. I think to make it fair you have to have three titles – one for sprinting and one for distance and one for the overall – isn’t that what the overall World Cup is predicated on? You have a race schedule, add the points up at the end, then you have an overall champion, a sprint champion and a distance champion.

    So, why not go at it like this on the final weekend? Two sprint races – classic and skate and two distance races 10/10km and 50/30km classic and skate, techniques to be rotated from year to year. No premium points or times (no one understands them anyway) – prems are to be in $$$ at two places during the 50/30 – 25 km (M) and 15km (W) and 45 km (M) and 25km (W) and to be $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000. This should pull the fields apart.

    I would alternate the events from year to year sprint – distance – sprint – distance one year and then distance – sprint – distance – sprint the next year. I also think one of the distance races should be mass start and one should be individual start each year and alternating.

    I’m sure the “collective heads” can figure out how to make this work better. Use WCup points to figure out the individual and the overall titles.

    Maybe it’s too simple, but it gives everyone a kick at one of the cans rather then being a distance leaning event as it is now.

    PS Who ever was doing the broadcast during the 50/30kms events that I was watching on my computer were commenting about how confusing the whole concept was and not very exciting.

    PPS-I think a lot of what FIS does in it’s manipulation of the schedule is to make sure that any of the top men (especially–women not the same) sprinters can never win the overall WC—the schedule on many of the weekends has the distance race first and the sprint second. The sprinters will pass up the distance race many times to ensure a good body is ready for the sprint. Put the sprint on the 1st day and the distance race the second day and the sprinters will more then likely to ski both days. Some one like Jonesson—who is a of course numero uno in sprinting is no slouch in distance—give guys like him a chance at the overall title.

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