Continental CupGeneralNewsUS NationalsUSSA Announces Race Format Changes for SuperTour, Junior Nationals.

Avatar Audrey ManganJune 14, 201112
Simi Hamilton leading a quarterfinal heat at the 2011 SuperTour Finals.

Every May, after storage wax has cooled and spandex has been washed for the first time since November, coaches, officials, and athletes from around the country descend upon Park City for four days to discuss scheduling for the following year and implementing new race rules and formats.  This is the USSA Congress.

FasterSkier caught up with John Farra, USSA Nordic Director, to get a run down of the most import developments to come out of these meetings.  Farra sits on a committee with about a dozen other veterans of the sport that vote on matters presented to them by subcommittees, which in turn are made up of coaches and athletes who work out the details of each issue in the days leading up to the final vote.

“It’s a great process,” said Farra.  “It’s exhausting, but for people to take the time away from their families to get together in May and talk skiing for four days is really impressive.  If we’ve all been organized throughout the season, keeping notes all year long, the spring meetings are really effective.”

Here’s what came out of the congress this year:

New Guidelines for the SuperTour Finals

The season-ending SuperTour Finals are now more clearly defined, and will continue to include the 30/50K US Championships, a sprint, a mass start 10/15K, and a pursuit start Hill Climb, with the goal of having a prologue when possible.

“As a director, it was really good to get that kind of clarity, so that when I’m looking for a venue and organizer, I can give those parameters,” Farra said.

“People really liked having the distance championship associated with the finals,” he continued.

The mini-tour format for the SuperTour Finals has evolved since 2010 in Maine, where the series included a mass start distance race, a sprint, and a hill climb.  Sun Valley added a prologue this year, and though the 30/50K Championships were at the same venue a few days before, they weren’t officially part of the mini-tour.

SuperTour Finals to head East

The start of the 2009 Craftsbury Marathon. Photo: Kris Dobie.

“The SuperTour Finals have become a significant event for the US skiing pipeline, but the size of the event and the prize money also makes it quite expensive.  No one was really scrambling to host the event next year,” Farra said of the largest elite US ski event outside of the National Championships.

At this point it appears that the multi-day event will be at either the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont or the Nordic Heritage Ski Center in Presque Isle, ME—right down the road from 2010 venues Fort Kent and Madawaska.  A final decision will be made some time in July.

The proximity of both eastern venues to the Canadian Nationals venue in Quebec would present a favorable opportunity for the US athletes.

“Having the event in northern Maine or northern Vermont would make it easier for the top US athletes to compete at Canadian Nationals the week before, which are only a few hours away in Mont-Ste-Anne, and vice versa, having the Canadians come here.  Both events would benefit from the heightened level of competition and predictably lower race points.”

Ski exchanges to be allowed in the 30/50K Championships

For the first time, ski changes will be allowed in a domestic Championship event.  Racers will be allowed to swap out their skis for a new pair during the race.  In events as long as 30 and 50K, the difference fresh wax makes in the middle of the race can be huge, especially if conditions are variable.

Germany's Thomas Bing in the exchange zone at World Juniors.

“The thinking behind this decision was that it’s been a rule now on the World Cup for a few years, and some of our athletes have struggled with their first racing experience with a ski exchange being at World Championships or the Olympics. “

This change will allow athletes to become familiar with the system before experiencing it in Europe.

One exchange will be permitted in the 30K and two in the 50K. While this rule doesn’t exactly follow FIS regulations—in which skiers are allowed to switch skis whenever they pass through the exchange area for up to three times in a 30K and four times in a 50K—it will nevertheless be a useful opportunity to try out a new format.

The new rule will require more space in the stadium for the exchange area, but Farra doesn’t expect the rule to be too limiting on which venues will be able to host the SuperTour Finals in the future.  However, says Farra, “If a particular stadium is not suited to providing enough space for ski exchange boxes for each athlete, then we can choose to go without the ski exchange.”

Junior Nationals race format changes

The J1 boys at Junior Nationals in Wirth Park, MN. Photo: David J. Owen Photography.

Two significant developments came out of discussions in the junior subcommittee, both of which have been in the works for over a year and are aimed at getting juniors more prepared for performing in the tight racing environments that are seen at Scando Cup, World Juniors, and beyond.

First, the J1 boys’ distance race is being shortened from a 15K to a 10K.  “This came from discussions about creating developmentally appropriate events for our kids and keeping them skiing faster, and not just longer,” Farra explains.  “We had J2 boys going from a 5K at the age of 15 to a 15K at the age of 16, one year later.  This was a bit of a dramatic shift and not necessary for most of the field.  The concept seemed to be: lets shorten the race and get them going faster.”

The second major decision applies to the team relay, with the option for appropriate venues to shorten the final race of the week from a 3x3K relay to a sprint relay of about 1.5K.  “A year ago, this committee approved to shorten the 3x5K relay to a 3x3K which was tested successfully in Minneapolis in March of 2011.  This idea for a sprint relay follows this same logic to keep the teams closer together and in traffic longer. ”

Soldier Hollow, the 2012 host for Junior Nationals, lends itself to a sprint relay, with plenty of space for a wider exchange zone.  Farra says they’ve expressed interest in testing it out.  “This event will be predictably tight and crazy, but that works well to accomplish the goal of getting our young athletes comfortable moving amongst a crowd.”

For a more complete list of the USSA Congress highlights, click here.

 

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Audrey Mangan

Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.

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12 comments

  • Avatar
    zachhandler

    June 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    I’m not a big fan of mid race ski changes for a number of reasons. But the one that is pertinent here is that it will tilt the field towards heavily sponsored athletes with larger quivers of skis, bigger wax budgets, and larger support crews.

  • Avatar
    rlcsoulskater2

    June 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    i 100% agree with zach handler above

  • Avatar
    rlcsoulskater2

    June 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    also for the mid race ski changes, the athletes on large teams are at a disadvantage if there are limited # of wax techs

  • Avatar
    Doug1

    June 14, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I think its a good change. Remember, this only applies to the US champs 30k/50k; in those races, the contenders will all have great support teams. There’s not going to be some underdog who has one pair of classic skis winning any of these races.

    It also takes some of the guesswork out of the ski and wax selection before the race, and makes the race more fair. These races take place at the end of the season, and almost always are in warmer, changing conditions.

    Take the 50k this year for example. No one had good skis from beginning to end. Not even the best wax techs can make a pair of skis work in changing conditions over 2-2.5 hours. The techs at the start of the day guess what will be running best for the majority of the race.

    By allowing mid ski switches, it promotes a fairer race, because it allows people with really bad skis to get on something better, and reduces the likelihood that someone can randomly stumble onto a wax combo that works really well at the end with no one else having good skis.

    My point is that the aim of the national championship races is to find who is the very best in the country, and so the race should be tailored so that the 10 or so people who might be able to win have the fairest chance at doing so.

  • Avatar
    philsgood

    June 15, 2011 at 6:06 am

    “There’s not going to be some underdog who has one pair of classic skis winning any of these races”

    not anymore, there’s not.

    @Doug1 I’m a little confused about where you talk about fairness and then go on to say that the race should be tailored for the top 10 or so people in the race. How exactly is that fair for the rest of the field?

    If, after each time you talk about making the race more fair, you add “for the top racers” then your point makes sense to me.

    Also, the variables in ski selection, snow and weather conditions and race waxing is a defining part of the sport. The more there is a push to mitigate the effects of those variables, the more I suggest leave skiing alone and go run cross country.

  • Avatar
    nate

    June 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

    As was pointed out, this is really only going to be an issue at the US champs, and if our athletes are going to have to be ready to switch skis at the olympics and world champs, why not have them doing it at the US champs? If you want to race a 50k that is “fair” for everyone, go race the Birkie or any one of the dozens of other 50k citizen races that don’t allow switching skis.

  • Avatar
    philsgood

    June 15, 2011 at 9:52 am

    yeah, agreed that athletes’ first exposure to these formats should not be the Olympics or WM

  • Avatar
    T.Eastman

    June 15, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Doug,

    Have you done many 50k races?

    While I am not adverse to allowing ski changes, Zach’s point regarding relative fairness seems important. Do you want to test the skier or the pit crew? Yes, while the techs are essential in every race, once the race starts, it is the skiers’ job to ski with what ever was chosen (and then often whine about it). Big teams with lots of staff and volunteers are at a distinct advantage for servicing the pits and covering the course with data points.

    Perhaps the elite skiers need to spend lots more time practicing their gear changing rather than adding a complicated logistical barrier to competitive equity at the nationals. Further stacking the fields in events that already have embarrassingly few skiers (and skiers willing to finish) seems somewhat at odds with goals of increasing participants at distance nationals.

    Distance results for American skiers in big international events is probably more based on conditioning, technique, and a relative lack of racing experience at longer distances in international fields, than screwing up in the pit.

    Setting a national championship to suit the needs of the top ten skiers is flat out wrong. There are frequently folks that make the next step up the ladder at the nationals. As a community we need more skiers banging heads for top positions rather than insulating the best ranked skiers from the hungry rift raft.

    I am not an expert about skiing, but I did spend a few years skiing at several good events and base my observations on those experiences…

  • Avatar
    Doug1

    June 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    There are some things here to look at.

    The more ski exchanges there are, the less likely it is that someone has abnormally good skis from start to finish. Look at what happened in the olympics, the person with really hot skis in the start had that advantage taken away later on by the ski exchanges. This evens the field.

    These races are held at the end of march and it’s nearly impossible, especially in a classic race, to make skis that work for the whole race. This isn’t like at the birkie where the snow stays relatively stable for the whole race.

    Every American in the 50k at Distance nats had a strong dedicated wax team that was capable of handling multiple ski exchanges, so it doesn’t drastically tip the balance towards the top.

    Of those that didn’t finish the 50k, many stopped because they had no kick at all after 15k. Ski exchanges would give these guys a chance to get on something that was skiable, and finish the race.

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    June 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I’ve been after John F. for the last 2 years at least to do this—I would call Ernie Page of Summit Timing pre-race (Nats-50/30) to see if it was on the docket for the day.
    I know as the National Team coach I would have wanted it included in the National 50/30s for sure. Of course to introduce skiers to the process, secondly and most importanly, this is the last kick at the can to lock up your or lose your chance at making the National Team—the final nail! Why not give each skier a chance to have their best race—-especially when you think of all the time and effort they have put into their careers to this point and go down the drain because of bad skis.
    It makes these races all the more important—and no matter how much you like it or dislike it—it is part of the process now, so figure out how to use it. With all the radio support during these races now–it can’t be all that hard.
    The rules are now in place and I’ll guarantee you that all the skiers, coaches and organizers will make the necessary adjustments that will make this work.
    I think it is hugely exciting and why is it our human nature to doubt that it can happen. Winners will make it happen—watch and see.
    Look at were we are internationally—we are getting there and we have to keep doing what the game calls for—no compromises—“are you all in?” as Pete says—-I would be!!

  • Avatar
    Martin Hall

    June 16, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    As an addendum—only clubs can provide the wax stations or lesser beings—no USST station or factory teams—-that makes it a lot fairer.
    I’m sure I’ll get hammered for this one.

  • Avatar
    crashtestxc

    June 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    “Every American in the 50k at Distance nats had a strong dedicated wax team”… and there were many that couldn’t make it because it WAS too expensive.

    This is totally ridiculous and there is absolutely no need to practice switching skis during a 50k race. Why not host more pursuit races instead?!

    This entirely favors the teams/racers with the most money, not talent.

    Disappointing USSA …..

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