When athletes competing in World Cup Finals arrived in Falun, Sweden, on Thursday to preview the trails for the remaining three stages of the mini tour, they were surprised to discover that the course they were expecting had been modified to add height and more hairpin downhill turns to the fabled “Mördarbakken” hill, according to the NRK.
Alarmed at the prospect of racing a chaotic mass start with 50 other skiers on such a hill, which an NRK video shows as heavily populated with padding-wrapped trees around several turns, athletes decided they would boycott Friday’s race if the course wasn’t changed, even though their primary concern was for the mass starts on Saturday and Sunday.
Kikkan Randall (USA), a FIS athlete representative, submitted a complaint on Thursday on behalf of her fellow athletes and the International Ski Federation quickly decided to modify the course for the mass starts. The upper part of the hill was reportedly cut off, as were most of the problematic descents. The prologue course would remain the same, however, with a few added safety precautions.
Directly after the changes were announced, Randall couldn’t say whether they would satisfy her fellow athletes.
“I need to discuss this with the other athletes first. We will look at the changes, and then decide whether this is enough,” Randall told NRK. “We really hope that they can find a solution so that we can have good racing this weekend.”
The athletes were apparently not happy with the changes, and meetings between representatives of the athletes and FIS reportedly continued throughout Thursday evening.
“We can not be unless there are further changes in the course of the evening,” said Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin.
Competition jury member and FIS Cross-Country Director Pierre Mignerey was unsure how many athletes would show up in the morning for the individual start 2.5/3.3 k freestyle prologue.
“I do not know how many people will participate in the morning,” he told the NRK. “I hope it gets everyone. We have made changes to the mass start, as we experience the main problem.”
Eldar Rønning (NOR) told Adressa.no after a widely-attended athletes’ meeting that the sentiment was unanimous: “If nothing is done, so we did not start. If these are the tracks that will be used in the World Championships in two years, so we are going to have to put your foot down. Mass [start] in these trails are harmful.”
Justyna Kowalczyk (POL) told Adressa.no that she would not start in Falun at all.
As of Thursday evening, Mignerey said there would be no further changes to the prologue course.
“Our decision is final,” he said. “Competition will continue as usual in the morning, then we’ll see who compete.”
Adressa.no posted a video of Randall and Mignerey discussing safety concerns. Randall is shown telling Mignerey that if changes are made to the mass start course, there would be no way for athletes in the second race to preview icy conditions after the first race finished.
Start lists released by FIS on Thursday afternoon, local time, listed full fields for both the men’s and women’s races.
Randall told Adressa.no there will be another athlete representative meeting with FIS on Friday morning before the start of the prologue.
“We will have another meeting tomorrow. Until then, athletes must live in the unknown,” she said.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.