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AFP
October 17, 2020

Shiffrin absent as ski season kicks off

Sports

AFP
October 17, 2020

SOELDEN, Austria: An injured Mikaela Shiffrin will be absent as the men and women’s World Cup season gets under way this weekend on the Austrian glacier of Soelden amid continuing uncertainty over the knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last season was brought to an abrupt halt in March because of Covid-19, and the calendar for the 2020/21 season has already been massively altered.

The international ski federation (FIS) has decided that the World Cup circuit will skip its traditional swing through North America in late November because of the pandemic.

Two weeks of competition scheduled November 25-December 6 included men and women racing speed events in Lake Louise, Canada, before going on to the American resorts of Killington (women’s technical races) and Beaver Creek (men’s technical and speed races).

The events will now be staged in the French resorts of Val d’Isere and Courchevel, and St Moritz in Switzerland, with the adapted calendars to be approved in late September.

FIS said it had been forced into adopting “a different structure due to impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”.

The reshuffle also sees no combined events, in which skiers race both a speed and technical event, for the first time since the 1977/78 season.

Plans are also afoot to keep separate as much as possible not only women from men, but also speed specialists from technical experts.

Wengen, in Switzerland, and the Austrian resort of Kitzbuehel have, however, maintained their right to mix disciplines, while Soelden is the venue to kickstart the season with two giant slaloms involving both male and female racers on the Rettenbach glacier at 3,000m altitude.

Alpine skiing, like other elite sports, will have to learn to live with Covid-19, especially after the virus saw the last 13 events cancelled last year, notably the season-ending finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo, leading to surprise winners in the overall standings in the shape of Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Italian Federica Brignone, who pipped a grief-stricken Shiffrin.

The Italian resort of Cortina is slated to host the February 8-21 world championships. And one year out from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, female racers have two races booked in China, the men having tested the snow in Yanqing last February.

While contamination levels increase throughout the world, and notably Europe, FIS and the wider skiing family can be allowed a large dose of uncertainty over the successful staging of the season, which is scheduled to end with finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, between March 15-21.

Skiers will be tested before and during each competition. Should a test come back positive, the skier will not be allowed to race and will go into self-isolation along with other teammates with whom they might have come into contact. A negative test will be required before they can rejoin the circuit.

Each event organiser also has the right to toughen up health protocols. In Soelden, for example, racing will take place on empty slopes devoid of fans, in front of a reduced media presence and without physical press conferences.

Men’s competition looks set for a titanic battle between France’s Alexis Pinturault and the Norwegian duo of reigning champion Kilde and slalom specialist Henrik Kristoffersen.

American Shiffrin, after three consecutive titles, gave up on her quest for a fourth last season after the sudden death of her father, handing Brignone a free pass for the women’s big crystal globe.

Out of Soelden with a back injury, the 25-year-old Shiffrin, with 66 World Cup victories to her name, remains the big favourite, sure to be pushed all the way by Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova.