Curtain rises for an extraordinary World Cup edition in Val Gardena/Gröden
Even if the grandstands around the finish course of the Saslong remain empty and the VIP tent at the two speed classics in Val Gardena/Gröden will be searched for in vain this year - these circumstances will not dampen the anticipation of a top-class sporting event. The organizers around OC president Rainer Senoner are first and foremost happy that races can be held this week at all on one of the world's most renowned downhill courses. The efforts in the run-up to the 53rd Saslong Classic with the super-G on Friday, 18th and the downhill on Saturday, 19th December were consequently great.
Skiing has become more and more professional over the past decades. And it has become equally complex to organize a World Cup event. It is a challenge that all organizers now deal with 365 days a year. When the last participant crosses the finish line at a World Cup venue and the award ceremony is over, preparations for the following year usually begin. There are plans to be drawn up, contracts with suppliers and partners to be negotiated, orders to be monitored, employees to be trained and much more. After the event is before the event.
But in 2020 everything was and is different. The coronavirus took over the world in February. Nothing is the way it was before. Overnight, everything changed. At the end of the 2019/20 season, the coronavirus also impacted the world of skiing. The World Cup had to be cancelled prematurely, the planned final in Cortina - which would have been the World Championship dress rehearsal at the same time - did not take place. And the preparations for the 53rd Saslong Classic also came to a halt. How will things continue? Under what conditions will there be races in Val Gardena/Gröden? Will the World Cup take place at all? These were the questions that Rainer Senoner and his team posed themselves in the spring.
Being prepared for all scenarios
But the Saslong Classic Club reacted quickly - and professionally, as usual. The board and the Organizing Committee immediately developed several scenarios. Already at the end of May - when the International Ski Federation FIS confirmed the World Cup calendar 2020/21 - the team sensed that they would have to be very flexible in the upcoming season. "In the best case scenario, we will go through the races as usual. However, we will also be prepared if the number of spectators is limited or if we can’t hold the races in front of an audience at all," said Rainer Senoner at the time.
And that is what happened. While the Organizing Committee was still optimistic in the summer that it would be able to hold the races with a reduced number of spectators, the first doubts came in early autumn after infection numbers started to rise in all parts of Europe. In October, in agreement with FIS, the Italian Winter Sports Federation FISI, the state government and the local health authorities, it was decided that the speed classics would be held at the 1970 World Cup venue in front of empty stands.
Great support - also among the population
The decision was unavoidable and made not only by the Saslong Classic Club but supported by all stakeholders. Above all, the tourism industry and the political decision makers in Val Gardena/Gröden - along with the South Tyrolean provincial government and all partners - were behind holding the legendary races under the Sassolungo/Langkofel mountain. "This cohesion and lived solidarity are an essential driving force for the Saslong Classic Club. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which is putting many obstacles in our path, we hope that the 2020 World Cup will be an international event full of passion for skiing", Rainer Senoner is enthusiastic about the great support he also feels from the local population.
And so, on the last weekend before Christmas, all ski fans will be able to enjoy the two classics on the Saslong. The audience won’t be on-site, but joining in front of the TV screens from millions of homes. The organizers will provide the fans with real-time available news and exciting background information on social media and the official website www.saslong.org. "If the fans are not allowed to come to the Saslong, then this year the World Cup will come all the more to the fans," promises Senoner.
Who shines from the winner’s podium?
In the run-up to the 53rd Saslong Classic, there is no clear answer to the question of who is among the contenders for victory in the South Tyrolean Speed Classics. The last races of the past season were too long ago and the downhill stars were only racing once in Val d'Isère, France, before the showdown in the valley. But it is no secret that the Saslong is a course well suited for Norwegians. Every year from 2012 to 2018, one athlete from Norway dominated at least one of the two speed competitions.
The data of the most recent Val Gardena/Gröden races supports this claim: nine of the last 15 competitions ended with a victory for Kjetil, Jansrud & Co., and the Vikings even triumphed in six of the last eight super-G races. In 2016, the Norwegians made a special appearance when they swept the podium in the super-G - a result that had previously only been accomplished by the skiing nation Austria in 2004. Incidentally, one Austrian was also on the top step of the podium last year in the Super-G: Vincent Kriechmayr celebrated the fifth World Cup victory of his career on the Saslong. Do you think the Austrian will possibly repeat his prowess this year? Or can Dominik Paris bring home his third South Tyrolean triumph in his comeback season? Questions to which there will be an answer on December 18 and 19 at an extraordinary World Cup edition in Val Gardena/Gröden.