48th Saslong Classic: Great Achievement by Norway
The races were only made possible because temperatures fell in the second half of November allowing for artificial snow to be made. Up to that point, it was a mild autumn with very warm weather. No rainfalls were predicted anywhere in the Alps until Christmas. “Our secret is team work“ is how Stefania Demetz, General Manager of the Saslong Classic Club summed up the event. Compared to the previous year, it wasn’t as hard to turn the green meadows under the Sassolungo/Langkofel mountain into a race course. The track turned out great at the end but a lot of work was necessary because winter did not want to come in 2015. On November 21st, the minimum temperatures started to drop to levels that allowed for snow making. Just in time for the ski races on the Saslong on December 18th and 19th. FIS Race Director Hannes Trinkl commented: “I got a very, very good impression. The Saslong is already in great shape.” Ski racers confirmed the praise: “The course is amazing, which I did not expect, given the current conditions. There is not a pebble or square inch of grass that will be in the way” is how the Austrian Matthias Mayer described the track after the training talking on behalf of his competitors.
One guy was at the center of the athletic events during the Saslong weekend: Aksel Lund Svindal, who celebrated his 33rd birthday one week after the Downhill race. He was the fastest during the two training runs, the Super-G and the Downhill. In the Super-G, Svindal pushed two countrymen to second and third place: Kjetil Jansrud came second, 0.34 behind showing that he had fully recovered from his illness. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde surprisingly came in third, 0.44 behind. The 23-year-old has never placed better in a World Cup race. His best Super-G results were a 7th place in Saalbach last season and in Beaver Creek this winter. A name to be put to memory.
The Norwegian triumph had a special after-taste. The Super-G course was set by Franz Gamper, the coach of no other than … the Norwegians! On the day before the race, he confirmed in an interview with Saslong.org that it is difficult to set the course for his own athletes: “The coach sets the course the way he thinks makes most sense and of course he will try to set it in a way that is conducive to his team” is how the South Tyrolean from the Ulten valley explained it. The Saslong was widened at the Camel Humps in autumn giving more options to the Super-G course in particular. In addition, fall zones were made more spacious. Another improvement was made at the turn into the Final Schuss. “We positioned a camera on a mechanical crane to better capture the exit from the Ciaslat and entry into the Final Schuss” explains TV director Sandro De Manincor.
The Downhill was once again the highlight in Val Gardena/Gröden. 10,000 spectators came and enjoyed the thrilling races. Again, the winner was Aksel Lund Svindal ahead of Guillermo Fayed from France (+0.43) and Jansrud (+0.46). “To win a second time in Val Gardena/Gröden is amazing. I was never better in the Downhill“ is how Svindal described his feeling after winning. Fayed confirmed that he is in tip-top shape confirming his 4th and 6th place in the training runs. „The second place is a wonderful result. We analyzed Svindal’s runs on TV and tried our hardest to copy-cat him“ said the 30-year-old Frenchman, who already placed fourth in Lake Louise and third in Beaver Creek. Jansrud had already won Silver in Beaver Creek. “It was great to be on the podium in the Super-G and the Downhill. I am excited to see what comes next“ said Jansrud after the Downhill and before winning the first ever Parallel Giant Slalom in the history of the World Cup.
Speaking of Fayed: his winning ski boots were stolen during the award ceremony. The news made the round and reached the Italian competitor Mattia Casse, who placed 22nd. He had noticed a tourist who was obviously wearing ski-racing boots that were not appropriate for a recreational skier. He immediately informed the local police who was able to catch the thief who admitted that he wanted to take them home as a souvenir. He thought the racer didn’t need them anymore, is how the local media reported the events.
Mixed results for the South Tyrolean team: Peter Fill was able to impress after placing second and third in Lake Louise. Similarly high were the expectations after he performed well during the training runs. Fill disappointed in the Super-G but lived up to expectations in the Downhill placing 4th which immensely pleased his fan club arriving from nearby Kastelruth. “Placing on the podium on home turf would obviousl have been a great feeling, but I am also pleased with a fourth place. I never skied better on the Saslong“ said a beaming Fill after the Dowhill. Dominik Paris, who placed twice on the podium in 2014, came in 8th in the Super-G and 13th in the Downhill. Christof Innerhofer and Werner Heel didn’t ski great results along with their team-mates of the Italian national team.
The overall successful racing week was overshadowed by the fall of Austrian Matthias Mayr. He turned in a jump over the third Camel Hump, losing control and landing on his back. He suffered a broken vertebra ending his season prematurely. An airbag safety suit that was employed for the first time in Val Gardena/Gröden might have prevented a more serious injury. Another fall happened during the training when Rob Perko from Slovenia fell and severely cut his arm close to the elbow. He also missed a few races.
In addition to the race, the week’s entertainment program offered many highlights, too. The idyllic holiday season and beautiful setting of the Nives Square in Selva/Wolkenstein provided the perfect backdrop for the Super-G prize giving ceremony, the public bib drawing for the Downhill and a special ceremony. Josef Kelder, President of Val Gardena Marketing honored Erich Demetz, an honorary member of the Organizing Committee and until 2014 Chairman of the FIS World Cup Alpine Committee, and Edmund Dellago, President of the Saslong Classic Club, for their great services to the ski racing sport in Val Gardena/Gröden establishing the valley as a winter ski destination. "I am very pleased about this honor. I want to dedicate it to the hundreds of employees, volunteers and pioneers who built this valley together with us," said Erich Demetz at the ceremony. Edmund Dellago added: " I never felt this was a job. Rather, I saw it as a hobby. "The two pioneers were instrumental in the organization of the first World Cup races and the World Cup 1970.
The Fan Club parade could not be amiss this year. 18 fan clubs with more than 600 individuals came to support their skiers in Val Gardena/Gröden. The fans of Otmar Striedinger from Austria repeated last year’s win with no less than 130 members. As usual, the World Cup in Val Gardena/Gröden attracted a number of important personalities from politics, business and the community at large. Governor Arno Kompatscher along with other members of the local government were there along with FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis and Technical Delegate Goradz Bedrac as well as FISI President Flavio Roda. Furthermore, a large number of former ski stars came to Val Gardena/Gröden along with many representatives of local, national and international businesses and institutions. A total of 220 media representatives from 17 countries reported on location from Val Gardena/Gröden. For the first time the race was broadcast live on Chinese television.