Saslong Classic Club / Gardena - Gröden
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Val Gardena/Gröden 2016: A Surprise and an Evergreen

What do Markus Foser, Max Rauffer and Max Franz have in common? They have (almost) the same first names but they also all three won the Downhill gold in Val Gardena/Gröden starting with high bib numbers. Granted, this year’s surprise wasn’t as big as they previous two. Foser from Liechtenstein won in 1993 with bib 66 ahead of Werner Franz (bib 52 and first cousin of Max Franz), the German Rauffer eleven years later with bib 46. For both it would remain their only World Cup victory. Whether this will also be the one and only victory for Max Franz is still open. By the time he started with bib 26, everyone had accepted the title defense of the previous year’s winner Aksel Lund Svindal. His second place counted even more in light of his ACL team in Kitzbühel eleven months ago.

Speaking of bibs, they were the big topic at the Finish. The FIS has introduced a new assignment process and not everyone agrees with it. It advantages the best runners and as such it is justified said Aksel Lund Svindal. Christof Innerhofer on the other hand replied that there would hardly be any surprises with this system and that the gap to the best would increase. Either way, Max Franz proved both theories wrong and showed that the race isn’t over after the top racers are at the Finish. With this change, the FIS wanted to make the World Cup more attractive to spectators and enhance the product for TV viewers. The ten highest ranked on the World Cup rankings can pick a uneven bib numbers between 1 and 20, the next ten ranked will get a randomly assigned even bib number within the same range followed by the rest of the skiers on the list.

Symbiosis is an apt word for Steven Nyman and the Saslong. The American celebrated all his three World Cup victories in Val Gardena/Gröden and landed a fourth podium in 2016. But never before was a racing weekend so emotional: a few days before the Downhill he learned of the death of his grandmother and only 12 hours before the race he opened a informative email together with his girlfriend. It came from their doctor and revealed the gender of their unborn baby due in June. “We were under the stars on the Sella Pass in Val Gardena/Gröden and read the news” says Nyman at the Finish. “It’s a girl!”, the two future parents rejoiced, whereupon they decided to call her Sella.

The Super-G on the Saslong continues to be dominated by Norwegians. Kjetil Jansrud won ahead of fellow Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde. It was the seventh Norwegian victory in the Super-G in Val Gardena/Gröden in 16 years. There was almost a repeat triple Norwegian win, but Askel Lund Svindal exited the race in the bottom after a great run at the top. Third-placed was Canadian Erik Guay who continued his Saslong success streak after winning the Downhill in 2013 and landing on the podium in the Super-G in 2005 and 2010. Unfortunately Sandro Villetta (SUI) crashed in the Ciaslat entry tearing his ACL in the right knee.

And the South Tyroleans? In the Super-G, results were appealing with Dominik Paris in 8th, Christof Innerhofer in 10th and Peter fill in 12th. This coupled with good training results raised expectations for the Downhill that weren’t met. Innerhofer performed best on the little loved Saslong and came in 13th, followed by local favorite Fill (22nd) and Paris (25th). Werner Heel could not repeat the positive performance of the training runs.

From a technical point of view, there was great praise for the excellent preparation of the Saslong course. “Fantastic” is how FIS Race Director Markus Waldner described the work of the organizers, although the weather conditions made this easier than in the previous year. In the weeks preceding the race, a multi-year modernization project of the course was completed. As the last bit, the Nucia turn was broadened. This completed the works on the 1970 World Championship course.

For the first time, Rainer Senoner stood in the role of President of the Organizing Committee. In May 2016 he succeeded Edmund Dellago who lead the organization since 2007.

Another innovation in this year’s races was delivered by FIS. For the first time, two different colors were used to offer racers a better view as well as indicating highlights along the course. In the past, all lines were blue. In Val Gardena/Gröden, the perpendicular lines to the race direction were drawn in green food coloring. Skiers will therefore have a better grasp of the jumps and compressions starting in this 50th year of the Ski World Cup. “For me there was no difference” said Peter Fill, asking whether the distinction helped him.

This year also saw a new edition of the combined ranking of the races in Val Gardena/Gröden. The South Tyrol Ski Trophy was awarded to the athlete who collected the most World Cup points in the form racers, receiving a special prize. The title went to Kjetil Jansrud with 182 points. The Norwegian won 20,000 Euros and a wooden bust in 3D. Furthermore, a special dish was created by Micheline star chef Norbert Niederkofler and named after the victor.

Another prestigious prize went to the Heilousn, Dominik Paris’ fan club. As in 2012 and 2013, the Group from nearby Ulten Valley won the Fan Festival. The jury was impressed mainly by their hospitality. The approximately 60 members distributed mulled wine and typical donuts to other fan clubs and impressed with their poison green flags and bells. Behind them was Max Franz’ fan club who traveled with 90 supporters to Val Gardena/Gröden.

Finally, the Gianni Mazola prize to the youngest Downhill racer, endowed with 1500 Euros went to Niels Hinterman, born in 1995 for the second year in a row.