Beaver Creek proves its worth to FIS
Daron Rahlves overcame a touchy penalty in Friday’s training to podium in the Birds of Prey downhill race, sending the U.S. Ski Team into a frenzy of hugging and disbelief. Three Americans in the top 10? The crowd begged for more and there was Rahlves, raising his arms like a volume switch. The full grandstand responded.
Such elation is not the norm for American skiing and, when it happens in Beaver Creek, it adds to the importance of keeping this coming back every year to the valley.
Truly, it would be a shame to lose such an event.
But this is a possibility. With the International Ski Federation (FIS) requesting Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley Foundation move the event back to Thanksgiving weekend next year, and Beaver Creek giving them a firm, “No,” the battle lines have been drawn. The winner will be the one who, at its core, holds the power. Who needs who more? Does FIS have to have the event at Beaver Creek? The answer is no, not really.
Plenty of mountains would love the opportunity to try their hand at holding a downhill and super-G race, but not all have the space and amenities to do so. Still, the fact that Vail’s younger brother is the only mountain in Colorado to host a World Cup downhill event leaves a lot of others waiting for an opportunity.
But, after a week of near-perfect conditions, grinning racers, not a hitch in the timing system and the best overall American performance in 30 years, Beaver Creek’s stock might have risen.
And how could you tell Austria’s Stephan Eberharter, the best ski racer in the world, that the course he said he “loved” would not be around because of a scheduling conflict. It seems like FIS should, instead of asking for change, relax and appreciate a good thing when they have one.
This isn’t the only battle FIS will have to fight in the upcoming weeks. The governing body for the world of ski racing decided that Friday would be a perfect day to start enforcing a controversial equipment rule. It moved Rahlves, who had qualified second in the downhill run, down to the 37th starting position. Without the solid course conditions, this would have meant certain doom for Rahlves and the eight others who were penalized. By racing so well, Rahlves, in a way, justified FIS in its decision.
The rule states that all knee braces and back braces must be as porous as the uniform, meaning they can’t be more aerodynamic than the human body itself. The racers were up in arms, saying they used the braces for safety purposes. Rahlves’ coach, John McBride, insisted they turned the braces into “swiss cheese” with an electric drill, which gave him no advantage.
It didn’t give him a disadvantage, either, which I think was FIS’s point.
But by deciding to crack down Friday, it put the pressure on every event this season. If FIS decides not to check for such small technicalities, which is probable, then FIS’s display here went in vain. If every mountain that hosts a race decides to check after the training runs, then FIS has its hands full.
Not only will it have to rewrite the rule so it is clear to every team (at Friday’s coaches meeting, more than one team expressed confusion), it will also have to make sure every racer is checked. It seems a bit more than unfair to just single out those who qualify well for the downhill races.
All in all, the competitions this weekend were festive events with plenty of surprises. The issues that arose outside of races were just small scratches on the surface and, instead of tarnishing the image of ski racing at Beaver Creek, it might have given Beaver Creek chief operating officer John Garnsey and the Vail Valley Foundation that much more ammo. Who needs who more?
Before the races started, Garnsey said, “We haven’t drawn a line in the sand, so to say.”
Now that the 2002 races have proven to be successful, the line might have drawn itself.
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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