Tuesday, April 4, 2017

NHL's Olympic decision disappointing but understandable

The National Hockey League has announced it won't break the 2017-18 season to allow its players participate in the Winter Olympics in February. This will be the first time since 1998 when the NHL players won't participate in the Olympics, ending the streak of five Winter Games with nations represented by their best players.

The Olympics in February have seen the players in a good form playing for their nations. The same can't be said about the World Cup of Hockey which is played in the preseason. However, the Olympic dates have been problematic for the NHL. With less than two months to the playoffs, a key player's injury from the Olympics can derail a team's Stanley Cup bid. Also, February is an important month for the NHL as the NFL season has ended and the MLB season hasn't started yet.

With NHL participation, the Olympics have been the best possible international tournament for hockey. The best players playing for their nations at an event as prestigious as the Olympics with global coverage. However the Olympics have not increased the NHL's viewership, making the league not willing to break the season.

The International Olympic Committee has previously paid the insurance and travel expenses of the NHL players in order to get them to the Olympics. A practice unique to hockey among Olympic sports, the IOC isn't willing to pay those expenses in 2018, making the NHL reluctant to have the Olympic break. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered to pay those fees, yet the NHL doesn't want to use IIHF's money for the Olympic participation but wants the IOC to pay for it. In addition to that, the NHL wanted additional monetary compensation from the IOC for the lose revenue during the Olympics. Alternatively the NHL would have liked the official Olympic partner status to use it for commercial purposes.

The NHL players want to play at the Olympics. The NHL has acknowledged that and offered the Olympic participation if the NHLPA eliminated the opt-out clause in the collective bargaining agreement, extending it to 2022. However the NHLPA didn't accept that.

NHL has all the rights to ask for compensation for its players Olympic participation. While the ideal of the Olympics is a festival of sports without business interests, the reality is different. The IOC may officially be a nonprofit organization but it's a huge business, and probably second only to the FIFA in most corrupt major sports organizations. Why should the NHL sacrifice their own business interests to support an event that generates money for the IOC? The NHL did the right thing by not making the IIHF pay for NHL's Olympic participation; that money would have been away from developing hockey worldwide.

Olympics with NHL participation have been the ideal international hockey tournament and it's a pity if the NHL participation ends. But I can't blame the NHL for not participating the Olympics since there is not that much for the NHL to benefit. It's up to the IOC if they want the Olympics to be a pseudo-amateur event with no participation compensation, or if they want to have all the best athletes and are willing to share the revenue with other organizations to make that happen.

The NHL may be more willing to participate the 2022 Olympics, in order to promote itself in the Chinese market. However what I want to see the least is the NHL deciding case-by-case which Olympics to participate. I want to see NHL either committing long-term to the Olympics or starting to build up the brand of the World Cup of Hockey to make it the most important international hockey tournament. Then again, hardly anything can prevent the NHL from participating certain Olympics it feels important if the NHL pays all expenses itself.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Radical changes proposed for the Alpine Skiing World Cup

The FIS race director Markus Waldner is suggesting some radical changes for the Alpine Skiing World Cup, as reported by skionline.ch. His ideas include finishing the season with the World Championships, removing super-G and adding sprint downhills, and increasing the number of the parallel races.

World Championships after the World Cup?

Having the World Championships once the World Cup has finished sounds sensible; Waldner compares it the domestic soccer leagues finishing before the FIFA World Cup. However, I can see two problems.

World Cup races in March are often harmed by warm temperature. Do we want to see the Worlds' medals decided in unfair conditions?

Secondly, what about the Olympic seasons or the seasons with no championships? The Olympics are usually in mid-February; would the World Cup season finish in early February then or continue past the Olympics? And in a non-championship season, would the World Cup season continue till mid-March like it currently does?

Finishing the season with the World Championships sounds cool but you can't have it every season. On the other hand, with the current schedule you have the World Cup Finals concluding every season, no matter if there were the Olympics or the Worlds or neither that season.

The future of speed disciplines

I don't get the point of Waldner's idea of dropping super-G altogether from the World Cup. The number of the speed races is already an issue, handicapping speed specialists in the overall standings against the technical specialists. Getting rid of super-G would only skew the schedule even more in favor of tech specialists, even though Waldner's suggested sprint downhills would balance it.

One of the ideas is also to have the technical races in weekdays to give more flexibility for the speed races in weekends. More scheduling flexibility is definitely needed as showcased by this season's downhill cancellations. Yet I'm not sure moving races to weekdays is a good idea unless you can have them as night races when people have come home from work.

More parallel races

Waldner is pushing for more parallel races since they are easy for the audience to understand, even if they aren't into ski racing. He is suggesting a crystal globe with four to five parallel races, which would end the criticized practice of counting them towards the slalom or giant slalom standings.

Personally I'm not a huge fan of the parallel races but obviously their reception has been mostly positive. No longer counting them towards slalom or parallel slalom standings would be an improvement since parallel races require somewhat different skills.

However, increasing the number of parallel races makes the schedule even more tech-favoring, even though speed specialists have occasionally had success in parallel races. What I think is the biggest problem of the Ski World Cup is the speed vs. tech disparity; Waldner's suggestions only seem to increase it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to balance the Alpine Skiing World Cup schedule?

Only two of the scheduled five men's downhill races so far have taken place this World Cup season, and it is unsure if all canceled races will get a replacement date. That has caused criticism of this season's schedule which was tech-favoring already before the downhill cancellations.

The men's schedule for this season features 15 speed races, nine in downhill and only six in super-G. In technical disciplines, there are 18 races, 10 in slalom and eight in giant slalom. In addition to that, there is one parallel race both in giant slalom and slalom, though parallel racing is almost a separate discipline. Of the two combined races, one had super-G and the other had downhill as the speed leg.

Women also have 15 speed races as opposed to 18 technical races, though the distribution is more even. There are eight races in downhill, seven in super-G, nine in giant slalom, and nine in slalom. Women have only one parallel race, that is in slalom. Of the three combined races, one has downhill as the speed leg, two have super-G.

Having a balanced schedule would be important to keep the overall title battle fair for both speed and tech specialists. To illustrate that, here's an example. If a tech specialist scores 60 points on average in those disciplines' races, he'll score 1080 points in the season. A speed specialist needs an average of 72 points per speed race for that. Or 77 if one race gets canceled without a replacement as it currently seems for men.

The schedules don't look much better for the next three seasons from that perspective. The women's schedules aren't that bad but the men's schedules schedules always have two or three races more in the technical side and parallel races are still more of technical races. Still, looking at those schedules, you could achieve well-balanced schedules with minimal changes.

Firstly, I'd exclude the parallel races that have increased the number of tech races in the World Cup. Those are not real slalom and giant slalom races so they shouldn't be included in the discipline standings either. I acknowledge their importance in attracting new audiences and you want to have the big names racing there. But the incentive should be something else than World Cup overall points; instead give a cash prize or even a separate crystal globe for parallel races.

Secondly, I'd drop the separate combined races from the schedule. You could use those days for speed races. If you still want to have combined races, you can have some downhill races followed by a slalom run to complete the alpine combined. Wengen would be the only exception; the long Lauberhorn course needs to be shortened for combined.

Now let's have a look into how the next seasons' schedules could be balanced.

Women 2017-18 (DH: 8 races, SG: 8, GS: 8, SL: 9, AC: 3)

This is the best-balanced schedule of the next three years and wouldn't really need any changes. If one slalom got canceled, just don't reschedule it, then you'll have eight races in all disciplines but combined.

Men 2017-18 (DH: 9, SG: 6, GS: 8, SL: 10, AC: 2)

This is similar to the current season, though with two changes you could balance the speed and tech races. Val d'Isère is a venue capable of hosting any discipline. Replace the slalom with a super-G there. Bormio (the Italian TBD venue) could increase the number of super-Gs to eight by replacing the alpine combined. That way you'd have a 9-8-8-9 distribution of races in the four disciplines.

Women 2018-19 (DH: 9, SG: 6, GS: 8, SL: 9, AC: 3)

This is the least balanced of the women's schedules in next three seasons. But still, you could achieve a 9-8-8-9 distribution by replacing two of the combined races with super-G races.

Men 2018-19 (DH: 9, SG: 7, GS: 9, SL: 10, AC: 3)

Once again men will have three more tech races compared to speed races. Though similarly to the previous season, by replacing the slalom of Val d'Isère and the combined of Bormio, you could balance the schedule and get nine races in all four disciplines.

Women 2019-20 (DH: 10, SG: 8, GS: 9, SL: 10, AC: 3)

This schedule is easy to balance. Replace two combined races with super-G races and one combined race with a giant slalom. That way you'll get 10 races in all four disciplines.

Men 2019-20 (DH: 11, SG: 8, GS: 10, SL: 11, AC: 3)

You can get a 11-10-10-11 schedule and speed vs. tech balance by replacing the combined races of Bormio and Chamonix with super-G races.

2020 and beyond

I hope the FIS will pay more attention to the distribution of races between each discipline, to give both speed and tech specialists a fair chance to race for the overall title. The trouble in rescheduling the canceled downhill races shows also another problem of the current schedule; the ever-growing schedule is getting too full. For that reason, I wouldn't mind having less races than there currently are.

An alternative for balancing speed vs. tech

If balancing the schedule isn't an option, maybe alpine skiing should have a look at freestyle skiing. In the Freestyle World Cup where athletes usually compete only in one or two disciplines, the overall standings are the aggregate of the average points in each discipline.

Or to make it easier for fans, count only a certain number of races from each discipline into the overall standings, like six as that's the number of men's super-G races this and next season. That would still favor the disciplines with more races as you could afford some bad results, yet still it would be an improvement to the current situation.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Three-way battle on top of the Four Hills Tournament

Daniel-André Tande opened the new year with a victory in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Kamil Stoch achieved a second consecutive second place and became the new Four Hills Tournament leader over the Oberstdorf winner Stefan Kraft. Less than seven points separate the top three at the halfway of the Four Hills while Markus Eisenbichler in fourth place is already 20 points from the lead.

Kraft loses the tournament lead in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Stefan Kraft started the Four Hills Tournament in Oberstdorf with a victory over Kamil Stoch by 2.8 points, leaving Michael Hayböck in third place 11.8 points behind. Kraft was able to extend his tournament lead over Stoch to 6.1 points in the first round in Garmisch-Partenkirchen; however a second jump three meters shorter to Stoch's saw Kraft losing the tournament lead by 0.8 points as he finished third in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Stoch leads the Four Hills after two second places

Kamil Stoch has won the World Cup title and Olympic and World gold medals in his successful career but has never had major success at the Four Hills. A victory in any Four Hills competition is still eluding him but he is leading the tournament standings following the second places of the first two competitions.

The battle between Stoch and Kraft has been very close in the first two competitions, as implied by the 0.8-point gap between them. After the first round in Oberstdorf, Kraft was leading Stoch by 4.3 points, yet Stoch reduced the gap to 2.8 points in the second round. In the first round in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the gap extended to 6.1 points as Stoch had his worst jump of the tournament. Yet with a jump of 143.0, Stoch climbed from fifth into second place and took the tournament lead from Kraft by 0.8 points.

Tande recovers into title battle after Oberstdorf's first round

After topping the qualification in Oberstdorf, Daniel-André Tande had a mediocre first competition jump. Only ninth in the first round in Oberstdorf, Tande was trailing Kraft already by 14.8 points. However, the second round started his recovery in the Four Hills title battle. With the best second jump, he finished fourth in Oberstdorf and reduced the gap to Kraft to 12.6 points. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen he topped the first round ahead of Kraft, reducing the gap to Kraft further by two points and trailing the tournament second-placed Stoch by 4.5 points. With a second jump one meter shorter to Stoch's, he claimed his second career World Cup victory in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and is in Four Hills' third place, 6.6 points behind the leader Stoch.

Tande in best form but does he have the consistency?

Tande has shown tremendous form in recovering from the poor first jump in Oberstdorf. He had the best second jump in Oberstdorf and the best first jump in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and his second jump in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was second only to Stoch's. 6.6 points isn't a big gap for the remaining two competitions, equivalent for less than four meters.

However, Tande can't afford another mediocre jump if Stoch and Kraft continue their consistently excellent performances. Especially Stoch has been very solid in all his jumps at the Four Hills, including qualifications and trainings. Fifth in the first round in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was the first time in a competition round when he wasn't in the top two. Including training and qualification rounds, that was his second-worst round; in the trial round he was down in 12th place. Skipping the qualification in Garmisch-Partenkirchen showcased the self-confidence Stoch currently has.

Kraft hasn't impressed with his training jumps but he's been very solid when it matters the most, in the competitions but also in the qualifications. Fourth in the second round in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was his first non-top-three round ranking in competitions and qualifications in the tournament.

Kraft only former champion in the top three

Stefan Kraft is the only former Four Hills champion in the top three, which may make the situation easier for him. In addition to that, the tournament finishes with competitions in Innsbruck and Bischofshofen. Those hills are surely familiar for the Austrian Kraft, even though at least Stoch also has experience of them.

Kamil Stoch is one of the most successful ski jumpers of the 2010s with a World Cup title, two Olympic gold medals, and one World gold medal, yet still his best Four Hills result is fourth from 2013. Now he is finally in his best form at the Four Hills, and his earlier championship success implies that he can perform at his best under the pressure of a title battle.

Daniel-André Tande is the contender with no previous experience of being among major title favorites. The first jump in Oberstdorf looked like he was folding under the pressure, yet he recovered from it with a brilliant second jump and two days later he celebrated his second career World Cup victory in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, exactly when his Four Hills campaign needed it.

Challengers for the top three far behind

Markus Eisenbichler topped the qualification in Garmisch-Partenkirchen but had to settle for a fourth place in the competition, missing the podium by 3.5 points. Eisenbichler's gap to the tournament leader Stoch is 29.2 points which is too much for the remaining two competitions given how solid the top three is.

Piotr Żyła climbed from seventh into fifth place past two Austrians who had a disappointing competition in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Third in Oberstdorf and 11.2 points from the lead, Michael Hayböck needed at least to match the lead contenders in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to stay in the Four Hills title contention. However, he was only 10th and the gap to the tournament lead extended into 29.7 points.

Manuel Fettner is having a career-best season at the age of 31. He opened the Four Hills with a fifth place in Oberstdorf and a third place in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen qualification increased the expectations. However, he achieved only a disappointing 10th place, dropping him down to seventh place in the tournament standings, 36.8 points from the tournament lead.

Four Hills leaders closing on World Cup leader Prevc

Domen Prevc came into the Four Hills as the World Cup leader, 158 points ahead of Tande in second place. However, the 17-year-old sensation couldn't meet the high expectations in Oberstdorf where he was only 26th, 53.3 points behind the winner Kraft. Although his Four Hills title chance has gone, he needs to get quickly back to his former level to retain the World Cup standings' lead.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen was more successful for Prevc. Eighth after the first round, Prevc had the third-best second jump and finished in fifth place. However, the Four Hills' leading trio are Prevc's closest rivals in the World Cup standings. Tande has reduced Prevc's lead to 58 points while Kraft is 99 points and Stoch 107 points behind.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Kraft and Stoch in their own league in Oberstdorf

The 65th Four Hills Tournament started with Stefan Kraft's close victory over Kamil Stoch while leaving the third-placed Michael Hayböck over 11 points behind.

Like in his winning 2015 campaign, Kraft started the Four Hills Tournament with a victory in Oberstdorf. His first jump of 139.0 meters was the longest of the competition and he could win even with a third-best second jump.

Kamil Stoch was in second place already after the first round, 4.3 points behind Kraft. Importantly for the tournament standings, he reduced the gap to Kraft by 1.5 points in the second round. 2.8 points is a very small gap with six competition rounds remaining at the Four Hills.

The World Cup leader Domen Prevc lost his Four Hills title chances already in Oberstdorf. With his first jump of 124.5 meters, he was already 29.8 points behind Kraft. In the second round the gap increased to 53.3 points which is way too much to make up in the remaining three competitions.

Although his Four Hills title chances have gone, Domen Prevc remains as an interesting man to watch. Despite the 26th place in Oberstdorf, he still leads the World Cup overall standings by 113 points to Daniel-André Tande. The 17-year-old sensation needs to get back to his top form quickly to retain the yellow bib.

Daniel-André Tande topped the qualification but was another favorite who was a disappointment in the first round. With a jump of 130.5 meters, Tande was only ninth in the first round, 14.8 points behind Kraft. Yet with the best second jump of 138.5 meters, he was able to recover into fourth place and reduce the gap to Kraft by 2.2 points. 12.6 points, equivalent to seven meters, is still a gap possible to overcome in the six remaining competition rounds.

Michael Hayböck was third in Oberstdorf and is trailing Kraft by 11.2 points. While that is not an impossible gap to overcome in six rounds, Hayböck, unlike Tande, wasn't able to match Kraft's and Stoch's jumps in the competition rounds nor in the qualification in Oberstdorf. Hayböck needs at least to match the leaders in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, otherwise the gap will become too big for the last two competitions.

The Austrians' strong performances in Oberstdorf were completed by Manuel Fettner in fifth place, 13.1 points behind Kraft. Although Fettner is having a career-best season, a 31-year-old with only two World Cup podiums still seems like an outsider in the title battle.

Markus Eisenbichler did well in almost all his jumps in Oberstdorf. After the first round he was fourth, 1.7 points from the podium, yet he had to settle for a sixth place after the second round. Eisenbichler is in a tight pack of jumpers behind the third-placed Hayböck, 14.9 points from the leader Kraft. A familiar hill may have helped the German Eisenbichler in Oberstdorf and that may be the case also in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If he can take the same form to the Austrian hills, he can finish even in the top three of the tournament standings.

The seventh jumper within 20 points from Kraft was Piotr Żyła. Although he lost only 4.3 points to the third-placed Hayböck, it would be a surprise if the World Cup 17th-placed Żyła was a podium contender throughout the tournament.

The defending Four Hills champion Peter Prevc couldn't get back into a winning form for this season's tournament. Prevc was 10th in Oberstdorf and 26.2 points to lead is very much of an impossible gap to make up in the three remaining competitions.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Tande and Stoch favorites a day before the Four Hills

The 65th Four Hills Tournament has started with the qualification of the opening competition in Oberstdorf. Daniel-André Tande topped the qualification ahead of Kamil Stoch who had impressed already in the two training rounds. My long Four Hills preview written right after the Engelberg weekend can be found earlier in the blog.

Fourth in the World Cup standings, Kamil Stoch had a solid qualification day in Oberstdorf. After the third place of the first training round, he topped the second training round. In the qualification round he had a jump of 137.5 meters for the second place.

A World Cup champion and Olympic and World gold medalist, Stoch has won almost everything in ski jumping except for the Four Hills Tournament. Now after some worse seasons, he's back in a winning form and seems like a strong title contender.

Stoch's biggest rival seems to be  Daniel-André Tande, currently second in the World Cup standings. Tande couldn't quite match Stoch's training jumps; however he had the longest qualification jump of 139.0 meters, despite having started a gate lower to Stoch.

Although Tande's only World Cup victory is from over a year ago, he has been consistently in the front in this season's competitions. As his consistently strong performances continued in the Oberstdorf qualification, one can expect a strong Four Hills campaign from him.

The World Cup leader Domen Prevc had shown dominant form in the competitions before Christmas; however he didn't show that form on the qualification day in Oberstdorf. He achieved 12 points less with a jump five meters shorter to Tande's, qualifying in eighth place. Prevc didn't impress in the training rounds either; he was only 47th in the first training round and ninth in the second round.

Prevc has shown this season that he can beat Tande and Stoch. If he can perform like earlier this season, he will be a victory contender in Oberstdorf and at the entire tournament. But if he can't improve from the qualification day, his title chances will become slim already after the first of the four hills.

Domen's oldest brother Peter Prevc is defending the Four Hills title. Only 12th in the World Cup standings after a difficult early season, Peter showed some improved form with the ninth place of the qualification. Still, he scored 12.7 points less than Tande, showing how far he still is from the form needed to repeat his triumph at the Four Hills.

Severin Freund, runner-up to Prevc in the last year's tournament, is in an even more difficult position. While many other Germans performed over their usual level on the familiar hill, last year's winner Freund was only 19th in the qualification. His training jumps weren't great either; 18th in the first round and 25th in the second round.

Tande and Stoch's biggest threats seem to be Austrian. Although his training jumps weren't so great, the 2015 Four Hills champion Stefan Kraft was third in the qualification with a jump of 136,0 meters from the same gate as Stoch. Manuel Fettner in fourth place also achieved 136.0 meters, though starting a gate higher to Kraft. Michael Hayböck was ninth in the qualification; however he had solid training jumps with fifth places in both rounds.

The German crowd's biggest hope in Oberstdorf seems to be Markus Eisenbichler. Seventh in the World Cup standings, the 25-year-old has made his breakthrough this season and achieved his first World Cup podium. Eisenbichler was the top German in the qualification in sixth place with a jump of 137.0 meters, though from two gates higher than the longest jump of Tande. In the training, he was first in the first round and second in the second round.

Like Kamil Stoch, Simon Ammann is a World Cup champion and Olympic and World gold medalist aiming for the missing title at the Four Hills, yet he comes to the tournament only in 28th place of the World Cup standings. Thursday didn't see a much-needed improvement in Ammann's form; he was 29th in the qualification as well as in both training rounds.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hirscher pulling away from overall World Cup rivals

The five-time defending World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher has been as great as ever in pre-Christmas races of the 2016-17 season. Yet to miss a podium in a regular giant slalom or slalom, Hirscher leads the overall standings by 251 points to last two seasons' runners-up Kjetil Jansrud and Henrik Kristoffersen in tied second place. Besides that, Hirscher is leading the discipline standings in both slalom and giant slalom.

Hirscher claimed the giant slalom standings' lead from Alexis Pinturault as he won the season's fourth GS in Alta Badia, making it 33 consecutive top-six finishes in World Cup GS races. Despite a first-round loss in the following day's parallel giant slalom, he retained the red bib as his closest rivals Alexis Pinturault and Mathieu Faivre weren't classified higher than ninth and eighth, respectively.

After winning at Levi, Hirscher had an advantage of 100 points over the defending slalom champion Kristoffersen who was aside due to sponsorship conflicts. Yet in the following two slalom races, Kristoffersen has proved he's the man to beat in slalom also this season. With two victories, Kristoffersen has reduced the gap to 60 points. Yet to Hirscher's credit, he has been the only man to get even close to the reigning champion in slalom.

Given the consistency Hirscher is showing, Kjetil Jansrud's overall title campaign seems like an impossible task. Two super-G victories plus a victory and a 12th place in downhill by Jansrud is a great record in this season's speed races, yet speed disciplines are in minority to technical disciplines in the World Cup schedule. Jansrud competes also in giant slalom, yet he is still to score points in regular GS races this season. To make the overall title campaign even harder for Jansrud, Hirscher occasionally races in super-G, being even a podium contender at best.

This seems like the 2014-15 season for Jansrud again. He won't be able to beat Hirscher for the overall title but the discipline titles in super-G and downhill are the best he can achieve. After two victories, he already has 108 points of advantage over Dominik Paris in second place. Yet he lost the downhill leader's red bib to Aksel Lund Svindal by 18 points in the last race in Val Gardena as he was only 12th, ending his winning streak in this season's speed races.

Svindal was the dominant speed skier before his injuries in the past two seasons. Last season he was leading the downhill, super-G, and overall standings before sustaining a knee injury in a downhill crash in Kitzbühel. Although the recovery took time and limited Svindal's pre-season training, he is already in a great form. With third and second places in this season's downhill races, he is leading the discipline standings and one can expect him to get even better after the injury as the season progresses. The only time he has missed the podium in this season's speed races was in the Val Gardena super-G where he was in podium contention in split times but then missed a gate. He is 120 points behind the leader Jansrud in the super-G standings, which is a big gap with four races remaining.

Sharing the overall standings' second place is Jansrud's fellow Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, last year's slalom champion and overall runner-up. While he is showing great form in slalom, giant slalom and a sponsorship dispute are hurting his overall campaign.

Missing the season's first slalom at Levi due to a sponsorship dispute, Kristoffersen had put himself in a difficult position, 100 points behind Hirscher in the slalom standings. Although he has beaten Hirscher for the victory in the following two slalom races, he is still 60 points down. For comparison, his winning margin over Hirscher last season was 31 points.

Skipping Levi was also a missed opportunity to score up to 100 points for his overall campaign. Kristoffersen's giant slalom also hasn't been good enough to challenge Hirscher; he is fourth in the GS standings, already 171 points behind Hirscher.

Hirscher's closest rival in the GS standings is Alexis Pinturault. After two victories and a third place in first three races, he was leading Hirscher by 20 points before costly crashing out in Alta Badia. With a victory, Hirscher took the lead by 80 points. In the Alta Badia parallel GS, Pinturault was classified ninth while Hirscher was only 18th, yet Hirscher still leads the GS standings by 64 points.

Although Pinturault has the potential for good results also in slalom and super-G, he is already 284 points behind Hirscher in the overall standings. He has had some good slalom runs this season but hasn't been able to have two great runs in the same race. At Levi, he was fourth-quickest in the second run, in Val d'Isère he was leading after the first run before going out in the second run, and in Madonna di Campiglio only Kristoffersen and Hirscher had quicker second runs. Still, seventh in Madonna was his best slalom result of the season and he is 12th in the slalom standings.

While the five-time World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety is suffering from back problems, the usual GS frontrunners Hirscher and Pinturault have a new title rival. Mathieu Faivre achieved his maiden World Cup victory in the first giant slalom of Val d'Isère. He made the podium again two weeks later in Alta Badia where he was second to Hirscher. Yet two ninth places in regular GS races and the parallel GS's eighth place mean that he is trailing Hirscher by 73 points with four GS races remaining.