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.

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