Fragmented FIS Race Scheduling And What It Means For The Sport

Just recently the guys at FasterSkier and the Nordic Commentary Project got together for a podcast, where they discussed a range of topics in international ski racing.  One topic that they touched upon was the fact that cross country skiing has an ever increasing number of race formats.

I listened with interest to that section, since I had recently commented on this situation as well.

The general feeling in the FasterSkier podcast appeared to be that the large number of different types of events isn’t a huge concern.  At least, they suggested that athletes probably aren’t that concerned about it.  If you go back and look at my post on the subject and the graphs I made (reproduced below) I think you’ll surmise that I consider it a pretty big problem.

I didn’t really expand on my complaint in my original post, beyond pointing out that the XC schedule (top graph) is way more fragmented than the biathlon schedule (bottom graph).  This seems like a good time to explain myself more fully.

My concerns about the fragmented nature of the XC schedule can be broken down into two categories: personal nostalgia and growing the sport in North America.

The personal aspect stems from the fact that the sport of XC ski racing is becoming increasingly foreign to me.  Indeed, part of my motivation for starting this blog was to reconnect with the sport.  I raced competitively for much of my life, until I graduated from college.  Since around 2001-2002, I have participated in one ski race.  This means that a large number of the current XC race formats I have no direct experience with at all.  Sprints?  I did one in college.  Continuous pursuits?  Zero.  Same day pursuits?  Never.  Stage races?  Nope!  Ski switching?  Nadda.  Team sprints?  Not once.

Sadly, I’ve found that this rather strongly impacts my emotional connection to the sport as a spectator.  I don’t dislike sprinting, continuous pursuits, etc.  They simply don’t resonate with me nearly as much as a good old interval start race.  Obviously, this is simply a personal reaction (and of course is partially my own fault for not being more involved in the sport) and doesn’t mean much for the sport as a whole.

On the other hand, the large number of different race formats (and the rate at which they’ve been introduced) does concern me regarding our ability to sell the sport to North American fans.  The Olympics is really the only opportunity for our sport to get a real spotlight in our domestic media and they are spaced pretty far apart.  If the event line up changes dramatically every Olympics (as it has for the past three), you have to educate the general public anew each time the Olympics roll around.  As they say in politics, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

I suppose you could argue that I’m selling the North American sports fan short, that figuring out the differences between XC events isn’t that hard.  Still, in a sport as marginal as ours, it seems insane to me to put up even the smallest hurdles to the general public.  Also, I’m not arguing that this one problem will single handedly doom XC skiing from growing in North America, just that it’s probably making it harder than necessary.

Finally, I’d be curious as to whether my perspective is really unique as a North American.  It could be that the changes in race formats don’t bother Europeans nearly as much given their more extensive history and media exposure with the sport.


Related posts:

  1. Bjoern Daehlie vs Thomas Alsgaard
  2. FIS Scheduling Follies
  3. Introducing: Biathlete Rankings
  4. Podium Heartbreak
  5. Race Summaries: Introduction

About Joran


5 Responses to “Fragmented FIS Race Scheduling And What It Means For The Sport”
  1. Brayt says:

    All Nordic Combined races are now 1 jump followed by a 10km skate. They still have large/small hill, but no more 2 jump events or different length ski races. Also, I think they occasionally run World Cups that run a mass start ski race followed by the jumping and compute the results afterwards…

  2. Mountainmums says:

    I’m not sure being European or not has much to do with the enjoyment or not of the new race formats. They were all basically developed in order to make the sport more spectator and of course, TV friendly. One of the objectives of sprinting was to open up the game so that racers from non Scandivanian countries could win more events. Which didn’t pan out so well since the main sprinting powerhouses have been Norway and Sweden … Mass starts are supposed to be more “understandable” for the layman than interval starts, and of course, more spectacular. Well except that they aren’t because we all know how they go 90% of the time: the pack stays together until the last km when Northug accelerates and wins. Interestingly, the Norwegian federation used to be against mass start races. Somehow the seem to have changed their minds … :-).
    Anyway, as a Euro (but not a Scandinavian), I’m really not in love with all new race formats. Sprinting I’m OK with, it’s fun and spectacular, and it still feels like the strongest guy has all his chances. The evolution of mass starts I’m really not a fan of, as it now seems that team tactics and ski exchanges are more prominent than who can ski the fastest. And I find them immensely more boring than interval starts where you actually had a lot more suspense (i.e.:the 2007 Classic Interval start Holmenkollen 50km won by Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset).

    • Joran says:

      I think I’m largely in agreement with you regarding specific race formats. I haven’t been thrilled with the continuous pursuits either, but then I rather partial to classic skiing, so that colors my judgement quite a bit.

      My reference to Euro’s thinking differently about this was meant to apply more to my other concern, namely the ability of generic sports fans to adjust to the changing race formats. I figured that given the differences in exposure, Europeans wouldn’t be so worried about average sports fans having difficulty adjusting to changes like these.

      • Mountainmums says:

        I’m with you for the continuous pursuit thing, maybe because I’m also partial to classic skiing. With the ‘olden’ days pursuits, strong classic skiers had a chance. Now, you just need to be good enough to hang with the pack until the skating part.
        I don’t know if there’s been much worry in sports fans having to adjust to new race formats, at least in European countries such as France where there is no real xc tradition. The main concern really seems to have been to churn out new “more understandable” race formats in order to appeal to sports fans that have no real ski culture. The best example is the Tour de Ski which is a blatant attempt to reach a new “fan base” attracted by the (rather far fetched) resemblance to the Tour de France.


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