Season-ending crashes for two of the biggest names in alpine skiing have laid bare the “brutal strain” of World Cup downhill racing, with organisers facing criticism for packing rescheduled speed events into an already-charged calendar.
Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (dislocated shoulder, cut calf), France’s Alexis Pinturault (knee) and lesser-known Swiss racer Marco Rohler (knee) all sustained injuries over the past week in Wengen that have put an end to their time on snow for this year.
It is a worrying precedent, given the skiers’ enviable track records: Kilde and Pinturault have notched up a combined total of 55 World Cup victories alongside 10 world championship medals and five Olympic podium finishers.
There is no time for their rivals to dwell on accumulated fatigue, however, as the men have immediately decamped to Kitzbuehel, home to arguably the toughest downhill course on the circuit. There are two downhills and a slalom on the programme starting Friday.
“It’s a brutal strain,” Swiss racer Niels Hintermann said of the week in Wengen, where the FIS — the international ski federation — added another downhill race to make up for one cancelled in Beaver Creek.
It meant racers had to contend with two downhills and a super-G, along with a slalom, over five days of heady competition that also included training runs on the Lauberhorn.
It didn’t help that the downhill and super-G courses are the longest of the circuit, meaning among the most physically demanding.
Kilde, last season’s downhill champion and 2020 overall World Cup winner, had a horror fall in the second downhill race, in which 12 of the 57 racers failed to finish and three did not even start.
“The days are also very long,” reckoned Beat Feuz, the reigning Olympic downhill champion and multiple World Cup winner in Wengen and Kitzbuehel who is now an analyst for Swiss SRF television.
“For the racers, they don’t just start with the race and don’t end immediately afterwards. It’s a lot, a mammoth programme.”
The outcome of losing talented racers like Kilde and Pinturault may force FIS to not reschedule races cancelled earlier in the season into tight speed-focused weeks, perhaps opening up the possibility of staging them later in the season.
“In the future, it is absolutely important to avoid holding three speed events in a row at the same location,” said FIS race director Markus Waldner.
“That’s really too heavy for the majority of the starting field. It is not good to force something into an already overloaded calendar.”
“To see a friend crash like this, it’s always very, very sad.”
France’s second-placed finisher Cyprien Sarrazin added: “Three days of racing here, to finish by the longest (downhill), it’s too much, much too much.