Some skiers say ‘No, thanks’ to new Olympic team event
One might assume skiers would be excited by the prospect of another chance to win a gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics thanks to the addition of a team event to the Alpine schedule.
A new race? More medals on offer? Who wouldn’t be enticed by that?
Think again. Some of the sport’s top stars sound rather blase, if not completely dismissive, about the whole thing as they prepare for next week’s start of the Winter Games.
“Definitely, the priority is on individual events,” said Ted Ligety, an American who won golds at the 2006 and 2014 Games. “An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal, but I don’t think a team event is within even one-eighth of the meaning of an individual medal.”
Here’s a quick summary of how the team event will work: There will be 16 participating countries, set up in an NCAA basketball tournament-style bracket. Each squad will have four members, two men and two women (plus one of each gender as a reserve).
In each nation vs. nation matchup, there will be four 1-on-1 parallel runs lasting about 20-25 seconds through giant slalom-type gates on the bottom portion of a slalom course. The skiers can punch the gates out of the way as they head down the mountain on their side-by-side courses — a rather different endeavor than the solo trips down a piste that they, and fans, are used to.
Each race victory is worth one point; if neither entrant makes it to the finish line during a given heat, the winner will be whoever made it farther before falling or missing a gate. If the score ends up at 2-all, the tiebreaker will be the lower combined time of each team’s fastest man and fastest woman.
“Doing a team event at the end of the Games, I think, ‘Why not? Let’s do it,’” said the head of the U.S. men’s team, Sasha Rearick. “It’s an opportunity for different nations to step up.”
Many of the elite athletes themselves are less enthusiastic about it.
Slalom standout Marcel Hirscher of Austria, the owner of six consecutive World Cup overall titles but zero Olympic golds, probably won’t take part — unless he makes a late decision to enter because he isn’t pleased with how he fares in his individual races.
Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway, meanwhile, isn’t the least bit interested.
“It might be a really cool event for TV and spectators … but I still like the traditional stuff,” Kristoffersen, a slalom bronze medalist four years ago, said after a recent World Cup individual parallel race. “I still like what I grew up watching.”
The woman who could end up being the biggest star of the entire Alpine program in South Korea, 2014 slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S., described the chances that she’ll be in the starting gate on Feb. 24 for the end-of-the-Olympics team event this way: “Not so much.”
“I’m going to need that day to organize my thoughts,” she said, “and get ready for the end of the (World Cup) season.”
Go ahead and count others out, too, including the other biggest name on the U.S. team, two-time Olympic medalist Lindsey Vonn, and Switzerland’s Lara Gut, a bronze medalist in 2014.
They are among the athletes who made it clear they have zero interest.
“It’s too dangerous. It’s too much,” said Vonn, who won a gold medal in the downhill and a bronze in the super-G at Vancouver in 2010. “I don’t foresee anyone willing to risk the Olympics for a team event.”
And then she took it a step further.
Vonn said she expects the debut field at the Olympics to be filled with athletes who “don’t have a chance at medaling in other events” and she doesn’t think a team effort should result in hardware that goes toward someone’s “personal medal count.”
“It shouldn’t be that way. The team event should be a totally separate thing, and I don’t know if it should be an Olympic event. I mean, it’s great that there’s another Alpine event in the Olympics,” Vonn said, “but if all the main competitors are not racing, then I don’t know what good it does.”