By John Fry
The overall World Cup championship was to have been determined by a single giant slalom race, to be held on Saturday, March 19th, 2011 in the 4,921-foot high Swiss ski resort of Lenzerheide. On the eve of the race, Germany’s Maria Riesch led America’s Lindsey Vonn by just three points.
Vonn and Riesch were the only two women racers who competed in all of last winter’s 33 World Cup women’s races. Vonn had recorded eight wins, Riesch six; each enjoyed 16 podium finishes. You can’t get much closer than that. The result of a whole season was to be determined by three minutes of highly technical skiing that would test the outer limits of mental strength. For the press and fans, the March 19 GS promised to be a race to be savored for all time.
So what happened?
The FIS canceled the race.
Weather, warm temperature, rain, fog, crusted and rotting snow would have made the GS course dangerous to ski. It was a sound decision for safety. The FIS awarded the 2011 overall World Cup to Riesch without her ever entering the starting gate.
Why wasn’t the race held later. . a postponement rather than a cancellation? And what of the fact that the FIS held a men’s slalom later in the day, and a team competition the next? And what of the reasoning of officials that the rules governing specialist titles, like season-long downhill champion, apply to the overall title? After all, only two racers were in a position to win it.
Finally, why did the FIS not stage for the world a two-woman Vonn-Riesch race the following week at a resort where the snow conditions were better? Such a race would have combined all of the elements of emotional suspense and of the athletes’ abilities to handle pressure that were originally contained in the canceled gs. Was justice served? Or outraged?