The parallel format continues to cause unrest among athletes competing on the World Cup circuit. After the conclusion of the parallel race on Sunday in Chamonix, France, multiple athletes took to social media to express their concerns about the fairness, quality, and safety of the event. According to comments made in post-race interviews and on social media, this particular race format seems to be illegitimate in the eyes of many athletes, as well as unsafe and not worth the risk of winning.
Loic Meillard’s victory was sweet, as it was the first World Cup win of his career, and the first time a Swiss man has ever won a parallel giant slalom. Yet, according to Meillard, the win was not all about good skiing. There was also a strong element of luck, which affected the outcome, he said.
“[Parallel] is difficult for the body, but it also needs a lot of luck now that we don’t have the re-run,” commented Meillard. “You need to be in the right course because it’s impossible to have two same ones. I was lucky today because I always had the blue ones and it seemed to be a bit faster.”
New this season is a rule that all athletes must enter a draw to decide their course in the single-run heats, whereas in previous years, the better-ranked athletes had the opportunity to choose their course. Doing well in the qualification rounds does not necessarily mean that the athletes will have an advantage going into the elimination rounds. During the women’s race in Sestriere, it was clear that one course was faster than the other, as it was on Sunday in Chamonix. The race further confirmed the trend that one course often tends to be faster than the other. Meillard had the good fortune of never having to ski on the red course, deemed the “poison pill” and the “short straw” by NBC commentators Steve Schlanger and Steve Porino.
In the round of eight, the athlete skiing on the blue course never lost. The first man of the day to break the red course’s losing streak was USA’s Tommy Ford, paired up against France’s Thibaut Favrot. Ford hung on by 0.15 seconds to move onto the quarter-final round, eventually making it to the semi-final, where he struggled coming over the artificial jump in the middle of the course. That small piece of terrain had been a problem for many throughout the day. In Ford’s case, the momentum caused him to lay out on his right side, propelling him from the blue course on skier’s right into the red course on skier’s left. As Ford lost his left ski, he slid directly into the path of his competitor, second-place finisher Thomas Tumler. It was nearly a catastrophic collision that can be seen in slow motion in the NBC Sports Race highlight above.
Complaints have been made by athletes before regarding the unfair elements of the parallel giant slalom. Chamonix added another element to the conversation: Is the parallel format safe? There were 13 total DNFs by the end of the day, including Ford’s near-miss with Tumler.
Alexis Pinturault, who could not finish the red course in competition with the day’s third-place finisher, Germany’s Alexander Schmid, immediately took to Instagram after the race to express his negative feelings about the parallel giant slalom format. Pinturault wrote he felt like he had been used as a pawn for a show, asking FIS when the organization would start listening to the athletes that continuously express their distaste and discomfort in parallel GS. The comments section of his post, received a flood of traffic, either agreeing or disagreeing with his sentiments.
Among those who agree is FIS athlete representative Daniel Yule, who chimed in to suggest the athlete’s launch a boycott, tagging both Pinturault and Henrik Kristoffersen (another athlete who has been outspoken about the format in previous races), writing “You in?”. Pinturault responded that he would seriously discuss it.
Aside from Pinturault and Yule, other athletes who entered the conversation include the day’s winner, Loic Meillard and his teammate Justin Murisier, Slovenia’s Stefan Hadalin, Italy’s Luca de Aliprandini and Matteo Marsaglia, USA’s Ted Ligety and his coach, Forest Carey.
Many of these athletes commented to show their support. But Aliprandini was another man who took to Instagram to express his concerns. In his statement, he asked that FIS alpine take a harder look at the true risk of placing artificial jumps in a parallel GS track.
“I was very critical in post-race interviews, but when it comes to safety, we can’t joke,” wrote Aliprandini. “We are here for skiing, not for jumping show performances, for that there are already other disciplines. Please FIS think about it.”
Murisier took a different approach to the social conversation, asking for athletes and fans to offer up their opinion of the parallel, as he was happy to be healthy by the end of the event. The athlete’s that responded echoed his sentiments, acknowledging they think the event is crappy, to put it lightly.
Fortunately, a majority of the athletes walked away from Sunday’s race healthy, just like Murisier, with the exception of Italy’s Simon Maurberger, who fell skiing the red course in his quarter-final matchup against Tumler. Maurberger posted on Instagram after the race saying, that after his fall, he immediately felt pain in his right knee but did not want to make a big deal of the matter. On Monday he plans to further investigate the specifications of his injury and how it will affect the rest of his season.
FIS has yet to release any official response to the athlete’s concerns on the matter. There are no parallel GS races on the World Cup calendar for the remainder of the year. The next parallel event will be a parallel slalom, held in Stockholm on March 10th prior to World Finals.
- Loic Meillard (SUI)
- Thomas Tumler (SUI)
- Alex Schmid (GER)
- Tommy Ford (USA)
- Zan Kranjec (SLO)
- Thibaut Favrot (FRA)
- Aleksander Kilde (NOR)
- Simon Maurberger (ITA)
- Fabio Gstrien (AUT)
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)
For full results, click here.