Category Archives: Wintersports

Alpine Skiing – ‘The Amazing Super-G Herminator’

Super-G stands for super giant slalom, an event that combines the speed of downhill with the more precise turns of giant slalom. The course is shorter than downhill but longer than a giant slalom course, and includes high-speed turns, jumps and gliding phases. Each skier makes one run down a single course and the fastest time determines the winner.

As in the case of the downhill, a helmet is compulsory for the super-G (some skiers choose to attach a chin guard), and the poles are curved to fit around the body to reduce air resistance.

The first Super G race at World Cup Level was held in December 1982 at France (Val-d’Isère). The winner of that first race was Switzerland’s Peter Muller. Four years after, the Super-G was included in Alpine Skiing World Championships Programme in its 1987 edition at Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Local skiers and Super-G stars at that moment Pirmin Zurbriggen and Maria Walliser became then the first world champions of Super-G, respectively in the men and women events.

One year after The Super-G was also included in The Winter Olympics that took place in Canada (Calgary). The Olympic gold went to Frenchman Franck Piccard and Austrian Lady Sigrid Wolf.

But the most famous Super-G skier ever is Hermann Maier of Austria. Maier started his career in 1996 at the age of 23. His 24 World Cup victories, five World Cup titles, a World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal and his aggressive course tactics and option for the most direct and dangerous line down the hill grant him the nickname of ‘ HERMINATOR’ .

Strangely, his worst accident did not occur in Ski lanes. His racing career nearly ended following a near-fatal motorcycle accident in August 2001 when he collided with a car on his way home from a summer training session in Austria.  His lower leg was nearly amputated, but doctors managed to prevent that and opted for a massive reconstructive surgery. Several of his wins in Super-G were registered after all this delicate recovery process.

On October 2009, after 13 years competing in the World Cup circuit, Hermann Maier retired at the age of 36.

Alpine Skiing – ‘The Downhill’

The downhill event is the longest course in which the highest speed in Alpine skiing is reached, sometimes way over 130 km/h. It includes challenging turns, jumps and gliding phases. Each skier makes a single run down a single course and the fastest time determines the winner.

A Downhill course normally begins at or near the top of a mountain. Gates (flags) are farther apart than in other events (e.g. Slalom or Giant Slalom) due to the high-speed that requires more space to overcome the flags. The courses in the world’s most notable ski areas do not change a lot from year to year.

Due to safety reasons (crashes are extremely violent) a helmet is compulsory for downhill and some skiers choose to attach a chin guard. The poles used by skiers are curved to fit around the body to reduce air resistance.

Unlike Slalom and Giant Slalom, where skiers final classification is computed by two combined times over two runs, in the Downhill, the race is a single run. The time course is normally between 1.5 and 2.5 minutes for World Cup races and must be over 1 minute to meet international minimum standards. Tenths and hundredths and, occasionally, thousandths of seconds count: World Cup races and Olympic medals have sometimes been decided by as little as one or two hundredths of a second, and ties are not unheard of.

The best ‘downhillers’ ever in Word Cup events are both Austria’s Franz Klammer in men (25 race wins and 5 world titles) and Annemarie Moser-Proll in women (36 wins, 7 world titles).

Biathlon’s Individual Event – What is it and what matters most?

The Biathlon’s Individual event is the oldest one of them all and where shooting accuracy matters most. Biathletes are required to complete a 20 Km course in the case of men and 15 Km for women (this is the longest race of all Biathlon’s events). Both men and women face 4 shooting range sessions (in each 4km and 3Km of the course for men and women respectively). Athletes normally depart with a 30 second interval from each others.

Differently from other events, missing shots do not oblige biathletes to ski a penalty loop, but instead 1 minute penalty time is added to the course time per each shot missed. Therefore, even great skiers normally fail to win this competition if they fail more than 1 or 2 shoots comparatively to others that register a clean sheet in the shooting range.

Both for the case of men and women, the first 2 shooting sessions are taken alternately in the prone and standing position, being the first the prone. The last shooting range in the standing position is normally the one where biathletes miss most, not only due to the more unstable position, but also because a lot of fatigue and pressure are accumulated already by that time.

In the 2011/2012 season the World Cup’s Global Cristal for the individual event was won by Helena Ekholm and by Simon Fourcade, two of the best sharp shooters in the circuit. The 2012/2013 season starts next November 25th in Oestersund, Sweden, and the first individual event will be held in the 28th starting with men.

Super Athletes – Ole Einar Bjoerndalen

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is a 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete that holds the record of world cup wins (a competition that goes along a season encompassing several events where points are obtained and summed up in the end) considering all winter sports. Bjoerndalen has a total of 95 victories in Biathlon events (accordingly to IBU, the official Biathlon’s regulatory body). He has an additional 31 wins in relay events, 68 2nd place and 39 2rd place finishes (including both single and relay events).

Included in these 126 victories are 8 gold medals in 4 different Olympic Games (1998, 2002 – where he took gold in all events making him the only biathlete who has won every event during the same Winter Olympic Games, 2010 and 2014 were we took 2 golds at the age of 40).

That amazing deed in 2002 Salt Lake City Games made him one of only three athletes to win four gold medals in a same Winter Games. Additionally, he also won 4 silver medals (2 of them in 2006) and one bronze in Olympics, totalling an impressive register of 13 Olympic medals.

He also records outstanding marks such as 6 Biathlon’s World Cup Overall wins, 5 times ending as runner-up and once in third. He also collected 19 Global Crystals (Winner of a specific Biathlon event in a season’s World Cup), 8 in Sprint, 5 in Pursuit, as well in Mass Start, and another one in the Individual event.

In what respects Biathlon World Championships (one-off races of each Biathlon’s event held each year) he gathered a total of 16 titles since he started competing in 1992. He has an extra 11 silver medals and 9 bronze ones in these championships.

Bjoerndalen also competed once in a while on cross-country skiing (one of Biathlon’s sports) and in 2006 he won a World Cup race in Sweden,  becoming the first ever biathlete to win a cross-country competition.  He already had grasped in the past a 3rd place in a World Cup at Ramsau 2002. One year before that, under a completely different weather, he won a Beach Volley Ball Tournament at Laguna Beach 2001. In his free times he still manages to dedicate himself to practice rock climbing…

Already without the speed of his youth times, that made him by far the consistently fastest Biathlete ever, he still is in the pack and you can see him in action in the 2013/2014 season in which he will turn 40. This should be his last season and winter olympic games.

Biathlon’s Mass Start Event – What is it and what matters most?

The mass start event is the only one where Biathletes depart all at the same time, sometimes giving origin to a lot of confusion and fallsIn each mass start race only the top 30 current World Cup classifiers have the right to take part in the race. If any of the Top 30 Biathletes decides not to take part in the race, participants standing immediately below 30th World Cup’s place will be allowed to enter. Due to this particularity, the first mass start race is only normally held around the middle of the season in order to allow ‘the best’ to be somehow defined (although for the ranking all events’ classification count and thus it may change a lot along the season).

The athletes start in three rows of ten competitors respectively (the best 10 placed in first row and so on) and have to ski a total of 15 Km or 12.5 Km course (men or women), with 4 shooting range sessions taken at each 3 Km/2.5 Km from start (men/women). The first two shooting sessions are dealt in the prone position and the other two in the standing position. As in the Sprint and Pursuit events, missed shots force biathletes to a 150 metres penalty loop per shot that has to be completed immediately after shooting.

In the Olympic Games the selection procedure is different. Athletes who have already won medals before the mass start competition takes place, have the right to start at the Olympic Games Mass start. A further 15 starting positions are based on the world cup standings. The remaining starting positions are given to the most successful athletes of the respective Olympic Games or the World Cup who have not yet won any medals.

The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games’ Mass Start races were won by Russian Evgeny Ustyugovand and Magdalena Neuner of Germany, which announced her retirement after the 2011/2012 season. The 2011/2012 World Cup’s Cristal Globe were won by Darya Domracheva of Belarus and Andreas Birnbacher of the men’s Germany team



Nordic Combined – What is it and what are its origins?

The Nordic Combined is a sport composed of two events: ski jumping and cross country skiing. Until the 1950s, the cross country race was held first, followed by the ski jumping. This was reversed as the difference in the cross-country race tended to be too big to overcome in ski jumping.

Although there are several types of Nordic combined events, the most common is the individual race, also known as the Individual Gundersen. Before 2008, this event included two jumps from the ski jumping normal hill and a 15 km cross country skiing chasing race. Afterwards, this event was altered to a single jump from the normal hill followed by a 10 km cross country race using also the Gundersen system. In the Gundersen method the racers with most ski jumping points will start first, followed by the next best jumper after as much time as there was difference in their jumping scores. This means that the first skier to cross the finish line is the winner of the event.

Points are scored in ski jumping both for distance and style. The distance points being 2 points per meter (1.2 for hills with a K-point of 100 m or farther) and the style points range between 3 and 30 per jump. In the cross country race a 15 point lead in the ski jump represents a one minute head start (which means a 4 second difference per point). An athlete could be a fantastic ski flyer and depart with a major time advance in the cross country race and end up down on classification if he is a poor skier or vice versa. That happens a lot and provides great thrill to this sport.

The first major competition in Nordic combined was held in 1892 in Oslo at the first Holmenkollen Ski Festival, an event still held annually.

The sport was included at the1924 Winter Olympics, and has been on the programme ever since. World Championships have been held since 1925. Current events included in the Olympics are the men’s individual NH/10 km and the men’s team 4x5km.

There is currently no women’s competition approved by the International Ski Federation.

Biathlon’s Pursuit Event – What is it and what matters most?

Following our post on Biathlons´ Sprint Event we today describe the main characteristics of another event linked to it, the Pursuit Event.

the Pursuit event the Biathlete’s starting order is determined accordingly to its Sprint’s event classification that was held previously. The first 60 biathletes classified in the sprint event are eligible to run in the Pursuit event and they depart with a time gap from each other that result from their Sprint event finishing time. Normally, the difference between the first and last starter is around 2 1/2 and 3 minutes. So this is a chase race in which biathletes run all together and the first one to cross the line wins.

Although some Biathletes are in advantage to others because of their sprint event previous classification, it is common to see several changes in the in between and final classification order since the Pursuit only has 2.5 Km more than the sprint event (12.5 Km for men and 10 Km for women) but it requires 4 shooting range sessions to be dealt with thus placing emphasis in shooting accuracy and also in biathlete’s hunting spirit for the men/women ahead of them.

Shooting sessions appear within a 2.5 Km (men) or 2 Km (women) interval and the first two are handled in the prone position and the last two in the standing position (this more unstable position occurs at the later stage of the race and due to fatigue may change final results dramatically). Biathletes shoot several times together or within others approaching the shooting range which creates additional pressure and/or motivation while shooting. As in the Sprint event, each missing shot also forces a penalty loop of 150 metres to be completed after the shooting range.

Biathlon’s Sprint Event – What is it and what matters most?

Following our post on Biathlon’s origins and its main characteristics we depict today one of its events, the Sprint. The sprint event has a length of 10 Km (men) or 7.5 Km (women) and requires Biathletes to ski on a standalone basis against the clock (Biathletes depart with a 30 seconds interval between each other) and have to handle 2 shooting range sessions with 5 targets each.

The first one is taken in the prone position (at 3.3 Km for men and 2.5 Km for women) and the second one in the standing position (at 6.6 Km for men and 5 Km for women). Although shooting accuracy is very important, in this short length race ski speed is relatively more decisive than in other events.

Each shot missed obliges a ski penalty loop of 150 metres to be managed after the shooting range before joining again the normal track course (on average, this means a penalty of around 22/23 seconds for men and 24/25 for women).

It is common for Biathletes with higher ski velocity, even if failing more shots, to record better against the clock then others with higher shooting precision but with weaker ski skills. Extreme weather changes during the event (e.g. heavy snow or unstable wind) may dramatically affect the final results since it may favor Biathletes completing their course under better ski glide, visibility and steady shooting conditions.

At this date, the Biathlete holding the record of world cup sprint events winnings (35) is Norwegian’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The results of the Sprint event determine the departure order of the Pursuit event which is normally held one day after. Our new post will cover the features of a Pursuit race.