BORMIO, Italy – Picture this for the Sochi Olympics: Bode Miller not allowed to defend his super-combined title, Lindsey Vonn limited to two events and other contenders held out of some of their favorite disciplines.
It’s a scenario that top skiers are calling “absurd” but that could become a reality – at least, that’s how the big Alpine nations are interpreting the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) complex new Olympic qualifying rules.
“We’re waiting for FIS to clarify what it means and how it works,” U.S. Ski Team men’s head coach Sasha Rearick told the Associated Press on Monday – three weeks before he has to name his team for Sochi. “It’s critical that we have a fair solution and the top athletes can compete in the events they deserve to.”
At issue are rules put in place last year to help smaller nations gain Olympic qualifying spots. In the fine print, the rules require skiers to finish a certain number of races in a discipline over last season and this season – up to Jan. 19 – to qualify for that event in Sochi. It’s five races for the technical events of slalom and giant slalom, and three for the speed events of downhill, super-G and super-combined.
For the men’s super-combined, those rules mean Miller, American world champion Ted Ligety and Austrian standout Benjamin Raich could all miss out. And the injured Vonn – if she decides to compete in Sochi – would be limited to the downhill and super-G.
Miller took off last season to let his surgically repaired left knee heal. Vonn has not raced much since crashing at last season’s worlds and subsequent knee surgery. And while Ligety won gold medals in super-G, super-combined and giant slalom at last season’s worlds, he did not finish the only two World Cup super-combined races last season.
Raich and fellow Austrians Anna Fenninger and Kathrin Zettel also don’t have enough results in super-combined.
“It’s stupid. It’s not a good rule,” said Peter Schroecksnadel, president of the Austrian ski federation. “The strongest nations should be able to have the strongest athletes.”
FIS men’s World Cup director Gunter Hujara is promising a last-minute change.
“We will handle it at the end,” he said Sunday. “There may be some adaptations done in the next few days. That’s the only answer I can give for now.”