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  • Back on the Slopes in Austria


    (ATR) It was a successful start to the 2020-21 World Cup ski racing season, albeit an uncharacteristically subdued scene in Soelden, Austria.

    A tranquil setting for Sunday's Men's GS in Soelden. (SkiWeltCup Soelden)
    Two positive Covid-19 cases resulted prior to the weekend competition – to a Swedish coach and a second with team details undisclosed, but confirmed by FIS race director Markus Waldner. However, the positive results were determined upon the individuals’ arrivals and giant slalom races on Saturday and Sunday proceeded accordingly.

    The Rettenbach Glacier slopes were closed to recreational skiers and fans, as teams, officials, staff and media were divided into four bubbles to reduce contact and prevent infections. A Farma Lab truck provided Covid-19 tests upon arrival to the Austrian ski town.

    Italians Marta Bassino, Federica Brignone and Sofia Goggia raced to first, second and sixth respectively in Saturday’s opening women’s giant slalom.

    Marta Bassino celebrates victory. (SkiWeltCup Soelden)
    “Without public, it’s something different and the atmosphere a little bit strange, but inside me I’m really happy, really proud,” Bassino said after her second World Cup victory.

    “Here in Soelden, we’re used to noise and a lot of people, and it was weird arriving at the finish where you are almost alone,” said Brignone, the defending overall World Cup champion. “For our sport, I think it’s really important to race especially for the young people, but for sure I am missing my fan club today.”

    Norwegian Lucas Braathen sped to his first career World Cup victory on Sunday. The 20-year-old said that while atmosphere at the bottom of the racehill felt strange, everything was close to normal at the top.

    “Up there it’s the same tense vibe that you have all these other years – people are puking, people are stressing out and having all these emotions.
    Norway's Lucas Braathen won his first World Cup race. (SkiWeltCup Soelden)

    “The strange part was getting into the finish area – the coolest thing about ski racing is seeing the green numbers and everyone is screaming your name. That’s not the case this year, but I had my teammates there and that’s good enough for me.”

    “We have to be careful – the celebration will be different tonight,” said Swiss Marco Odermatt, leading a Swiss 2-3 finish. “I think they managed it very well today. It’s a positive message and I think they’ll now talk more about skiing and sport.”

    The Soelden season kick-off moved forward without the annual FIS Forum, in addition to the cancellation of numerous press conferences and social events to combat the coronavirus.

    Prior to races, Waldner admitted that the season schedule is a matter of survival and hanging by a thread, according to Austrian media. He also noted that there is a high chance that events could be cancelled.

    The men are scheduled to compete in 39 events across 18 venues in nine different countries throughout the season, while the women will take part in 35 races at 20 locations in 11 countries. Men’s and women’s races will generally be kept apart for safety reasons.

    North American races in Killington, Vermont, Lake Louise, Canada and Beaver Creek, Colorado initially planned for November and December were cancelled and replaced by events at existing competitions in Europe.

    Beijing 2022 Test Event

    Federica Brignone satisfied with her 2nd place finish (SkiWeltCup Soelden)
    The FIS World Championships are scheduled for Cortina d’Ampezzo, Feb. 8-21, followed by women’s World Cup speed races in Yanqing, China, Feb. 27-28, which will double as a Beijing 2022 Olympic test event.

    “Actually, I can’t wait to be in China because they said the slopes are amazing,” said the Italian star Brignone.

    “I’m on the World Cup 10 years now and I would like to see new places. It’s amazing that we are able to go to China.

    “I am not afraid of traveling. I am not afraid of the virus. I just want to race and hope everything goes well for all of us.”

    A men’s Olympic test event in Yanqing had to be cancelled last season.

    U.S. Ski Team Journey to Europe

    Ten U.S. ski racers competed in Soelden, but logistics and coronavirus travel restrictions complicated matters for the team’s arrival to Europe.
    U.S. ski racers Nina O'Brien & Paula Moltzan (USSA)

    United States Ski and Snowboard Association president Tiger Shaw praised Austrian colleagues for their assistance with the U.S. athletes’ arrival.

    “It was daunting at first, but we were really fortunate that we got a lot of great help from the Austrian Ski Team – Klaus (Leistner) and Peter (Schrocksnadel),” Shaw tells Around the Rings.

    “They helped us with the rules and connections within the Austrian Foreign Ministry to make sure we understood what has now become very widely used and known, which is the professional sports person exemption to the EU ruling.

    “It has allowed many people to enter Europe who are connected to world class and Olympic prep events," Shaw said. "We also received help from Trevor Traina, who is the U.S. Ambassador to Austria in Vienna and his general counsel Greg Floyd.

    “At the same time, we had a huge tailwind at our backs from the USOPC working on the same thing, obviously with thousands of athletes, while we’re working with hundreds,” Shaw said.

    “They’ve been very effective with their diplomatic investigation and agreements, because they are in a reciprocal situation because there are a lot of Europeans want to get into the U.S.

    “We’re really indebted to the Austrian Ski Teams folks for helping us so much, which allowed us to get to the glaciers in Soelden and Hintertux. It was pivotal.”

    Homepage photo: SkiWeltCup Soelden

    Written by Brian Pinelli

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