World Cup Premiere in Kitzbühel 2024
Next year's 84th Hahnenkamm Races will see an exciting World Cup premiere: the Race Weekend will begin on 19th January with a Team Combined event, during which a Downhill racer and a Slalom racer (from the same nation) will compete together for Combined victory. Both races will take place on the same day.
KSC President and OC Chief, Michael Huber, and Secretary General, Jan Überall, recently returned from some exciting technical meetings hosted by the International Ski Federation on 6th May in Cavtat, Croatia, near Dubrovnik. Over three days alongside the Adriatic Sea, the foundations were set for all FIS disciplines in the coming 2023/24 racing season. Results of these discussions will only become effective at the FIS board meeting at the end of May, but experience shows that most decisions will be confirmed.
As an official delegate for the Austrian Ski Federation and Club 5, Michael Huber was a member of four alpine sub-organisations for the first time: as chairman of the Rules Sub-Committee, member of the World Cup Sub-Committee, organiser representative in the Advertising Committee and member of the grand Alpine Conference. Jan Überall was able to participate in various other meetings, such as those relating to paraski, European Cup, alpine race courses or youth racing. Several discussions before and after the respective meetings complemented the interesting on-site assignment.
First of all, and most importantly: the date for the Hahnenkamm Race Week from 15th to 21st January 2024 in Kitzbühel has been confirmed. FIS President, Johan Eliasch, and Secretary General, Michel Vion, also reaffirmed that classics such as the Kitzbühel highlight will continue to have a firm place in the World Cup calendar. There is, however, news to report about the Kitzbühel programme. In addition to the usual two training days, the traditional HKR Downhill on Saturday and the classic HKR Slalom on Sunday, the provisional calendar includes a NEW Team Combined event on Friday. Many fans are surely asking what significance this new programme element on Friday will have for Kitzbühel? Apart from the the prospect of being able to see the best Downhill and Slalom athletes for the first time in spectacular action on one day over the full Streif and Ganslern racecourses, the answer is by no means a short one and deserves some elaboration:
Kitzbühel has hosted a Downhill, Slalom and an Alpine Combined since 1931. Few venues can look back on such a long tradition in ski racing history. Since the 1990s, there have been adjustments in the form of a fixed Friday event (Sprint Downhill, Super-G, Super-Combined), although the Combined discipline was dropped in 2017 and the Super-G was replaced by a second Downhill last year. In other words: the Downhill on Saturday and the Slalom on Sunday are firm fixtures. The double Downhill of the past two years was seen by many as not viable for the future, so Friday has been left to forge its own identity.
Furthermore, the Alpine combined as an individual discipline is also facing international demise, as the Olympic Committee is planning to remove the event from the programme from 2026 and has asked FIS to present an alternative concept. On behalf of the Athletes' Commission, represented by South Tyrolean Verena Stuffer and Norwegian Leif Kristian Nestvold Haugen, the proposal of a Team Combined was presented just over a year ago, with the request that the idea be considered for inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games and World Championships programme. The first event at the Junior World Championships in St. Anton am Arlberg was met with great praise and inspired motivating prospects of an exciting format. It goes without saying that such an alpine discipline should also be anchored in the Ski World Cup.
It was therefore understandable that FIS Chief Race Director Markus Waldner asked Kitzbühel, which is a veritable institution when it comes to the Combined discipline, to host the event. As has so often been the case, Kitzbühel does not see the complexity of the task, but rather the opportunity to keep the Combined discipline alive for athletes in Alpine ski racing at major sporting events. After all, Kitzbühel Ski Club statutes stipulate that promotion of the sport and its associated athletes has utmost priority.
In his function as Chairman of the Rules, the KSC President proposed at the FIS Congress in Croatia that the new Team Combined discipline be integrated within the International Competition Regulations (IWO). Corresponding details for the series were also established at the World Cup meeting. The quota of participants will be determined by the number of eligible starters from a nation in Downhill (or Super-G). The teams are to be nominated before the Team Captains' Meeting (e.g. Vincent Kriechmayr and Manuel Feller). The times of the Downhill skier and the Slalom skier (one run) are added together, the fastest team wins. The start sequence in the second discipline will be arranged in reverse order of the top 30. In addition to considerations of the team captains when putting the team together, tactics will also be a source of great suspense. After all, a missed gate or fall - regardless of whether in the first or second discipline – will result in elimination for both team members. World Cup points for the overall and discipline World Cups are to be shared fairly in the Team Combined, as is the prize money.
Kitzbühel is now on the World Cup calendar for the winter of 2023/24 as a proposal for the Men’s Team Combined event. There are also initial considerations for a Women's Team Combined. It can therefore be hoped that a prospective candidate for the decision-making process will be named in the coming weeks. No Team Combined is planned for the World Cup final in neighbouring Saalbach-Hinterglemm in 2024, but it will be introduced into the World Championship programme there in February 2025. In addition to the Women's and Men's Team Combined Event, a parallel Mixed Team event is also planned for the World Championships in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, in which women and men will then compete, as usual, in teams.
For Kitzbühel, this represents a unique opportunity to return to its traditional roots: Downhill, Slalom and Combined. In the first FIS competition rules in 1930, the Combined was already regulated as a team event (Combined 2.0). Organisers, Kitzbühel Ski Club, hope that athletes, fans and the media will all show great interest in this extraordinary event on 19th January 2024, as part of the 84th International Hahnenkamm Races.