FIS at Torino 2006 - Olympic Special 

FIS President pleased with first half of the Games
Gian Franco Kasper

Taking a step back to evaluate the first half of the XX Olympic Winter Games - Torino 2006 from the perspective of the International Ski Federation, FIS President Gian Franco Kasper is pleased: "We have been relatively lucky with the weather and are especially happy that the downhill races were organized as scheduled in the early days of the Games," he said and added: "Of course, the postponements of both super-Gs and ladies' combined races were not easy and the coverage for the ladies' combined was affected due to the time limitations for moving the TV crew and equipment around. However, overall the first competition days went well for our sports and since the weather forecast is optimistic I hope we will be able to stick to the program for the remainder of the Games."

FIS President Gian Franco Kasper thanked the Torino Olympic Broadcasting Organization (TOBO) for extremely high quality television productions, the Torino Organizing Committee (TOROC), and the International Olympic Committee for great cooperation, and highlighted the excellent course and venue preparations at all the competition sites he has visited.. He is also happy with the number of spectators present the FIS disciplines' events, which have been well-attended relative to some other Olympic events.

With regards to the medals distribution in FIS disciplines, Mr.. Kasper noted his satisfaction with the broad distribution of the medal-winning nations - total of 16 as of now - with no single nation dominating. He also stressed the positive impact on the sport of surprise winners such as Antoine Deneriaz of France (winner of the men's downhill) and Ted Ligety of USA (winner of the men's combined), as well as the historical victory of 'Grandfather' Kjetil André Aamodt (NOR) in the men's super-G.

Finally, Mr. Kasper commented that he has found the Games logistics to be working better than what he personally expected and noted that the Games volunteers are extremely friendly, especially complimenting the Italian police who appear to have been specially trained to remain calm and friendly during the Games.

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FIS medals ranking after Day 11: Austria in the lead, 16 nations with medals

After Competition Day 11 (Tuesday, 21st February, 2006), the medals ranking for the FIS Disciplines of Cross-Country Skiing, Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined, Alpine Skiing, Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard is led by Austria with seven golds, five silvers and three bronzes. Austria has also won the most medals, a total of 15. Altogether, 16 nations have won Olympic medals in the FIS disciplines so far.

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Official opening of the Alfons Walde Exhibition in Turin
Walde: Almen im Schnee

More than 250 invited guests attended the official opening of the Alfons Walde Exhibition in Turin on Saturday, February 18th, 2006, including Austrian Chancellor Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel, Dr. Herwig van Staa, Head of the Austrian state of Tyrol, and Dr. Leo Wallner, President of the Austrian Olympic Committee. The festive occasion was covered by six TV stations and also included a presentation by Christian Knauth, FIS Marketing and Communications Director, of the book entitled "Skisport in der bildenden Kunst" ("Skiing in the Form of Art") published by FIS to commemorate the 80th anniversary of FIS. FIS is the patron of the exhibition that features a collection of winter sports related works by Walde.

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Broadcasting the FIS disciplines: Stane Skodlar (SLO), Ski Jumping TV Director at the 2006 Olympics
Stane Skodlar in Pragelato

Stane Skodlar, one of the most famous sports TV directors, is responsible for the international TV signal at the Olympic Ski Jumping venue in Pragelato. With the help of 24 cameras, the 68-year-old Slovenian is producing the Ski Jumping TV coverage together with his team from RTV Slovenija.

Skodlar has served as TV Director for the Ski Flying competitions in Planica (SLO) since 1969. His high quality TV productions there have earned him worldwide renown. "I was taught by Luggi Schmidleitner of Austria and Beno Hvala of Slovenia," Skodlar noted. In addition to Ski Jumping, his winter sports work includes Alpine Skiing and he has been responsible for the international TV signal from Alpine Skiing events in Kranjska Gora and Maribor since 1970. His first Olympic engagement was the Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo in 1984 where he was responsible for downhill, giant slalom and slalom.

The Torino Games are the first time Skodlar has the opportunity to produce Ski Jumping at Olympic Winter Games. "One of the most important phases in Ski Jumping is the take-off. I can show this very well in Planica but here in Pragelato the camera is positioned a bit too high so it's not possible to show the perfect picture," he said. For him the rail cam beside the inrun, an Olympic novelty, is a 'disaster' since it cannot be used for the live signal, only for replay. Regardless, Skodlar was satisfied after the first Ski Jumping competition on February 11th: "We delivered a good show thanks to the great crew I am working with here."

Stane Skodlar's international career as TV director began with a highly successful production of the Weightlifting World Championships held in Ljubljana in 1982. His approach to producing the TV coverage of these championships played a critical role in changing the general perception of the sport as, for the first time, TV viewers found weightlifting very interesting. When ABC saw Stane Skodlar's Ljubljana work, the network invited him to direct the Olympic coverage of weightlifting at the Los Angeles Olympic Summer Games. He went on to receive the most prestigious award for TV directors, the EMMY Award given by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for his work at the 1984 Games. "I'm very proud about my EMMY Award. There have not been many European recipients of this award," Skodlar admitted. He also produced weightlifting at the Olympic Summer Games in 1992, 1996 and 2000. In Athens in 2004, he was responsible for field hockey.

"I'm very proud about the large number of productions I have done over the years," said the man who started his career as a studio assistant in 1964 and added: "These are my last Olympic Games. I will retire after the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup final in Planica in March. I will then enjoy playing tennis and the beautiful city of Ljubljana."

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Building the SBX Course: Course Builders Jeff Ihaksi and David Ny
Ihaksi and Ny at work in Bardonecchia
Ladies' SBX in Turin

Snowboardcross (SBX) premiered in the Olympic program at Torino 2006 with Seth Wescott (USA) and Tanja Frieden (SUI) winning the first Olympic gold medals. In contrast to other Snowboard events, the special characteristic of SBX is a unique course design that must not only meet the technical requirements for vertical drop (100-240m), width (minimum of 30m) and slope (15-18°) with varied terrain but also must include various terrain features such as crescent shaped banks, various jumps, rollers and spines. The design and building of the SBX course at the Torino Olympic Winter Games 2006 was the task of Course Builder Jeff Ihaksi (CAN) and his assistants David Ny (SWE), himself a builder of halfpipes including the impressive pipe at the Games, and Andrea Matteoli (ITA).

"Compared to regular World Cup events, we had much more time to build the course here in Bardonecchia. Typically at the World Cup races, we have anywhere between three and nine days to build the course and here we had over two weeks," commented Jeff Ihaksi. As opposed to the detailed guidelines for building the Snowboard half-pipes, there are no specific guidelines for SBX courses. Rather, the course is the result of the skill and know-how of the building team. "The critical ingredients of a good SBX course are the length of time we have to build it, the amount and characteristics of the snow available, and the slope and width of the course. Here in Bardonecchia we had sufficient time, snow and manpower. The run was a bit narrow which made the course somewhat banky and turny. However, by working with the organizers since the site inspection in November 2005, we were able to make some changes, such as trimming some trees, which allowed us to take advantage of the best avenues for width, eventually ending up with one of the longest SBX courses ever in terms of gliding length," said Ihaksi and added: "But what really made the difference in this course was having David there, always paying attention to the little details that made this course absolutely perfect for SBX's Olympic debut."

The start and the finish of a course are usually set so the builders typically start in the middle, initially setting the banks and main zones, with the features coming last. "In half-pipe, finding the shape is easy as it is the quality of the snow that makes the difference. With SBX, the flow is what matters - the whole of the course and how everything fits together," noted David Ny. According to Ihaksi and Ny, SBX should be 85% about freestyle riding and 15% about speed. "A good SBX course has a lot of passing between the competitors, lots of air time and of course, no injuries," summarized Ihaksi.

While building the Bardonecchia course required the help of 40 people for a full month in addition to the design team, staging another SBX on the same mountain will likely involve only a half of the effort. "I think that in the future, there will likely be standard mountains for certain competitions. Such regularity would not only save time and effort, but also serve the needs of the athletes who then would know what to expect from each competition ahead of time," concluded Ihaksi after his four-week-long endeavor.

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Creating an experience of a lifetime
The 'wedge' in Sauze d'Oulx
Pragelato Plan Venue Production Team

Freestyle Skiing in Sauze d'Oulx and the Nordic Disciplines in Pragelato

Participating in the Olympic Games is a dream of a lifetime for many athletes. Attending the Games as a spectator is also an experience of a lifetime for many of the thousands of people who have traveled to the competition venues at Torino 2006.

In Sauze d'Oulx, the Freestyle Skiing venue at Torino 2006, the audience has been rocking. "Our focus is on creating an emotional connection between the athletes and the on-site spectators, supported by information provided by the videoboard and the announcer. A great live event in turn delivers great TV images for the home audiences," said Joe Fitzgerald, FIS Race Director Freestyle Skiing who declared: "We want to make the people in the audience laugh or cry with the athletes!"

The Freestyle Skiing events are built on a standard set of detailed, non-sport operating procedures that integrate together everything from TV shots and camera placement to athlete positions after the race to the announcer script, sound, graphics and so forth. This `Circle of Freestyle' is the basis for all the FIS World Cup events, only scaled up twice or three times to meet the Olympic requirements. "Representing continuity from one race to another, I play the role of the show director but the actual execution is based on a permanent dialogue among the TV crew, the announcer, venue production, athletes and officials," said Fitzgerald and added: "This approach has given birth to new ideas such as the `wedge,' or the athlete waiting area in which we keep the top three of the competition sitting on the field of play waiting for the final results, allowing us to convey their emotions to the audience via the videoboard and TV. I have recently seen other sports borrowing our concept probably because of the strong emotional bond that it allows us to create with the audience."

At the Olympic venues for Cross-Country, Ski Jumping, and Nordic Combined in Pragelato and Pragelato Plan, the venue production team is headed by Kjell-Erik Kristiansen. "The goal of our team is to make the experience of watching the competitions on site better than watching them on TV," he said, adding: "Today, people have so many leisure options that we have to offer them lots of drama and a must-see show - an event that simply cannot be missed!"

Modern sports venue production requires a real team effort. While the announcer may be the face of the team, similar to the singer in a rock band, the entire Pragelato venue production team includes approximately 40 people, from the event producers to sound and video technicians, and to a team of `briskers' whose job it is to warm up the on-site crowd.

According to Kristiansen, 90% venue production is advance planning, including in-depth understanding of the sport and detailed minute-by-minute plans for the videoboard, scoreboard and all other activities such as music and artistic performances. "We introduced music into the Nordic skiing events at the FIS Nordic World Championships in Falun in 1993, and since then have continuously sought to try new things. Given the sheer size of the Olympics, it is very challenging to produce the Games. Rather than experimenting with novelties here, our focus has been on catching the drama of the competitions and getting the audience going with us," noted Kristiansen who has been named "the World's Best Announcer" twice. "Given the size of the challenge, I feel we've done quite well here in Turin, and it is getting better day by day."

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