It’s been one month since the decision to introduce equal race distances for women and men in the FIS Cross-Country World Cup. The race calendar has been adapted accordingly and the upcoming season will show how successful the implementation will work.
In our July series on Equal Racing Distances & Mixed Gender Events – we share the views of people involved. First up, we asked Pierre Mignerey, FIS Cross-Country Race Director for 10 years, who had to admit that it was not often that such a milestone decision was made within the Committees.
FIS: Pierre, how was the decision on racing equal distances perceived in the first few days after the announcement?
Pierre Mignerey: As expected, it created quite some discussions among the Cross-Country community. Some people were very happy and some were strictly against racing equal distances. That opinions spread in both directions is not unusual, as the decision really impacts what the community was used to until now.
It is understandable to see some resistance from athletes or coaches because it is a decision which may disturb their routines, their habits and pushes them to adapt their training plans and develop new strategies. But I’m convinced that it will be seen - or maybe is already seen - as a very logical and meaningful decision.
From a global standpoint I have the feeling that this decision is very well perceived by most people which are not directly or personally involved in Cross-Country skiing. And if you put things into perspective, the fact that this decision was so much discussed and named as a “historical decision” shows that this move was long overdue.
"In 2022, we should not have to discuss anymore if women are capable of racing the same distances, having the same rules and using the same courses as men. The discussion in the CCC (Cross-Country Committee) was never about IF women are capable of racing the same distances and course profiles, but about how to implement it, for example into our sports community or into a TV product."
FIS: Where do you see the biggest advantages for the sport by having women and men racing the same distances?
Pierre Mignerey: It’s about the opportunity that this decision has created to streamline our race formats. It marks a milestone and impact the many fantastic stories that are constantly being written on the race courses already.
The focus is now on trying to implement it into a product, so that TV times are attractive for our sport to be shown and the stories are being told. That needs everyone involved to be open for this change with curiosity and determination.
On the sports side, we have to find ways to implement the racing distances so that it remains attractive and of course also healthy for athletes to participate.
The racing distances and formats approved for the upcoming season give opportunities to boost the potential of Cross-Country skiing with a standard program almost every weekend that includes a Sprint, a 10km Interval Start and either a 20km Mass Start or a Team Event. All these formats will offer a good platform for an entertaining program: not too long, not too short, with a lot of speed and action.
I strongly believe that this is what our viewers - especially the next generation - likes to watch. At the same it does not spoil the nature of Cross-Country Skiing as a sport.
It sounds maybe paradoxal but I think that this standard program will also give the opportunity to have more diversity in our competition schedule. Indeed we will be able to schedule more longer races than before where we had mostly Sprints and 10km for women and 15km for men. With Sprint, 10km and 20km as a core standard program, all athletes will have good opportunities and it will create even more bridges between Sprinters and Distance specialists.
FIS: What critical points can you agree with and how do you deal with them?
Pierre Mignerey: I actually don’t see any major issues. For the first year we will of course have to make a few adjustments with the event schedule and the starting times but in the long term I’m pretty sure that it will make it easier for the teams, the organizers, TV and of course also for the viewers. Standardization, predictability, simplicity and flexibility will definitely be a big plus for our discipline in the future.
FIS: What were the first steps since the approval by the FIS Council?
Pierre Mignerey: We started to work with organizers to make the necessary adjustments on the race courses and the event schedule. Then we work with TV experts and TV directors because the quality of their production and graphics will be as usual crucial for a good exposure and a good entertainment for our viewers.
Even if the final decisions for the competition program for future WSC (from 2025) and OWG will only be taken next spring, we will also start to discuss it very soon with the different stakeholders involved.
FIS: Looking at the overall 2022/23 season, how satisfied are you with the upcoming race calendar?
Pierre Mignerey: I would say that it is a very good race calendar, almost ideal. Firstly because we now have a calendar organized in blocks with optimized travels, more races per venue and breaks during the season to give the possibility for the athletes to rest, train and stay in altitude during the season.
Secondly because I believe that the race formats make sense as published. We have a standard race program and at the same time some diversity in the calendar with more 20km, mixed or gender specific teams events.
Still, I would say “almost” an ideal calendar because ideally, the 50km in Oslo/Holmenkollen should be one week later and not immediately after the WSC. From a format standpoint we are probably missing one Skiathlon and it would be great to include a point to point race again in the future.
Mixed Gender Events
With the test events of the Mixed gender races in Falun this March, another format with a lot of potential for it's implementation went underway. Currently the events are being evaluated to adapt the regulations according to feedback. How did you like the mixed gender events and what is your opinion on racing equal distances between all athletes? Share your views on our social media channels via YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.