Even though Ladies’ Nordic Combined has not made it to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games programme, FIS Race Director Lasse Ottesen is far from discouraged. He talked to TUESDAY TALK about the decision, how the next steps for Ladies’ Nordic Combined will look like and how to take positives from a “no” for now.
The recently published decision not to include a Ladies’ Nordic Combined individual event in Beijing 2022 must have been disappointing. Can you tell us about the reasoning behind it?
Lasse Ottesen: The decision was certainly disappointing to everybody involved in Nordic Combined. At the same time, we are immensely proud of the work we have done in the past few years and how far our ladies have come to this date.
When you recall that the first serious planning started in 2013, we had the first Ladies’ categories in the FIS Youth Cup in summer 2014 and now here we are with a regular, strong Youth Cup system with regular stops in winter and summer for boys and girls, a Continental Cup with eleven Ladies’ events in the next winter and a first medal event on at Junior World Championship level coming up in the winter of 2018/19, we cannot be sad about the progress so far.
We will have a first female FIS Nordic Combined World Champion as early as 2021. To go to World Championship level from the very basics in only seven years is a tremendous achievement, one that we cannot thank enough all National Ski Associations, clubs, organisers and other involved parties enough for.
We will now continue our work in exactly the same way, with even more engagement, to develop and foster the females of our discipline but also give the young athletes the appropriate amounts of time to develop without rushing them.
This decision gives us time to develop build up the product to an even higher level both for the ladies and the men, to deepen the competition and depth in our starter fields and to further elevate the level of performances, number of participating nations and increase the interest in the discipline.
Still, Nordic Combined remains the only discipline without ladies on the programme of the Olympic Winter Games. How do you see this fact?
Ottesen: I think it’s safe to say that we do not like to be the only discipline without ladies on the Winter Olympic programme. Everybody who knows Nordic Combined knows that we are a small discipline, but a very open and inclusive group, working hard to increase its footprint.
There is a broad consensus among athletes, staff and National Ski Federations Associations that we want the ladies to be a part of Nordic Combined, to grow the sport in general for both genders and to make the overall product even better on location and for the TV spectators. Having the ladies as part of the discipline and also to generate more participating nations in Nordic Combined is a big priority for us.
And let’s put it like that: being an ultimate winter athlete requires a certain type of person and we are happy to include and welcome everybody who feels this specific calling, be it a male or a female and wherever in the world that person may be.
How will the next steps look like now?
Ottesen: Our Summer Grand Prix is approaching fast and with it, the first-ever Ladies’ Grand Prix event. The opening weekend in Oberwiesenthal will feature a very full programme and never a dull moment for the spectators. I would like to encourage everybody who is in the area to come and see us compete and enjoy the atmosphere and well-organised side events.
In the winter, we will have the pleasure to organise a Ladies’ Continental Cup tour that has grown considerably and I am very much looking forward to see how the starter field will develop, which athletes will establish themselves in the top and, of course, who will be our very first Nordic Combined ladies’ medal winner at the FIS Junior World Championships at an iconic location for the sport, in Lahti (FIN). It is an exciting time to be a part of Nordic Combined right now and we are definitely not slowing down anytime soon.
Will there be any updates for the men in this year’s Summer Grand Prix that we need to be aware of?
Ottesen: There will not be any major changes for the upcoming season. As every year, we have made updates and small adjustments with the equipment.
The red and blue bibs for the best jumper and best skier of the field were a success last winter and will be used also for this Summer Grand Prix, as the feedback was really positive. As in the past two summers, we will also not have a qualification round in the Summer Grand Prix, which means that all athletes who are present get to start both in parts of the competition. And it’s always good to remember that the Summer Grand Prix overall victory can only be taken by an athlete, who has competed in all of the events.
Like in the past summer, the Grand Prix continues with three more venues after the Opening weekend in Oberwiesenthal: Villach, Oberstdorf and Planica. Would you say the late finals in Slovenia have proven to be a success as well?
Ottesen: The Summer Grand Prix Finals in Planica were very well organised and had a good starting field last summer. The Slovenian Ski Association and Planica as Organiser were also happy with the event and would like to be a regular part of our Summer Grand Prix in autumn, hosting the finals.
We are also looking at extending the Summer Grand Prix for next summer and are working on some ideas that we will present this coming autumn.
Last question: anything specific you are looking forward to most this summer?
Ottesen: From a personal standpoint, I am especially looking forward to see the ladies in action in Oberwiesenthal. And also our Nordic Combined officials’ beach volleyball match that we play during the Summer Grand Prix is one of the highlights every year, definitely also for its sporting value! (laughs)