Editor’s note: On Thursday, Feb. 27, the International Ski Federation (FIS) cancelled the women’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom scheduled for March 7-8 in Ofterschwang, Germany, due to poor snow and a forecast of rain. The Associated Press called the races a potential venue for Mikaela Shiffrin’s return to action. FIS officials are considering replacement races.
The women’s World Cup ski-racing circuit – and the men’s, to some degree – is facing more uncertainty than just the prolonged absence of one of the sport’s biggest stars, Mikaela Shiffrin. The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is starting to spread across Europe.
One of the hardest hit areas, northeastern Italy, is set to host both the women’s and men’s World Cup Finals in Cortina, Italy, March 16-20, and the women are still planning on racing this weekend in the as-yet unaffected Aosta region of northwestern Italy, although crowd sizes may be limited.
“Despite the coronavirus outbreak in Northern Italy, @fisalpine has confirmed this weekend’s World Cup races in the unaffected Aosta region (in which Thuile is located and there are no recorded cases),” the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team tweeted Wednesday morning.
Someone immediately replied to the effect of, “What about Cortina?”
“We have no info at this point as the World Cup Finals is still a few weeks away,” the team replied. In fact, the Cortina races are just 19 days away.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) late last month cancelled what would have been the first ever men’s World Cup ski races in China – on the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics course – due to the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, in December.
Across the ski industry, resort areas like Eagle County are starting to take precautions after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday it’s a matter of “when, not if” the virus hits the U.S., and travel and tourism stocks have been taking a beating on Wall Street.
The uncertainty has now trickled into the competitive arena, with coronavirus cases now being reported in six European countries.
The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team also tweeted Wednesday about Shiffrin, the three-time defending overall champion and double Olympic gold medalist from Edwards who has been off the circuit since the death of her father, Jeff, earlier this month after an accident at their Edwards home.
“Our — and the entire @fisalpine community’s thoughts – continue to go out to Mikaela, [mom] Eileen and [brother] Taylor, as Mikaela’s return to competition is still unknown,” the team tweeted.
Italy’s Federica Brignone won last Sunday – the eighth race missed by Shiffrin – to overtake her for the overall lead. Brignone leads the overall chase with 1,298 points to 1,225 for Shiffrin and 1,139 for Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova.
Shiffrin last raced Jan. 26 in Bansko, Bulgaria, claiming a super-G that Sunday after winning a downhill Friday. At that point, Shiffrin had a 360-point lead over Brignone and a 395-point lead over Vlhova. Brignone has managed a 433-point turnaround and holds a 73-point lead over Shiffrin heading into the final 12 races of the season.
Action resumes this weekend, Feb. 29 – March 1, with a super-G and combined (one run of super-G and one run of slalom) in La Thuile, Italy.
That’s followed by a giant slalom and a slalom March 7-8 at Ofterschwang, Germany, a parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom March 12-14 in Are, Sweden, and then all five disciplines March 16-22 at World Cup Finals in Cortina, Italy.
The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team also tweeted Wednesday about an exchange Saturday regarding Shiffrin between a reporter and Brignone. The tweet was basically a repeat of a lengthier excerpt of the interview that was sent out in a press release from the team Sunday:
“In an interview on Saturday when asked about being the new favorite for the overall as Mikaela was not competing, Federica answered passionately, ‘I want Mikaela back, I really do hope that she will return soon…for herself so she can do again what she loves most. I know that what I am going to say will seem harsh, but one has to move on…it’s not like it was about a few races that didn’t go well and you can slowly forget about it. What she went through is something she will never forget and it won’t ever go away. I do know that she will need time, but I really hope that she will come back soon and go back to what she likes the most (skiing), and that it will help her overcome those terrible moments she just went through.’
“The journalist was somewhat taken aback with Federica’s answer, thinking that Federica would respond by saying that she’s excited for the potential to lead the in the overall standings. But, Federica respects Mikaela, loves the competition, and knows it’s good for the sport.”