Watching racers whizz through the Tofana schuss at top speed could be the signature image of the skiing world championships.
Wedged between two massive walls of rock near the top of the women’s downhill course, the schuss, or “chute,” hurtles skiers down the mountain at more than 130 kph (80 mph).
It’s where one lost edge or wrong move can mean the difference between a gold medal and a horrific crash.
The schuss is also a big part of an endless array of spectacular scenery in Cortina d'Ampezzo, the resort known as the “Queen” of the Italian Dolomites.
The natural beauty of Cortina will be of special importance at these championships, with organizers hoping that the images from the slopes beamed around the world to TV viewers will make up for the lack of fans amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After last year’s World Cup finals in Cortina were wiped out because of the spread of COVID-19, organizers asked the International Ski Federation to postpone the worlds to 2022. But the request was denied because that would have put the competition too close to next year’s Beijing Olympics.
“We didn’t have an alternative,” organizing committee president Alessandro Benetton said. “Up in the mountains we say, ‘You’ve got to build the fire with the wood that you have.’ We’re looking at the glass as half-full. We’re hoping it’s a big media event.”
As part of a nationwide ban on fans at sports events in Italy, no spectators will be allowed in Cortina when the championships open Monday with the women’s combined race.
“Sure, we will be lacking some atmosphere,” Benetton said. “But we’re hoping that will be compensated by the TV coverage — similar to the way Cortina was put on the map by the 1956 Olympics.”
As part of a strict anti-virus protocol, medals will awarded to athletes on the slopes in the finish area directly after races end — as opposed to at a medal plaza in town during the evening as per custom.
Besides constant testing for the coronavirus for everyone in attendance, color-coded bubbles have been set up to keep different groups apart: a red bubble for teams (athletes, coaches, team physicians, physical therapists, ski men) and other race personnel; a blue bubble for organizational staff, volunteers and law enforcement personnel; a yellow bubble for the media; and a green bubble for guests and dignitaries.
Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin will be a top contender in the opening event, the women’s combined. Former overall World Cup champion Lara Gut-Behrami has won four straight World Cup super-G races and will be an overwhelming favorite for that race on Day 2.
The men’s super-G will also be contested Tuesday with Olympic champion Matthias Mayer among the contenders.
The signature downhills will be held on the middle weekend, with American racer Breezy Johnson among the contenders for the women’s title on Feb. 13 and Mayer going up against Swiss rival Beat Feuz for the coveted men’s gold medal a day later.
Italian teammates Marta Bassino and Federica Brignone are aiming for glory on home snow in the women’s giant slalom, with overall World Cup leader Petra Vlhová looking to defend her GS title from 2019. Shiffrin will then go for a fifth straight slalom world title.
Several big names will be missing because of injury.
Olympic champion Sofia Goggia broke her right knee in a fall last weekend — a devastating way to end her run of four straight victories in World Cup downhills.
Also last month, defending overall World Cup champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde tore ligaments in his right knee in a crash.
The championships will be a big test run for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.
A new men’s speed course will be used for the first time. It's called Vertigine, which translates as “vertigo.”
The slalom races will be contested on the steep Druscié A piste, which was where Austrian great Toni Sailer won one of his three gold medals at the 1956 Olympics.
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