Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Alpine Ski Racing Primer: Kombined vs Super-Combined

In a previous post, I mentioned an alpine discipline referred to as “Kombined”. That's not a typo. There is also another alpine discipline called “Super-Combined”.

There's a difference.

In simple terms, the difference is explained thusly: Kombined (also referred to as “Classic Combined”) is a downhill (DH) race and a full two-run slalom (SL) race, usually on consecutive days, added together. Three runs, two days. A Super-Combined can be one DH + one slalom run, or it can be one Super-G (SG) + one slalom run, on the same day, added together. Two runs, same day.

Kombined is often referred to as Kombined, rather than Combined or Classic Combined, because its origins lie deep in Austrian history; in the German language, Combined is spelled Kombined. Kombined is a ski racing anachronism which originated a century ago at Europe's winter “Super Bowl”, the Hahnenkamm-Rennen races at Kitzbühel (HKR). (NOTE: HKR is highly esteemed customer of mine; the timekeeping, speed measurement, and video wall software used there is 100% Broder's Skunkware Scoring & Timing Software.) The Hahnenkamm, which celebrated its 70th running last month, started in about 1910, and by about 1930 evolved into more or less its present form. By 1930, there was a speed race (more or less DH, held on The Streif) and a technical race (more or less SL, held on the adjacent Ganslern). Each had its own champion. But the really big deal was at the end of the weekend, times for the two were added together, and the combined winner was awarded The Hahnenkamm Trophy. Fans came from all over Tirol to celebrate the crowning of The Hahnenkamm Champion. Now they come from all over the globe, while tens of millions watch on TV.

The Hahnenkamm Trophy still exists. Bode Miller has won it, although he has neither won the Hahnenkamm DH nor the Hahnenkamm SL. He simply was the guy who placed highest in both in the same year. The Hahnenkamm Trophy celebrates the guy who is the fastest, most versatile racer, over a variety of conditions, on the weekend.


The Kitzbühel HKR is the only regular yearly venue on the World Cup to still hold a Classic Combined. Since the HKR is men only, the women do not have a seasonal Kombined. The World Alpine Ski Championships also still stages a Kombined, for both men and women.

So, basically, Kombined is ski racing's tip of the hat to Kitzbühel, to The Hahnenkamm, and to its Austrian roots.

Kombined is a software & scoring nightmare, and very difficult to stage. For example, racers who may not qualify to even compete in the 2nd run of slalom (flip 30) are allowed to race if they are eligible for the Kombined. They ski their 2nd SL run after the slalom race is over, but their times don't “count” toward the slalom results. In addition, most World Cup venues are either speed or technical, not both, and even if they do have both courses laid out on the mountain, the two courses frequently have finish stadiums in different physical locations. Lake Louise, for example, is a Club 5 DH (Club 5 is an exclusive designation given the World Cup's best races), but the venue doesn't even have a homologated slalom course.

So a few years ago, the astonishingly incompetent brainless idiots at FIS came up with the Super-Combined (SC). SC is one of the few good ideas to come out of FIS in the last few decades. It's far easier to stage than Kombined, because the “speed” run can be a Super-G if the mountain or the weather won't cooperate. These days, downhill courses are a vanishing breed, but Super-G courses are a dime a dozen. It only takes one day instead of two. There are no bookkeeping nightmares, as it's just another two-run race. It still rewards the most versatile racer, and it's easier for the casual fan to understand than Kombined. SC has become quite popular, and in fact this year's Olympics has dropped the Kombined and replaced it with a Super-Combined.

Ironically, with the US team in disarray, with very few World Cup results this year not involving Lindsey Vonn, being woefully mis-managed by the former ski-coach who is currently calling himself CEO, America's best chance for a mens medal is the SC. Both Bode Miller and Ted Ligety are amongst the most versatile all-around skiers on the World Cup. Although they each have only one World Cup victory apiece this year, it would be a surprise if one or the other doesn't wind up on the SC podium. Lindsey Vonn, if healthy enough to race full-blast, is also a favorite to podium in the womens SC.

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