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Why do certain regions dominate alpine racing?

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

I've always been curious about this. Certain countries (and regions in particular) really seem to dominate the alpine skiing events, whereas other countries (and regions) continuously do poor. What are the reasons?

 

Proximity to mountains?

-Makes sense logically, but there are plenty of mountains in Asia (China, Japan and Korea) and those countries all have the funds to send their athletes overseas to train.

-The Chinese are doing remarkably well in FIS Snowboarding events, and Japan is always well represented in Snowboarding as well.

-Japan is also doing fairly well in FIS Ski jumping events (see Daiki Ito)

-Where are the Aussies and the Kiwis? They have mountains and excellent skiing...

 

Money?

-The Asian countries are very invested financially in winning medals at the Olympics, as you can see by skating events

-Australia/NZ and the Asian countries seem to have the money to do very well in a wide variety of Summer and Winter sports, and are certainly not any "poorer" than Slovakia or Croatia

 

Lacking the "mental" aspect?

-Probably a bit racist and ignorant to think that athletes in Asia-Pacific (including Australia/NZ) are somehow mentally weaker, but perhaps this plays a part?

-But then see the above statement regarding good representation in Snowboarding events

 

Snow-sports just not popular?

-Japan has a world class ski resort and as anybody who has skiied in Japan knows, it is hugely popular and the infrastructure for skiing in Japan is world class

-Also, see above statement regarding Snowboarders

 

Poor training/coaches?

-I think this may play a bigger part than one might think, but then to be fair, how do you explain the decades long absence of athletes from these regions?

 

I think for skiing to continue to grow as a sport, we absolutely need to identify the reasons why skiing is "dominated" by just a few handful of countries (France, Swiss, Nor-Swe-Fin, Italy, Ger, Aut, USA, CAN, etc.), and why there isn't more interest or talent emerging from these massive other countries which literally have millions of potential skiers. It really is a huge untapped market and I wish there was a clear explanation as to why.

post #2 of 24
Could it be related to the popularity of the sport, in terms of participation, media coverage and the celebrity of local winners.?

I mean, you could look at other sports and ask why there aren't more winners from certain countries - golf, formula 1, snooker, ...
If parents don't bring their children up with a love of the sport, and they don't have local heroes to look up to, it's harder to get them involved and keep them keen.
post #3 of 24

One, probably most important thing, is, skiing (any kind of skiing) is marginal sport. Noone really cares about it. There's maybe 10 countries, where the do it for real, and basically just Austria, where only sport they really have is alpine skiing. For everyone else, it's pretty much non-existing sport. Sure it can be relatively popular as recreational sport, but recreational sport is one thing, while racing sport being interesting for media, and therefore sponsors is other thing. Considering this very little market, sponsors can't come from ski industry, as there's basically less money in whole ski industry, then some Coca Cola manager spends a year as his lunch money :) And when racing sport is not interested for wide public, you don't get sponsors from outside.

Most of these countries where skiing (either be nordic or alpine) is well developed have long tradition of skiing, and they mostly get funding based on that. And obviously China, Australia, even Russia, and hell... also USA, have other more important sports, where money goes. Afterall, how much would Lindsey with her superiority get if she would be playing in NFL or NBA and be so superior? I assume "a little" bit more then she get's now :) So few people (with 200millions of citizens few people can actually be million or two, but percentage vise it's small number) go skiing for fun, even less go racing, and there you go. First, noone cares (money vise) about sport, few 100 people do, and second, you simply can't get, unless you are very lucky, future World Champion out of pool of 50 junior racers. On the other side, things are very similar, when you look at basketball in USA or ice hockey in Canada. 50% of people (probably I'm waaay too low with this number) play it one way or the other. Out of such huge number, there's no big deal to get 10 guys who are better then everyone. And once you have these much of people involved, money comes, and with more money you get even  more success.

post #4 of 24

Perhaps it's that there are only a very few people who really care about alpine racing. I bet most people would rather be chasing pow than running gates.

post #5 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by primoz View Post
On the other side, things are very similar, when you look at basketball in USA or ice hockey in Canada. 50% of people (probably I'm waaay too low with this number) play it one way or the other. Out of such huge number, there's no big deal to get 10 guys who are better then everyone. And once you have these much of people involved, money comes, and with more money you get even  more success.


Speaking for Canada, hockey is actually less popular than soccer here as far as number of kids registered.  This is a really good example I think.  There is really no "career-path" for soccer for Canadians.  We don't have established leagues to play in, MLS notwithstanding and that is only a fairly recent league.  The thing is, hockey is extremely well developed in a development sense.  And a lot of kids go down the high-level development road.  Only the very best end up in the NHL of course, but we have a very large pool of extremely good players who simply stop playing or choose another career path when it's clear they aren't going to the NHL.  We have kids being scouted at age 12 or 13..they have agents at that age.  Compare that to Steven Gerard in BPL soccer..he's been "owned" by Liverpool since he was 8.  That's a long, professional development process motivated by large sums of money.  I read that Barcelona FC's development squad's budget is something like 34 times what all of Soccer Canada's budget is. 

 

So I think it's either love of the sport or money..and probably not many people love hockey outside of the big 6 or 8 countries..same for ski racing I suspect.

post #6 of 24

Really? I know soccer is most popular sport worldwide, but I didn't imagine it would be more popular in Canada then ice hockey. Well you find out something new every day :)

post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by primoz View Post
 

Really? I know soccer is most popular sport worldwide, but I didn't imagine it would be more popular in Canada then ice hockey. Well you find out something new every day :)


Yeah, it's kind of surprising.  Honestly though, hockey is an expensive sport here, especially at the younger, competitive levels.  We're talking $10k for a 9 year old on a Triple-A team for winter only.  Plus the summer training and leagues.  Soccer is a lot cheaper and more accessible.  And it's a good sport.  But there's nowhere for kids to go.  Most girls use it as a route to US universities on a partial or full scholarship, but there's no league for them to go to.  Same with boys.  BPL is sort of a far-off concept for most and the level of competition means they're just not good enough to compete with other countries.  We don't have enough good coaches and players to make a good development system to produce good coaches and players.  And honestly, the hockey-mentality is a bit crazy.  Although you have those "soccer parents" as well..it just means their kids have nowhere to go at the end of it whereas in hockey they always think their kid is going to the NHL.

post #8 of 24
Quote:
 

Where are the Aussies and the Kiwis? They have mountains and excellent skiing...

 

Not according to all the Aussies and Kiwis I've met! They don't paint a very good picture of their mountains/snow conditions/infrastructure etc at all. That's why so many travel to Canada and Japan to ski.

post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Well the progression mentioned are all good points, but when you consider Asians excel at weird stuff like rythmic gymnastics or weightlifting, I am not sure that is all there is to it.
post #10 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott43 View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by primoz View Post

 
Really? I know soccer is most popular sport worldwide, but I didn't imagine it would be more popular in Canada then ice hockey. Well you find out something new every day smile.gif


Yeah, it's kind of surprising.  Honestly though, hockey is an expensive sport here, especially at the younger, competitive levels.  We're talking $10k for a 9 year old on a Triple-A team for winter only.  Plus the summer training and leagues.  Soccer is a lot cheaper and more accessible.  And it's a good sport.  But there's nowhere for kids to go.  Most girls use it as a route to US universities on a partial or full scholarship, but there's no league for them to go to.  Same with boys.  BPL is sort of a far-off concept for most and the level of competition means they're just not good enough to compete with other countries.  We don't have enough good coaches and players to make a good development system to produce good coaches and players.  And honestly, the hockey-mentality is a bit crazy.  Although you have those "soccer parents" as well..it just means their kids have nowhere to go at the end of it whereas in hockey they always think their kid is going to the NHL.

I'm guessing that there was a time in Canada when having reliable pond ice was enough to give kids they all the leg up they needed with respect to most of the rest of the world. Now that everyone has to play on an indoor rink with a boatload of other accoutrements, it doesn't matter as much whether you're from Georgian Bay or Georgia.
post #11 of 24

Despite what Scott43 posted, hockey pretty much rules in northern Ontario.  I think Primoz has it right.  Kid's don't go skiing because of their hockey game schedule.

post #12 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by qcanoe View Post


I'm guessing that there was a time in Canada when having reliable pond ice was enough to give kids they all the leg up they needed with respect to most of the rest of the world. Now that everyone has to play on an indoor rink with a boatload of other accoutrements, it doesn't matter as much whether you're from Georgian Bay or Georgia.


Yeah, I think we just played the game more in those days. It was OUR game..nobody even really knew about it.  It's gained in popularity over time and now the big 8 countries all have good development teams and leagues.  You can still play on outdoor ice, it's just that the vast majority of people here live in the Greater Toronto Area, Greater Vancouver Area or the Greater Montreal Area, none of which have reliable winter ice..except Montreal maybe.  So the vast majority of people are on indoor ice.  And those major areas also skew the participation numbers for soccer in summer, and like Ghost says, outside those areas hockey is king..and curling..and hunting and fishing.  I grew up an hour north or Toronto and at age 5, that's almost 40 years ago, we were already on indoor ice at that age.  We played for fun out on the lake or pond, but we already had 2 practices and a game a week indoors at age 5.

 

And I'll just throw this in because it is an interesting chart.

 

post #13 of 24
Skiing is too limited by local climate/weather/geography. It takes 10 minutes to go somewhere to play other stuff but an hour or more for skiing, then it's really only available 4 months of a year.

Besides it's expensive. Ignoring the trend that kids need tons of money for even the simplest sport to buy new uniforms and be bused around the country so they come begging at your local grocery store, when I was a kid all we needed to play soccer is a ball and a flat field. It's a sport that's dirt cheap to play despite the attempts to make it into something otherwise.

This is assuming they have a local place to ski to begin with, I don't think you'll see a WC champion from Haiti, or even Texas.
post #14 of 24

I always wonder why Japan has suck killer terrain and snow yet doesn't field many top competitors in any skiing disciplines??  Could it be that they just really love skiing as skiers and not the pissing contests about competitive skiing?

post #15 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post

I always wonder why Japan has suck killer terrain and snow yet doesn't field many top competitors in any skiing disciplines??  Could it be that they just really love skiing as skiers and not the pissing contests about competitive skiing?

I'm guessing it takes time to develop. North America and Europe has began ski racing since what, almost 100 years ago? Japan didn't get the idea to do it until American occupation and the general public only had the economic means to do it much later.
post #16 of 24

Competitive skiing is a very time and money intensive venture. If you can get over the latter, you still need an extensive support system, such as ski academies, or other private schooling, to be able to allow young athletes to both progress in school (life) and their sport. Europeans figured this out long ago, North Americans have it, but it exists in small niches and it is that much more expensive over the already staggering costs. Also there have to be tangible pathways to higher levels. There is relatively more opportunities in hockey for example to move to a higher level, where skiing, provincial/state level teams are small 4-8/gender, most don't have the means for a "B" or development team. College (in the US) are full of ex-WC, Nor-AM skiers who finally got out so you better have points <30 to get on a decent team. The slope to the top of the pyramid is very steep and very slippery and not many can set to the top. Even if you reach the top national level, chances are you are still at least partially paying your own way to the tune of 10's of thousands of $$

 

Summary: Hard, expensive grind for a very few spots at the highest level, little return.

post #17 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroGravity View Post
 

Competitive skiing is a very time and money intensive venture. If you can get over the latter, you still need an extensive support system, such as ski academies, or other private schooling, to be able to allow young athletes to both progress in school (life) and their sport. Europeans figured this out long ago, North Americans have it, but it exists in small niches and it is that much more expensive over the already staggering costs. Also there have to be tangible pathways to higher levels. There is relatively more opportunities in hockey for example to move to a higher level, where skiing, provincial/state level teams are small 4-8/gender, most don't have the means for a "B" or development team. College (in the US) are full of ex-WC, Nor-AM skiers who finally got out so you better have points <30 to get on a decent team. The slope to the top of the pyramid is very steep and very slippery and not many can set to the top. Even if you reach the top national level, chances are you are still at least partially paying your own way to the tune of 10's of thousands of $$

 

Summary: Hard, expensive grind for a very few spots at the highest level, little return.

 

That applies to many sports nowadays. It's incredible the amount parents spend on coaching, camps, travel, etc. for soccer, basketball, gymnastics, and I'm sure many other sports in hopes of that elusive college scholarship that probably won't happen to more than one kid in the area. All of that money goes to prop up that one kid in town. One could simply spend that same amount of money and just pay the college tuition rather than hope for a full ride.

post #18 of 24
Thread Starter 

All good points, but again, how does that explain the success of Japanese snowboarders and FIS World Cup ski jumping (look at the most recent women's results...)? Ski jumping in particular is a very "niche" sport with little opportunity for "big bucks" in Japan, not very "popular", and at least as expensive and probably far more difficult to find opportunities to train for, than alpine racing.

 

Also a different point, but the Japanese also generally do very well in endurance sports (marathon) and the Asians are generally the best at shooting events in the Summer games, so you would assume that they would also be competitive in biathalon, but nope!

post #19 of 24

Niches exist, where one sport seems to be the only game in town so everyone does it because "that's what everyone does here" and there is a decent level of competition "locally". It can also draw other athletes in to center of excellence. I think of sports like short-track speed skating or freestyle skiing and how many of the best athletes come from Quebec. They have a well developed club system and competitions that result in a high level of athletes.

post #20 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ZeroGravity View Post
 

Niches exist, where one sport seems to be the only game in town so everyone does it because "that's what everyone does here" and there is a decent level of competition "locally". It can also draw other athletes in to center of excellence. I think of sports like short-track speed skating or freestyle skiing and how many of the best athletes come from Quebec. They have a well developed club system and competitions that result in a high level of athletes.

 

That makes sense...but I imagine, with the Nagano winter games, the upcoming Pyeongchang/Nagano (Tokyo) games in 2018, and China's consistent bidding to host the winter games as well, that you would see a much higher participation rate in the alpine skiing events. You can find runs with 50+ degree runs in Asia so there really isn't an issue with the terrain either - it's just a matter of putting up some flags and you can easily get practice in. The mountains in Asia are better than anything you'd find in the East Coast and yet plenty of US ski team members grew up skiing on the East Coast...I also hear the Japanese/Korean athletes practice in China and the US West-coast resorts so they definitely have the $$ and resources. Toby Dawson, a highly accomplished US freestyle skier (Olympic silver medalist) coaches the Korean team as well...

 

Anyone who has skied in Japan knows that there is quite a "technical Interski" scene there and the skiers from the region are interested in more than just "recreational" skiing. At the annual Interski meetings Japan and Korea fields respectable teams, with quite a high number of participation from their respective SIAs.

 

I watch World Cup skiing every week and it's boring watching the same old countries constantly dominating, and that makes me worry about the future of the sport (ski racing).

 

Which also begs the question....barring Ligety, Bode and Vonn, why do American athletes underperform at the World Cup? :D

post #21 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by iheartnyc View Post

 

Which also begs the question....barring Ligety, Bode and Vonn, why do American athletes underperform at the World Cup? :D

Yup, that is a wonderful example of begging the question, for sure.

 

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

 

as far as WC skiing goes, I am rooting for individuals that I admire, not country of origin... but I am an odd duck in many ways. Do other's care more about nationalism or individual athletes? I just don't see it as a 'team' sport, I see individuals competing head to head. That's how I view it.

post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by iheartnyc View Post
Which also begs the question....barring Ligety, Bode and Vonn, why do American athletes underperform at the World Cup? :D

 

 

That goes back to the heart of the question, and also see the thread about why accomplished skiers quit. The Euros value skiing more than North Americans and have a well developed system for developing ski racers so they have a larger pool of talent to pick their top level elite teams, with plenty left to field strong Europa Cup teams. Here, the system is much smaller so the field of truly capable racers that can compete for a podium spot week in and week out is much smaller. The reverse is true however when it comes to spots like hockey (especially here in Canada), basketball, or football.

post #23 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whiteroom View Post
 

Yup, that is a wonderful example of begging the question, for sure.

 

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

 

as far as WC skiing goes, I am rooting for individuals that I admire, not country of origin... but I am an odd duck in many ways. Do other's care more about nationalism or individual athletes? I just don't see it as a 'team' sport, I see individuals competing head to head. That's how I view it.

 

Apologies, wasn't trying to be snarky.

 

I also root for individuals that I admire and wish to emulate. But I also see a problem where if only a few countries dominate the sport, then the "sport" aspect of the activity will decline in countries that aren't so dominant, which in turn will lead to fewer resources, funding and a further decrease in the quality of the athletes such country produces (sort of a vicious cycle in a way). People mentioned they noticed the same thing, with a decline in NASTAR racing in US resorts, paving the way for "recreational" terrain parks. Sports are a numbers game, and you need a large base for the few elite athletes to emerge from the intense competition resulting from a high number of participation.

 

I view World Cup skiing as the "pinnacle", from which modern recreational ski methods and techniques are derived. Take a look at ski techniques taught in countries with poor World Cup representation (Asian in particular) and it is very clear how a "mutated" form a skiing as evolved.

 

Look at the Korean skiier from 0:52...

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UicEwrNR_JQ&list=PL80F1EDA906428EBE

post #24 of 24
My simple speculation - popularity, history, and/or infrastructure

For example, skiing is like the national sports in Austria. The whole nation loves watching ski competition and actual skiing over there. Most of the world renouned skis are manufactured in Austria. They are many ski resorts, didn't do the math but probably more skiable sq. ft. per capita in Austria than the countries mentioned in the OP...They have a long history of succes in world class ski competition.
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