Most of you were watching on television fantastic Cross-Country competitions in Whistler carried out in both techniques: classical and free. Let us go back to my last article which was published in Bengts corner. I mentioned Thomas Wassberg and his taping trick. Let us also look how Toni Noetzli commented the trick in Sport Zürich under the headline:
ABSURD"Instead of destroying the World Cup by new tests FIS should remember the sportsmanlike rule that the winner is the fastest between A and B independent of technique. The grotesque situation of today can be solved only by one radical decision either to ban the Siitonen step, which will eliminate the development of Cross-Country skiing and create a need to control that the athletes are not using it, which means that you have to allow the fastest technique without chicanes. A MIDDLE WAY DOES NOT EXIST."
During the season a lot of complaints came from many winter sport resorts where skiers were using the skating technique and destroyed tracks and also created costs for preparation. Swiss Ski federation wrote to us "The development of the skating technique has caused us a lot of problems. The tracks that had been carefully prepared were destroyed in a very short time by skiers using the new technique. Consequences can be characterized as disastrous. In order to provide the recreational skiers best conditions possible, a lot of money and personal expenses have to be spent. We therefore ask you to ban this new technique."
A questionnaire, which had been handed out to our athletes and trainers brought a clear answer: " We want to have sport without artificial obstacles."
A meeting in Zürich was held in mid April 1985. Many experts were present such as the FIS General Secretary Gian Franco Kasper, Ivar Formo, Dag Kaas, Stig Roland Bergquist, Franco Nones , Bengt Erik Bengtsson and others.
A number of analyzes had been distributed to the members before the meeting and feedback from various points of view were considered. " At this moment I see no possibilities to restrict the skating step by preparation" said expert expert Toni Baechler.
Skating step was becoming more and more common also at Popular Cross-Country. "20 % of the participants are using the skating step. In the Birkebeiner loppet in NOR the skating step was not allowed . No problems with the control and no disqualifications." Added Christian Egli.
Medical aspects were discussed as well as the new technique had in some media been called the SULZER step, named after the world leading producer of artificial hip-joints. Others like Dr Urs Rohner, former member of the Swiss Cross-Country team, called such statements as nonsense. The meeting decided not to involve medical aspects in the proposal.
New technique would definitely have an effect on skiing equipment. The Fischer Race Director reported that the skating ski would be available on the market in the upcoming season. The projected length will be the height of the person minus 10 cm. The width will be the same as the traditional ski.
On 17. April 1985 Gian Franco Kasper could write to National Ski Associations and to FIS Council following:
"The working group proposes that as of the 1985/86 competition season, the so called skating step shall be allowed for the shorter distances and relay but should be forbidden for the longer races and mass starts. The main idea is that the Working group wanted to preserve the classical skiing and avoid a separation between the top competition skiing and the recreational skiing"
Now our national federations had one month to discuss the proposal and they did.
Vancouver May 29 1985, FIS Congress
As a principle the same persons who were members of the working group took part hitherto . Inga Loewdin SWE, Hans Stattmann AUT, Al Merill USA, Christian Egli SUI and Paavo Petaja FIN were present .
There were many interested persons present and I remember that the Norwegian journalist Rolf Arne Odiin was sitting on the floor, as there were no free seats. A very vivid and thorough discussion showed that within the Committee no solution was found. It was more and less an either or. USSR, FIN and NOR were for a ban of the skating step and ITA, USA and CAN for the free technique. Ivar Formo as the chairman had to close the meeting. Only official members could stay. Here I do remember that the well known Helene Thompkinson GBR was present and she was an honorary member of the FIS and I told her " Mrs Thompkinson even though you are an alpine expert you can stay with us and she did and enjoyed the situation. She was very glad and stayed.
During my military career I visited the highest level of the military academy and we had some mutual strategic exercises with officers from the army, the marine and the air force.
Normally for me as an army officer the enemy should be attacked as soon as possible. To wait or to delay a decision was never accepted. However, there was a problem. The highest general in command was not available and was expected to come and make a final decision within 1-2 days. The task within our staff was to present the best options for our force. We discussed a lot of options concerning the skating step. The situation corresponded to the same as in the first meetings in Zürich and here in Vancouver. Like in a movie I heard the voice of my marine colleague: "Do not decide now and let us wait and see next season."
In most of the military the groups the substitutes of the general did a lot of active measurements and attacked the enemy in all directions exactly according to our military principles. In my thinking there was a chance for us as there were no Championships in 1986. But we had to meet the organizers of the WSC 1987 and the OWG 1988 with some ideas how they should prepare. My proposal was accepted and the work could start. The most important was the first sentence "Before any final decision is reached concerning future of Cross-Country skiing we propose that following measures are taken for the 85/86 season."
At this time a local committee organized the congresses and FIS did not have any secretariat at all and no computers. I asked Bob our local assistant. "Where can I find a person for typing? I asked my wife and she and then we worked out the following articles that were delivered to FIS Council and then submitted to the Congress with some minor linguistic changes.
A) The rules for ski equipment shall be the same as in the 1984/85 season with on exception - rules for poles must be worked out in detail.
B) The World Cup competitions and the Junior World championships (individual and relay) should, by principle, be performed in 50% classical and 50% free technique even distributed through the season.
G) Having collected experiences from the season 85/86 the FIS Cross-Country Committee will make a proposal in April 1986 to the Council as how the World Championships 1987 and the 1988 Olympic Winter Olympic Games shall be conducted.
The proposal was accepted by all nations at the congress except Italy.
The Nordic combined postponed the decision and then they accepted the free technique a little later.
The Biathlon decided in a summer 1985 meeting that all techniques would be allowed for the season 1985/86.
The problems for the future were that many people believed that the athletes would not behave according to the statements of Toni Nötzli earlier in this article.
Ivar Formo the Chairman of the Cross-Country Committee made clear that he was really disappointed on the Congress decision and wanted to step down.
Let us look what really happened in the next article. I am very glad for your comments and do not hesitate to contact me.
Bengt in the Corner