Q: Pierre, on July 1st you are taking over FIS Cross-Country Race Director position. Are you satisfied?
Pierre Mignerey: Yes, I am satisfied I am not wearing two hats anymore. I regret to be leaving FFS (French Ski Federation) but it is important I can focus on one job the whole year round. So far I have worked on World Cups organization. Since now I will be more involved in the management of the discipline and calendar planning.
Q: During the last FIS Congress in Korea many decisions in regard to organization of future competitions were taken. How does the decision process look like in FIS?
P.M.: During the FIS Congress several committees had their meetings. The Cross-Country Committee and its Sub-Committees (World and Continental Cups, Rules and Control, Popular Skiing, Roller Skiing, etc.) are composed of national ski associations’ representatives. Not all the federations are present but most active nations are there. France, for example, is represented by Christophe Deloche. At these committees some members are more active, some less but at the end every decision is taken by a vote. Then, all important decisions must be confirmed and approved by the 16-member FIS Council.
Q: What are the changes planned for the next season?
P.M.: First of all, changes will affect men’s relay. We have shortened the distance from 4 x 10 km to 4 x 7.5 km. For ladies the format remains unchanged, 4 x 5km. We hope that with the shorter distance, the race will become more dynamic more interesting for the spectators and TV viewers. The second reason is related to television. Currently, men’s relay lasts around one hour and forty minutes. It's very long for a TV station to broadcast in its full length. Quite often TVs do not show classical legs but only the second part of the relay, which is not necessarily the most interesting part of the competition. With the shorter relay competition of around one hour fifteen minutes, it will be easier to find a slot to show the entire competition. This change will concern only World Cups in Gällivare and La Clusaz.
Q: There are also changes related to the long distances 30 km and 50 km?
P.M.: Yes that is right. We have adapted the rules for the ski exchange in the mass start competitions. Set up of the stadium will be changed so that athletes going in the pit boxes to change skis will stay longer in the stadium. Currently if a skier changes skis, he returns as the last one in the group where he skied before he entering the pit box. Visually it is hard to notice the difference between skiers who changed the skis and who did not. The impact on the race is very low. In the new stadium set up the way to the exchange boxes will be longer and athletes might lose approx. fifteen seconds on competitors who will ski without exchange. The decision to change skis or not will become more strategic. The layout will be put in place in Oslo and maybe at the World Championships in Val di Fiemme.
Q: Are there any other changes?
P.M.: The distance of ladies’ sprint has been increased. The goal is to use as often as possible the same course for the ladies and the men. Two tracks for each gender were too restrictive for organizers and often the ladies course was not attractive.
Q: What is the future of the city sprints? Are they in danger?
P.M.: No, the city sprints are not in danger. There is no discussion about that. The only issue, which we have, is to avoid double poling sprints in towns or anywhere else. We want to compete on courses that will demand the use of all components of the classical technique. In cities it is more complicated to find such courses. City sprints have not been questioned, they have their place in the World Cup calendar, and they bring our sport close to the public.
Q: Going to Quebec next winter corresponds with this strategy?
P.M.: We are almost certain there will be a very successful event in Quebec especially on Saturday. There is a strong Nordic culture and Alex Harvey is a local star. The course is not ideal as it goes through the very downtown but it is long and hard enough to test athletes and their skiing skills.
Q: There are two other important events schedule for this season, the World Championships in Val di Fiemme and pre-Olympics in Sochi. Is everything ready?
P.M.: It looks good in Val di Fiemme. New tracks have been built, which we have not tested yet and will be partly used during the FIS Tour de Ski. Great work has been done as new operations building was built, bridges, tracks, start and finish areas have been upgraded. I have not been to Sochi yet, so it is difficult to give my opinion. We will go there for our summer inspection at the end of September but I believe that everything what has been planned will be ready for the big day.
Q: What changes are planned for the FIS Tour de Ski?
This year, we are going to a new place in Münstertal in Switzerland, which is the village of Dario Cologna. This is a very small place but the landscape is beautiful and organizers are super motivated. For the next season, there are two stages planned in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on December 31st and January 1st. We are waiting for the confirmation by the organizers and the Swiss Ski.
Q: Will there ever be a Tour de Ski stage in France?
P.M.: I think it is not realistic or at least very complicated because the Tour has to go through Germany to Val di Fiemme. Germany is a very important country for all winter sports and in particular for Nordic skiing. It is inconceivable not to go to Germany with FIS Tour de Ski. Moreover, Oberhof is for the German Ski Association the FIS Tour de Ski venue. Val di Fiemme works really well hosting last stages and the Final Climb on Alpe Cermis has become part of the FIS Tour de Ski brand. So between Oberhof and Val di Fiemme, there are very few opportunities to come to France (perhaps with the exception of Vosges) without forcing the teams to travel too long.
Q: You have mentioned German television. How important role does it play in strategic decisions?
P.M.: We can like it or not but today a high-level sport cannot live without television. Without substantial television coverage in Germany, Cross-Country skiing, like most winter sports, would get in great difficulties and even probably perish in short term. Germany and Poland are the largest countries in terms of Cross-Country skiing viewers. It is no coincidence that the most important World Cup sponsors are German companies.
The development of our sport (like all high-level sports) requires to take into account the interests and wishes of television. This does not mean that we accept all the proposals but generally what television has looked for (create dynamic competitions, attacks, failures, strategy. Etc.) has been in the right way and has never put the essence of our sport in danger.
Q: Did poorer results of German athletes in various Nordic disciplines affect the TV broadcasts?
P.M.: The audience decreased a little bit so yes, it is important that the German athletes have good results. Everything fits together. It is very important for Cross-Country skiing to keep good programming slots. An example, races to be held in December in Canada, will be shown delayed on European TV stations. If the results of the Germans are not good, the pictures may not be shown at all.
What concerns us more is the case of Poland. You have to know that for three years, the biggest audience has been in Poland because of the brilliant results of Justyna Kowalczyk. If she stops competing, there will inevitably be a decline. You should know that eight or nine of the most watched races of the last season were the ladies’ races, only because of the results of one athlete.
Q: How are your relations with television?
P.M.: We meet at World Cups but also after the season during debriefing and during the summer when we visit every organizer. Our common interest is to work together to provide a highest quality TV production. It is not easy because it depends on many things.
The choice of the company that delivers the TV production is essential. Then the available budget determines the number and type of cameras (e.g. fixed cameras / rail cameras or cablecam, etc.) and therefore the quality of production.
Finally, experience and knowledge of the TV director is crucial especially in individual start competitions. To produce a TV program means to tell a story. It is difficult to tell a story, which you do not understand yourself! In this context, our work is to exchange knowledge, to support our colleagues in the TV production to give value to our discipline.
Q: What’s currently on your working agenda?
P.M.: I have just finished the "spring" phase of my work. We had several debriefing meetings with competition organizers, teams and industry representatives, media and sponsors. At the FIS congress in Korea, everything was decided for the new season: the calendar 2012/2013, policy decisions and regulations. I have worked a lot on the update of the ICR (International Competition Rules). There is a new version every four years and this time the aim has been to simplify the rules to make them more understandable for athletes, coaches, organizers and Jury members.
Next phase of my work is to visit all the World Cup organizers. At the site inspections we review all areas of the organization, point by point, from sport to transportation issues, accommodation, communication, marketing, etc.
Q: I can see that you have just received an email from Stephane Vittoz, chief of La Clusaz...
P.M.: Yes, Stephane has sent me a message with details about new stadium layout. I am going to inspect La Clusaz on July 3rd. At each competition site, we focus on start/ lapping/ finish areas to create a stadium atmosphere.
Q: From a broader perspective, what are the problems you have to quickly resolve?
P.M.: Without going into details on the TV issues, it is clear that we must work to improve the TV production at some sites. Sportwise, one of the major problems to be solved is the improvement of working conditions for athletes and technicians in waxing areas. We require that organizers provide suitable space for athletes to eat and to change clothes. Often they are forced to use unventilated waxing rooms.
For technicians, the problem is even worse because despite all precautions, they work long hours in hazardous environment for their health. It is impossible to be wearing a gas mask four hours. Therefore we will focus on the quality of the team facilities.
Q: Some teams have solved the problem by acquiring waxing trucks specially designed for this use.
P.M.: The teams have very different financial resources and have to consider their investments. You should also know that, for example, if Norway did not have the waxing truck, the federation would not be able to employ waxing technicians on the World Cup circuit. Health laws of their country do not allow waxers to work in the cabins without a proper ventilation.
Today, there is no real solution except the waxing trucks. They were designed with permanent vacuum systems directly above of waxing places. It is almost impossible to find wax cabins that offer equivalent standard. At best, they provide central ventilation. The problem was partly resolved at some competition sites such as Otepää with the construction of buildings that offer special rooms for waxing but the investment is unaffordable for most organizers.
Interview by www.dauphinordique.com