Here's a thought for the World Cup Committee, the lofty savants who each year devise and re-advise the scoring system that is supposed to tell us who are the world's best male and female ski racers: Back to the drawing board, fellas. You've blown it again.
For years, the World Cup hierarchy ha s rigged and rerigged the scoring system to reward and encourage all-around proficiency in the three Alpine disciplines, not brilliance in but one or two events. One result has been Ingemar Stenmark's being denied the World Cup for the second year in a row.
This season, the great Swedish skier has won nine World Cup races, earning the maximum points possible in slalom and giant slalom. But once again he did not race in the downhills. And with still the season's final event to go, Stenmark had lost the World Cup by four points to Liechtenstein's Andreas Wenzel.
Wenzel's best results for the season going into that final race were one win in a slalom, one in a giant slalom, and a fourth in a downhill. Together with consistently good but not winning performances in the other races, these were good enough to give him the World cup despite Stenmark's nine victories.
Nothing can be taken from Wenzel's considerable accomplishments. He earned two silvers at Lake Placid (one in the Olympic giant slalom plus the World Ski Federation silver medal for his combined results in slalom, downhill, and giant slalom). Andreas and his sister, 1980 World Cup champion Hanni Wenzel, alone gave little Liechtenstein a tie with Austria's mighty ski machine for the most Olympic alpine ski medals. They are also the first World Cup champion brother-and-sister act in history.
But is Andreas the best ski racer in the world? Stenmark would need only five points in downhill to still be ahead of him. Ingemar could have done that with one 11th place finish or three 14ths. He elected not to race downhill. Should he lose the championship for not coming in 11th in a downhill?
Most skiers would say "no." But the principle that the World Cup seers are trying to promote -- determining an all-around champion and resisting the trend to overspecialize -- is a worthy one.
What's needed is a scoring system that gives some weight to combined results, but much less weight than has been allowed the past two years. If a racer gets the maximum score possible in two disciplines, anybody beating him (or her) should at least have to win one race in all three disciplines.
To beat an Ingemar Stenmark and not have better than a fourth in downhill doesn't make much sense.