February 14, 2006

Young racers want to jazz up sport

By Sophie Hardach

SAN SICARIO (Reuters) - Young Olympic hopefuls want to make
Alpine skiing sexier to catch up with snowboarding and
freestyle skiing, disciplines they say are luring newcomers
away from traditional sports.

"I think young people are more interested in freestyle,
they find skiing a bit stuffy," German downhill skier Petra
Haltmayr told Reuters after an Olympic training session on

"Skiing could do with a bit of jazz. I saw the halfpipe
(competition) and it was just something else, the thumping
music, all the action going on around the event," she added,
speaking a day before the women's downhill race at the San
Sicario Fraiteve slope.

Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder brought some party feeling to
Alpine skiing when he stormed his country's charts with
"Schifoan," a cover version of an Austrian song about skiing
with a chorus line that says "skiing, skiing, skiing is the
best thing ever."

With his frizzy long hair, wraparound glasses and black
nail varnish, the World Cup combined champion is something
between the glamour kid and the court jester of Alpine skiing.

He has plenty of ideas for making his sport more fun.

"It's a pity that those in charge of the sport are not
aware of the latest trends," he said on the sidelines of a
sponsored event near the Olympic Village.

"There should be more enthusiasm, more experts. The sport
itself is super, but the framework needs to be much better. You
have to compare it to the Superbowl where the game is a hit but
it's also a hit when the Rolling Stones perform."

Thumping music and funky performers have turned
snowboarding and freestyle skiing into mass parties.

While organizers played some club music at the Alpine races
and training sessions in Sestriere, which hosts the main
competitions, the volume was fairly low and no one was bopping

The mood was livelier at the men's combined downhill on
Tuesday, with cheerleaders with orange pompoms and Olympic
mascots dancing in the stands.

But there are usually no frills at skiing competitions --
just the athletes hurtling downhill at more than 100 kph, the
audiences and security staff.

If there are many empty seats and rather quiet spectators,
as they were at the downhill race in Sestriere on Sunday, the
event can look a bit bare, although the races themselves are
the most exciting in the Olympics because of the speed and