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Behind the scenes at a race

La Sgambeda 2008 – the TD’s Perspective

Every cross country ski race on the FIS (International Ski Federation) Calendar appoints a qualified expert as the Technical Delegate to oversee the event. Paddy Field, our current Chairman, is one such expert. What does it entail? Read on to find out and discover what it meant for Paddy in Livigno last December...


La SgambedaHaving been heavily involved a few years ago in negotiating the introduction of La Sgambeda – a 42 km cross country ski marathon in Italy’s Sondrio Province, nestling against the Swiss border – into the FIS Marathon Cup, I have a personal relationship with the race. So I was delighted when FIS (the International Ski Federation) contacted me a shortly before the event to say that the appointed Russian TD (Technical Delegate) could not make it and could I stand in for him. This would be my second time there as TD and my sixth time in Livigno overall, so I knew the town, course and organisers well.

What is a TD?

For every race on the FIS Calendar, the Governing Body appoints a qualified ‘expert’ as the Technical Delegate to oversee the race.
The TD has three main functions to act as:

  • the representative of the international governing body and to see that all aspects of the race and its organisation meet the standards necessary for inclusion in the international calendar;
  • consultant to the organising committee, particularly in relation to any proposed changes to the published programme;
  • Chairman of the Jury, presiding over the process of protests, appeals and sanctions.

Pr-race preparation and observations

The TD will normally make contact with the Organising Committee some weeks before the event and will then arrive on site 2-3 days before the race, giving him/her time to hold any necessary discussions, ski the course and propose any changes, either on- or off-snow. This process was somewhat disrupted by the fact that I had already arranged to be in Livigno for the whole week as part of the LRNSC’s large contingent taking part in the event, so instead of arriving on the Thursday, I was there from the previous Sunday onwards – plenty of time to look around!

My first impression of Livigno was SNOW, one and a half metres of it when we arrived and it continued snowing steadily throughout the week, making for very heavy conditions underfoot.

Judgement time

As TD, my first task was to sit down and adjudicate on the many appeals by athletes against their allocated starting groups. Starting position can make a significant difference to overall time, and although starting groups are assigned in accordance with strict rules based on previous performance, there is always room for error and appeal. First paper off the pile was Rhodri Buffett*, so my impartiality was put to an immediate test. Rhodri had been entered by BSSF, but the problem was that he had no previous ‘form’ over the long distances; I nevertheless felt able to allocate him to Group 1 (immediately behind the Elite Group) with a relatively clear conscience. In making the other decisions, the FIS website’s athletes’ histories was a much-visited resource!

Skier safety takes priority

The next, and by far the most important, task was to talk to the doctors and those responsible for medical cover, communication and evacuation. Skiers die in popular races with all too frequent regularity (generally from heart attacks) and it is perhaps the most essential part of the TD’s duties to ensure that every possible care is taken to ensure that medical help can reach an injured skier with the minimum of delay and that means are available to evacuate them to more sophisticated medical help and if necessary to hospital, by helicopter possibly. Time is of the essence. With such heavy snowfall, it was also important to ensure that plans were in hand to evacuate skiers caught in a snowslide or in a dramatic change of the weather.

Testing the tracks

On the Friday morning I skied the course; an essential task for the TD, as only on skis can one feel the snow conditions. Riding on the back of a skidoo or – even worse – driving by car along a road parallel to the track scarcely gives the same impression. The tracks were very soft as a result of the incessant snowfall and in places I was ankle deep.
What would this be like after a thousand skiers had passed through? It is one of the ironies of popular racing that the slowest skiers get the worst conditions, slowing them still further!

The grooming dilemma

Back to the Organising Committe and a hurried conference with the grooming machine Supremo, the Controller of all Livigno machines, who has the unenviable task of allocating resources between both cross-country and alpine pistes. Two grooming machines were already allocated to the course. I asked for two extra machines. I got one, but with it the promise that the drivers would groom by both day and night. The best time to groom a track is to start in the evening, when temperatures have dropped and the firming track will not be destroyed by skiers using it before it has consolidated. But with loads of fresh snow, it was also necessary to do everything possible to compress the base, so both day grooming and night grooming were essential.

Risk of avalanche?

The Livigno avalanche committee was concerned about the risk at the top end of the valley, so we decided to cut around three kms off the top of the course, to add a loop, including an extra hill, shortly beforehand, and to cut out the notorious ‘horseshoe’ loop, which tested novices’ skills to the extreme and which was plonk in the middle of one of the possible avalanche zones. The result was a course of 40 km, rather than the originally planned 42.

You see the TD here, you see him there ...

The rest of my pre-race time was spent in checking on the timing, photo-finish and video mechanisms – including a visit to the intermediate timing station -, altering the inadequate doping control procedures, insisting on four finishing lanes (only three were planned), determining yet more appeals against allocated starts, and spending time at the bib collection and pre-race exhibition, and finally at the Opening Ceremony.

The longest day - 14 December La Sgambada 2008

The race itself passed without incident. The TD must be in the start area at least two hours before start time. There is lots to check, particularly in regard to the elite group, for whom checks and controls are more stringent than for the recreational racer further back down the field. But not only must the TD be in the start area at an early hour, he must also wait until all – or virtually all- racers have completed the course and then attend the Prizegiving Ceremony at the Race Centre. It can be a long day!

That the race passed entirely without incident cannot be laid to the credit of the TD, but it was certainly a great relief to him !

Think you've got what it takes to be a TD?

Paddy FieldBeing a TD is a rewarding and demanding job, which brings one into contact with a host of interesting and knowledgeable people right across the world. GBR has at present two FIS-qualified TDs, and the elder of the two must surely be close to his ‘Best Before’ date. If anybody is interested in following the path towards this qualification, they should contact George Gabriel, the Nordic Director of BSSF, and volunteer their names. A rewarding future is in prospect !

Paddy Field December 2008


*Twenty year-old Rhodri Buffett earned his place in Group 1.  He put in a stunning performance finishing the 40km in 63rd place in just 1:52:06.