Whilst BSS and this magazine rightly focus on elite performance, it should not be overlooked that any national competition programme is only viable with wide participation. No competition would be economically viable if entry was restricted to potential squad members. Furthermore, it is not possible to identify exceptional talent if not measured against the majority of competitors. It takes a gallon of milk to make a pint of cream. However, the majority can only be attracted to stay in competition if they can see themselves achieving something. As The Big Man of this magazine pointed out recently, all those who have worked hard in the BARTS races for personal goals should have achievement rewarded. An artificial/dry slope squad would not be the only way of bringing this about.
About four years ago, I proposed to ARC that the BARTS list should be divided (following an Australian model) into 12 Divisions and prizes awarded in each of the higher Divisions in GBR races and the lower Divisions and first season competitors in CN races. Everyone would then have a chance of a prize at some stage in their career and would gain a sense of achievement as they progressed through the divisions. This would also clearly define who the GBR and CN races were aimed at. Skiers eventually reaching the top Division should at least be rewarded with a certificate and, if sponsors can be found, could be offered special training, whatever their age. The response to this proposal was a complete red herring – “there is not room on the Calendar for any more races”. Nothing in the proposal increased the number of races, it just proposed changes to the way results were presented and categories of prizes awarded.
Too much emphasis is given to age categories at present and age categories do not necessarily identify exceptional talent. Racers who start as Minis will always be at an advantage over racers who start at secondary school age and cannot make up for the lost years of experience, whatever their talent, and so stand no chance of winning a prize, let alone of making the national squads. It should also be taken into consideration that many of us did not start skiing until we had been in a job long enough to be able to afford it. Why should such people not also have the opportunity of participation in competition with the chance of achieving something? It should be noted that the late Jim Woolgar started racing as a Master and became World Champion in his age group, competing against skiers from Alpine countries who had been in National Teams in their younger days.
Youngsters who reach the podium at age 10 or 11 are likely to be on the podium frequently as they progress through each age group. They are competing against the same cohort throughout their career, so this is not actually challenging them further. If there is nobody of particular talent in a year group, reaching the podium would give a false impression of their absolute standard. Potential Olympic skiers are not born every year. Competing against skiers of similar standard (of all ages) in a division is offering a challenge and if a Mini is to reach the top Division by age 20 (and there are sufficient Divisions) they will have to progress through more than one Division in a season at some stage, so offering a real challenge.
I would not suggest abolition of age categories, just that they are not given such prominence. May be, just a simple medal for the 1st in each age group rather than a trophy would be sufficient. More elaborate age group trophies might be offered on the basis of end-of-season points and in British Championships.
It seems to me that this system would be more encouraging to keep racers in the sport; the current high drop-out level at age 18-19 needs to be addressed, as peak performance usually comes in late 20s. It would also be more encouraging to first-time racers if they could see themselves competing against skiers of a similar standard rather than against skiers of vastly greater experience.
I hope that those who agree with me, coaches, racers and parents, will lobby the current members of ARC to reconsider these ideas more closely. I suspect that the reason for previous rejection was that the members of ARC at that time could not think of arguments against the idea, but did not have the courage to implement a radical change. They could at least have canvassed views on the idea from those involved.
Alan Jones (retired Masters Racer)