Review of the Week: 18 – 24 January 2016
Cortina Downhill Skiing World Cup
Austria twice lost out to Italy this week. The Hahnenkamm race at Kitzbuehel, normally the biggest event on the annual skiing calendar, was overshadowed by the women’s race at Cortina, where Lindsey Vonn (above) won a 37th World Cup downhill, a new record.
Vonn won the Super G the following day and took over the lead in the overall World Cup standings, from Lara Gut of Switzerland. But injury in 2014 means that she still has only one Olympic gold medal, something that she hopes to put right in Pyeongchang in 2018.
European Water Polo Championships
Also with unfinished business is Serbia’s men’s water polo team. With players such as Stefan Mitrovic (below), it won its fifth European title, its third in a row. Second placed Montenegro will join its neighbour in Rio, as they both aim for an elusive Olympic gold.
The women’s final was a clash between the Netherlands, the most successful nation at women’s water polo, and Hungary, the top country across both sexes. Hungary edged it but both will have to contend with the world and Olympic champions, the USA, in Rio.
Paralympic Powerlifting Test Event
There was a strong South American presence at the Rio test event, strong in every sense of the word. Hosts Brazil topped the medal table and there was gold for Jainer Cantillo of Colombia, a country which will be hoping for its first ever Paralympic medal this year.
Kitzbuehel Downhill Skiing World Cup
The second victory for Italy over Austria came on the Hahnenkamm itself, where Peter Fill took victory while local favourite Hannes Reichelt of Austria crashed out, as well as the World Cup leader, Aksel Lund Svindal, whose injury will deny him the overall title.
Fill was born not far from Austria in South Tyrol, a largely German-speaking region of Northern Italy. Many top Italian skiers come from there, as do almost all of its lugers.
Out of Austria
And despite not winning this time, Austria’s status as a cradle of skiing is assured. Just the town of Kitzbuehel, with a population of 8,000, produced six Olympic Alpine skiers between 1956 and 1968. They won eleven medals, including three golds for Toni Sailer.
More incredibly, Kitzbuehel shares the honours with the tiny neighbouring villages of Lech am Arlberg and St Anton, whose combined population of 4,000 produced another seven Alpine skiers, who hoarded ten more Olympic medals, between 1948 and 1964.
It comes down to history. One of the first ski instructors, Hannes Schneider, developed modern skiing techniques in the Arlberg region, and there has been skiing in Kitzbuehel since 1893. The local economy is based on ski tourism and local sport is based on skiing.
That is the message of my blog. It is easy to think of sporting clusters – from Jamaica to Kenya – as oddities, which requires a special type of explanation. But there are canoeing clusters in Romania, sliding clusters in Latvia and South Tyrol, and two skiing clusters in Austria. Far from being rare, they are just another example of economic specialisation.