Preparing for Sprint Days

Cross-country skiing sprint days are typically the most difficult to pull off but result in some of the most exciting action for spectators, athletes and officials. Sprint races take place on a short course with a race time ranging from 1 minute for the youngest categories up to 4+ minutes for the top categories. Sprint races typically start with a qualification round which resembles a 15 second interval start competition. Once a category’s qualifier is complete, the athletes are distributed into heats. In certain formats, not all athletes qualify for the heats. The heat portion of the race typically runs for 3 rounds with athletes being re-arranged and/or eliminated between rounds into new heats. This leads to the 3rd round with the top racers in a final against each other with optional lesser finals composed of racers with similar ability.

Challenges

  • Many races compressed into a long day with limited daylight
  • Limited time to re-arrange athletes into heats on-the-fly
  • Considerable probability for but limited tolerance for mistakes
  • Accommodating a wide range of categories with differing goals

Since there is a qualifier followed by 3 rounds of heats being run for every category, there ends up being a considerable amount of racing that must be scheduled. On top of this, these races must be compressed to fit into a winters day with limited daylight. This results in an action-packed day with little time to slow down and gather one’s wits. Meticulous preparation and planning will ensure the day runs as smoothly as possible.

Fundamentally, sprints involve re-arranging athletes into new races based on their result in a previous race. This can be thought of as having to create 3 additional start lists on-the-fly with as little as 10 minutes between rounds to complete this. Being very familiar with the heat formats, advancement and software will help when dealing with any technical issues or last minute requests.

Having to manage considerable information flow and logistics during an action packed day means there is a high chance of something getting missed. It regularly happens to the most experienced timers. To mitigate the chances of mistakes happening, stick to processes that are working, double-check everything and stay calm. Any information that leaves the timing office must be double checked as this information is hard to revise once it is published.

If something starts to go wrong, ask for delay to get the situation under control. Make sure the delay is well communicated to athletes and coaches. The problem will only snowball if not handled right away leading to bigger unscheduled delays later on. Never let the event get out of control so that the day ends on a positive note.

Events that target a full spectrum of athletes require consideration for the racing goals of each category and the event itself. The goal for the youngest categories is fun, the middle categories still need to have fun while being introduced to competitive racing and the oldest categories should have straight competitive racing. Often Masters categories prefer to do a distance race instead of sprints. Accommodating these goals will require compromise and planning to keep all participants happy.

Qualifier

Sprint qualifiers are typically run as a 15 second interval start race on the same course as the subsequent heats. For higher tier events, the qualifier is a requirement but can be cut at low tiers in the interest of time. Regardless, it is best to provide some sort of qualification ordering either from a race, points or hand seeding when populating the heats. Qualifiers are run for a couple of reasons:

  • to reduce the number of racers moving onto the heats
  • distribute racers into the heats for better competition
  • calculation for national points system
  • qualifier for international events

Heats

Heats are the exciting head-to-head competition that follows the qualifier. Heats should be composed of at least 4 racers but optimally 6 racers for older categories. Younger categories should have at least 3 racers per heat but optimally 4. There are a number of different formats available for heats with differing goals.

The most common format is the standard knockout heats as defined by FIS. This format handles category sizes of 2-30 racers in up to 3 rounds with 4 to 6 racers per heat. The racers move through the rounds in a predefined structure with some getting knocked out after each round. The goal of this format is to provide a competition that defines a clear winner. This leads to an A-Final with the top racers with all others knocked out (or some in an optional B-Final).

The King’s Court format is a no knockout format that gives the racers plenty of opportunities to race and have fun. This format handles category sizes of 9-24 racers in 3 rounds with 3-4 racers per heat. The goal of this format is to have athletes compete against a variety of similarly skilled racers in each heat for skills development. By the final round, the fastest racers should be competing in the top final with the slower racers in the lower finals.

The final format is the ladder which is a no knockout format that gives racers plenty of opportunity to race against similarly skilled racers. This format can handle an unlimited number of racers in 3 rounds with 4 to 6 racers per heat. The goal of this format is to provide a simple structure for grouping a large number of racers with varying abilities into a single large parent category. Because there are no knockouts, this format is great for skills development or providing a format for organizers looking for a fun event. Racers are placed on the ladder based on a qualifier and have 2 rounds to move up (or down) the ladder with the 3rd round acting as the finals.

Tier 1 races should almost always use the FIS Knockout format. There is the odd exception targeting early season development where the Ladder format works well. A B-Final is almost always included to give more opportunities for racers to gain experience.

Tier 2 races should use the FIS Knockout format for their middle age target categories and King’s Court for the youngest categories. At Tier 2 events, there are typically a limited number of older athletes with a large range of skills and whose goals are more aligned with having fun than meeting qualification criteria. Consider grouping all older racers (male and female) together in a single ladder rather than awkwardly combined categories using the FIS Knockout format.

Tier 3 races could use any of the 3 formats depending on goals. FIS Knockout format should be used to give racers experienced with the main format used at competitions. King’s Court is best used for younger categories. Ladder provides a simple solution for handling a large number of racers with vastly different skills.

Sprint Heat Format Details

There is a separate article that goes into the details of the different formats. It can be found here:
http://help.zone4.ca/kb/xcski-sprint-heat-formats/

Scheduling

This section discusses the categories used in Alberta (2-year age groups), but the general concept is the same for any category setup. Some general scheduling guidelines:

  • The time between the qualifier and the heats for most important categories should be around 2 hours:
    • for Tier 1 events the most important categories are Open Men and Open Women, even when combined with a Tier 2 event
    • for Tier 2 events the most important categories are Midget and Juvenile
  • The time gap between heats should be roughly the time it will take the racers to complete the course, but can be decreased if limited by time.
  • Racers need a minimum of 10 minutes rest between heats. This is the  time from when the slowest racer finishes their heat to the time they start their next heat.
  • Run each round in blocks between the 2 interleaved categories with slightly bigger gaps between rounds rather than between categories within the same round.
  • Put slower or less competitive categories first to get your volunteers familiarized with the process.

Tier 1 Only

Tier 1 events focus on Open categories comprised of Senior and Junior subcategories. Tier 1 events typically provide at least one age category younger. Tier 1 events combined with Tier 2 events to provide a full-spectrum of categories is discussed in the next section. The following is the recommended order of events.

  1. Open Women qualifier
    Junior and Senior combined
  2. Open Men qualifier
    Junior and Senior combined
  3. middle age category qualifiers (as needed)
    1. Junior Girl
    2. Junior Boy
    3. Juvenile Girl
    4. Juvenile Boy
  4. Junior Women and Senior Women heats
    FIS Knockout, 3-4 minutes between each heat start

    1. Junior Women quarter-finals
    2. Senior Women quarter-finals
    3. Junior Women semi-finals
    4. Senior Women semi-finals
    5. Junior Women finals (B final before A final)
    6. Senior Women finals (B final before A final)
  5. Junior Men and Senior Men heats
    FIS Knockout, 4 minutes between each heat start

    1. Junior Men quarter-finals
    2. Senior Men quarter-finals
    3. Junior Men semi-finals
    4. Senior Men semi-finals
    5. Junior Men finals (B final before A final)
    6. Senior Men finals (B final before A final)
  6. middle age category heats
    FIS Knockout, 3 minutes between each heat start

    1. Junior Girl quarter-finals
    2. Junior Boy quarter-finals
    3. Junior Girl semi-finals
    4. Junior Boy semi-finals
    5. Junior Men finals (B final before A final)
    6. Junior Girl finals (B final before A final)
    7. etc…

Tier 1 + Tier 2

Tier 1 + Tier 2 events focus on Open categories comprised of Senior and Junior subcategories. However, the addition of the Tier 2 portion adds the additional challenge of accommodation the full-spectrum of categories. The following is the recommended order of events.

  1. Open Women qualifier
    Junior and Senior combined
  2. Open Men qualifier
    Junior and Senior combined
  3. middle age category qualifiers
    1. Junior Girl
    2. Junior Boy
    3. Juvenile Girl
    4. Juvenile Boy
    5. Midget Girl
    6. Midget Boy
  4. young age category qualifiers
    1. Mini-Midget Girl
    2. Mini-Midget Boy
    3. PeeWee
    4. Atom
  5. Masters distance race
    if possible, start the heats while the stragglers are still arriving
  6. Young age category heats
    King’s Court, 1 minute between each heat start time
    If possible, run at the same time as Junior/Senior heats with a separate timing team

    1. Mini-Midget Girl
    2. Mini-Midget Boy
    3. PeeWee
    4. Atom
  7. Junior Women and Senior Women heats
    FIS Knockout, 3-4 minutes between each heat start time

    1. Junior Women quarter-finals
    2. Senior Women quarter-finals
    3. Junior Women semi-finals
    4. Senior Women semi-finals
    5. Junior Women finals (B final before A final)
    6. Senior Women finals (B final before A final)
  8. Junior Men and Senior Men heats
    FIS Knockout, 4 minute heat spacing

    1. Junior Men quarter-finals
    2. Senior Men quarter-finals
    3. Junior Men semi-finals
    4. Senior Men semi-finals
    5. Junior Men finals (B final before A final)
    6. Senior Men finals (B final before A final)
  9. middle age category heats
    FIS Knockout, 3 minute heat spacing

    1. Junior Girl quarter-finals
    2. Junior Boy quarter-finals
    3. Junior Girl semi-finals
    4. Junior Boy semi-finals
    5. Junior Men finals (B final before A final)
    6. Junior Girl finals (B final before A final)
    7. etc…

Tier 2 Only

Tier 2 events focus on Midget and Juvenile categories but provide the full-spectrum of categories. The oldest and youngest categories are focused on fun. The following is the recommended order of events.

  1. target age category qualifiers
    1. Midget Girl
    2. Midget Boy
    3. Juvenile Girl
    4. Juvenile Boy
  2. older age category qualifiers
    1. Junior Girl
    2. Junior Boy
    3. Open Women
    4. Open Men
  3. young age category qualifiers
    1. Atom
    2. PeeWee
    3. Mini-Midget Girl
    4. Mini-Midget Boy
  4. Masters distance race
    If possible, start the heats while the last masters racers are still finishing.
  5. Young age category heats
    King’s Court, 1 minute heat spacing
    If possible, run at the same time as Midget/Juvenile heats with a separate timing team

    1. Atom
    2. PeeWee
    3. Mini-Midget Girl
    4. Mini-Midget Boy
  6. Midget Girl and Midget Boy heats
    FIS Knockout, 3 minutes between each heat start time

    1. Midget Girl quarter-finals
    2. Midget Boy quarter-finals
    3. Midget Girl semi-finals
    4. Midget Boy semi-finals
    5. Midget Girl finals (B final before A final)
    6. Midget Boy finals (B final before A final)
  7. Juvenile Girl and Juvenile Boy heats
    FIS Knockout, 3 minutes between each heat start time

    1. Juvenile Girl quarter-finals
    2. Juvenile Boy quarter-finals
    3. Juvenile Girl semi-finals
    4. Juvenile Boy semi-finals
    5. Juvenile Girl finals (B final before A final)
    6. Juvenile Boy finals (B final before A final)
  8. older category heats, based on numbers
    • everybody combined into Ladder with 1 minute heat spacing
    • some combining into FIS Knockout with 4 minute heat spacing
    • combination of both Ladder and FIS Knockout

Examples

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1uL_RKgkL2N0o6WaHsneMrbNkh9efbWBjUQcND_IO1nI/edit?usp=sharing

Updated on October 31, 2018

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