Skiing aims to catch up fast with new TV graphics at worlds
GENEVA (AP) When Lindsey Vonn competes in the opening event at next week's world skiing championships, television viewers will get their first look at some new on-screen technology.
Graphics will include dynamic speed checks throughout a skier's run, they will show acceleration out of the toughest corners, and they will count air time, plus launch and landing speeds, on big jumps.
It's all part of a project that has been two years in the making, and it starts with the women's super-G on Tuesday as the International Ski Federation seeks to use the two-week championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, to connect with young fans raised on video game visuals.
''This is the future, this is also a marketing tool, this is entertaining the TV world,'' Emmanuel Couder, the project leader, told The Associated Press.
Transponders will be attached to the back of a racer's boot - the safest spot to place the gadgets which are similar in size to an old cell phone.
They will collect, process and transmit real-time data for broadcasters to use in the speed events of downhill and super-G, including the downhill runs in Alpine combined.
The transponder does all the work to ensure instant on-screen info, Couder said in a recent interview.
''The design had to be fully integrated otherwise it would be rejected,'' he said. ''If you send the data live and you calculate and treat them afterward, then it's too late. The delay is not acceptable.''
Couder has been working with official race timers Swiss Timing, whose Longines watch brand is a long-time FIS sponsor, for two years on the Alpine Live Data project. FIS passed a rule making it mandatory for racers to wear the transponder.
''They know it is important,'' Couder said of the skiers, whose representatives on the FIS Athletes Commission were the first he consulted.
For a sport routinely sending men and women hurtling down a mountain at 120 kph (75 mph) and more, it has lagged behind in TV presentation, Couder said.
In World Cup races this season, on-screen graphics are limited to noting racers' speed at a static point and listing a stack of intermediate time splits. They are color coded with a green light for the fastest racer and red when a time trails the leader.
''We are late in Alpine skiing,'' the French official said. ''For me, this is just the beginning. The opportunities are huge.''
One signature feature on the men's downhill course in St. Moritz - a steep start known as ''Free Fall'' - allows for a count from 0-100 kph (0-60 mph) when racers push out of the gate.
Couder thinks the technology can help improve safety by letting organizers analyze racers' speed and trajectory at the biggest jumps.
''With this transponder in future, we could simulate the perfect course setting,'' he said. ''We should never stop the natural evolution.''
For pure entertainment, the graphics are expected to be added next season to broadcasts of World Cup races, including in technical disciplines of slalom and giant slalom, and at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
''I hope so,'' Couder said. ''We are already in contact with Olympic Broadcast Services.''