Ted Ligety

Ted Ligety wins World Cup giant slalom opener in Soelden (video)

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Make it three in a row for Ted Ligety.

The world’s best giant slalom skier won the season-opening World Cup in Soelden, Austria, for the third straight year on Sunday, beating the field by .79 of a second over two combined runs.

“Pretty psyched to win this, for sure,” Ligety said. “It wasn’t easy in that second run, super dark on the pitch. Really bumpy, but whenever you win it’s a good day.”

American Bode Miller placed 19th in his first World Cup race since February 2012 coming back from injury.

The start was moved down due to heavy winds, so the fastest runs were about one minute rather than around 1:20.

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Ligety, 29, took a commanding .90 lead after the first run earlier Sunday morning and clocked a total of 1:59.50 to win over France’s Alexis Pinturault and Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, the other top two giant slalom racers from last season. Ligety pumped his fist and skied into a suspended camera after crossing the finish line.

“There’s always so much anxiety coming into (the season) because you never really know where you are,” Ligety said. “I didn’t feel like this summer my skiing was really where I wanted to be.”

He prevailed by a blowout margin of 2.75 seconds last year and joined Austrian legend Hermann Maier as the only men to win Soelden three times (though Maier’s weren’t consecutive).

Ligety, who won his 18th career World Cup race (all giant slaloms), is set up for a busy season as he eyes the World Cup overall title.

He finished third in the overall standings last year behind Hirscher and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal. Svindal tied for fourth at Soelden on Sunday.

Hirscher is the reigning World Cup slalom champion, and Svindal racks up points in speed events.

But nobody was better than Ligety at the World Championships in February, when he became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals.

The World Cup continues with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 17, where a rather unusual prize will be awarded.

Soelden Giant Slalom
1. Ted Ligety (USA) 1:59.50
2. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:00.29
3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:00.52
4. Steve Missillier (FRA) 2:01.23
4. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) 2:01.23
6. Markus Sandell (FIN) 2:01.32
7. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:01.58
8. Cyprien Richard (FRA) 2:01.66
9. Mathieu Faivre (FRA) 2:01.68
10. Philipp Schoerghofer (AUT) 2:01.80
19. Bode Miller (USA) 2:02.79
20. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:02.81

Lolo Jones one step closer to Olympics

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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