Marcel Hirscher

Marcel Hirscher compares pressure to crazy dogs who want to eat him

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What’s it like to be the best Alpine skier from the sport’s richest nation?

Ask the two-time reigning World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, the top Austrian gold-medal hope going into the Sochi Olympics.

“If you’re standing in front of a big, big, huge wall, and you have no opportunity to climb up there, and then behind you, there are a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up, then you have to go for your life,” Hirscher, 24, told The Associated Press.

Austria has won 105 Olympic Alpine skiing medals, nearly twice as many as second-place Switzerland (56). The U.S. is fourth with 39.

But the land of Franz Klammer and Hermann Maier produced zero men’s Alpine medals at the 2010 Olympics.

The pressure is on Hirscher to deliver gold in Sochi. He’s the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom and a rival to Ted Ligety in the giant slalom.

No other Austrian man or woman led a World Cup discipline or won an individual world championships last season.

Hirscher will be looking to top the podium again Sunday, when the Alpine skiing World Cup visits Levi, Finland, for a slalom. Hirscher was third in the season-opening giant slalom (behind winner Ligety) in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27.

He took second to Swede Andre Myhrer in Levi last season.

Ligety, too, is slated to start in Levi. The American has obviously been working on his slalom.

Levi winners will get unusual prizes

Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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World vault champion out for all of 2018

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Maria Paseka, a two-time world vault champion and four-time Olympic medalist, said she is out for the rest of the year after December back surgery, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Paseka, 22, earned the lone Russian title at worlds in October, repeating as champion on vault by edging American Jade Carey by .084. She handed Simone Biles her only defeat in a 2015 Worlds final, also on vault.

Paseka also took vault silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, as well as helping Russia to team silvers in London and Rio.

As Paseka is sidelined, Russia’s two other recent headliners are on the comeback trail.

Viktoria Komova, the all-around silver medalist at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics who missed Rio due to a back injury, competed in December for the first time since 2015.

Aliya Mustafina, a seven-time Olympic medalist with two uneven bars golds, is expected to return to competition this spring from June childbirth.

The world championships are in Doha in October.

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