Marcel Hirscher

Marcel Hirscher wins Levi World Cup slalom, reindeer; Ted Ligety 11th (video)

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There was no offseason change atop the slalom hierarchy.

Marcel Hirscher cruised to victory in the first slalom of the World Cup season one day after Mikaela Shiffrin took the women’s race in Levi, Finland.

The reigning two-time World Cup overall champion posted a two-run time of 1 minute, 45.42 seconds to beat fellow Austrian Mario Matt by .62 of a second. Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen came in third.

Hirscher, 24, received a reindeer as a prize, just as Shiffrin did Saturday. Shiffrin named hers, “Rudolph.” Hirscher named his, “Ferdinand,” after his father.

American Ted Ligety, who won three golds at the World Championships in February, improved from 24th after the first of two runs to finish 11th.

“I wouldn’t say that either run was all that impressive, but second run I skied a little bit more like I should be skiing from run to run,” Ligety said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “But it’s still far from what I need to be doing in slalom. I need to be scoring in the top five to top three. I need to up it if this is going to be a meaningful route to getting me enough points (to win the overall World Cup title). I guess it’s not a horrible day to start out the slalom season.”

Levi’s a drag race. It’s the easiest course on the World Cup by far so the margins are super tight and the little mistakes cost you a ton of time. It makes it difficult to be one of the fastest guys because you really pay when you are a little bit off.

The World Cup season continues with speed races at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thanksgiving weekend. The next slalom is in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 15.

Hirscher, who was second in Levi last year, has made six straight World Cup podiums dating to last season, when he made every slalom podium and won the World Championship.

Ligety, who emphasized slalom work in the offseason, posted his best World Cup slalom finish since an 11th in Adelboden, Switzerland, in January.

Levi World Cup Slalom
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:45.42
2. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:46.04
3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) 1:46.35
4. Ivica Kostelic (CRO) 1:46.64
5. Mattias Hargin (SWE) 1:46.71
6. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:47.15
7. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:47.17
8. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 1:47.21
9. Sebastian-Foss Solevaag (NOR) 1:47.24
10. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:47.36
11. Ted Ligety (USA) 1:47.38

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Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 06:  Yuliya Stepanova looks on after finishing last in the Womens 800m heats during day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for European Athletics )
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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas ‘a very strong possibility’ for all-around, Martha Karolyi says

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas has “a very strong possibility” to get a chance to defend her Olympic all-around title in Rio, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Monday.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction, and I foresee that she can be in the all-around, but we’re not taking this decision as of now yet,” Karolyi said.

The U.S. will put no more than three women from its five-woman team in the all-around in qualifying. The top two Americans in qualifying will advance to the all-around final, the most prestigious individual competition in the sport.

“We have a tentative lineup, but that’s absolutely tentative and we would not reveal that lineup at the moment yet, because most likely there will be changes as time goes,” said Karolyi, adding that the lineup won’t be finalized until next week.

Simone Biles is considered a lock to be one of the all-arounders in qualifying. Who joins her is unclear.

Douglas and Aly Raisman were tapped at the 2015 World Championships, with Biles and Douglas topping Raisman in qualifying and then going one-two in the all-around final.

However, both Raisman and first-year senior Laurie Hernandez finished higher than Douglas in the all-around at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials in the last month.

Karolyi said that Douglas, who fell off the balance beam on both nights at the Olympic Trials, has improved at a pre-Olympic training camp. Karolyi also said that Douglas would not perform the difficult Amanar vault in Rio, which carries five tenths more in start value than the vault Douglas used at the Olympic Trials.

Biles and Raisman both perform the Amanar. If Biles, Douglas and Raisman do the all-around in qualifying, Douglas will go in with a start-value disadvantage in the chase to grab two available final spots.

In 2012, Douglas, Raisman and Jordyn Wieber all did the all-around in qualifying, with the 2011 World all-around champion Wieber finishing third out of the Americans (and fourth overall), missing the all-around final.

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