Julia Mancuso

U.S. Ski Team depth on display in Beaver Creek, Lake Louise

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Lindsey Vonn may be on the mend, but several other U.S. Olympic medal contenders are among the skiers in action at (mostly) speed events the next two weeks.

The men’s and women’s World Cup tours make their only North American stops this weekend and again from Dec. 6-8 at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Lake Louise, Alberta.

The women race at Beaver Creek this weekend (downhill Friday, super-G Saturday, giant slalom Sunday) and the men at Lake Louise (downhill Saturday, super-G Sunday).

They flip next weekend, the men at Beaver Creek and the women at Lake Louise.

Here’s the TV schedule for the women at Beaver Creek this weekend:

Friday: Downhill, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday: Super-G, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday: Giant Slalom, 2:30-4 p.m. ET, NBC

They will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra. Universal Sports will have coverage of the men in Lake Louise.

Here are storylines to watch the next two weekends:

1. American women’s depth in speed events

The U.S. will likely have a dilemma come Sochi, with or without Vonn. Americans took up six of the top 16 spots in the World Cup downhill standings last season. A nation may enter no more than four skiers in a given Olympic event.

That’s what makes every World Cup downhill race over the next two months (and Olympic training runs in Sochi) so important. Two women with World Cup podium credentials will not ski the Sochi Olympic downhill.

World Cup results and form will largely determine the makeup of the U.S. Olympic Team, but the U.S. can bring more than four skiers to Sochi and then decide who starts after training runs.

Here are the contenders:

Lindsey Vonn — 2010 Olympic champion out with a partially torn ACL who returned to skiing Thursday and may compete in Lake Louise.
Julia Mancuso — 2010 Olympic silver medalist, who is a stronger contender in the super-G.
Stacey Cook — Fourth in World Cup downhill standings last season; fastest training run at Beaver Creek on Wednesday.
Alice McKennis — Won a World Cup downhill in Austria in January, broke right leg in February; not ready to compete yet.
Leanne Smith — Made two World Cup downhill podiums last season.
Laurenne Ross — Made one World Cup downhill podium last season.

Mancuso, Cook, Smith and Ross are slated for the Beaver Creek downhill on Friday, and it would seem the super-G on Saturday. Next week, there are two downhills and one super-G in Lake Louise.

If three or fewer American women earn top-three finishes in any World Cup race, they qualify for the Olympics. If four earn top-three finishes, tiebreakers enter the equation.

Regardless, there is room for discretionary selections, which opens the door for Vonn or McKennis to be placed on the Olympic Team even if they don’t race any World Cups.

“One of the best traits of our team is everyone has the understanding that if you get beat out for that spot, it’s not somebody else’s fault,” Cook said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s probably something you did or your own fault in some way. There’s not a lot of the blame game that you might see typically.”

The Americans will go up against international favorites German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Slovenian Tina Maze and Swiss Lara Gut in Beaver Creek.

source: AP2. The return of Bode Miller

The five-time Olympic medalist is set for his first World Cup speed races since February 2012 in Lake Louise this weekend.

Miller, 36, missed all of last season after knee surgery. He opened this season with a 19th-place in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but the downhill is his best event.

Lake Louise will provide a better look at how much rust Miller has worked off and how he stacks up to the world’s best, including Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal.

Another American, Ted Ligety, has said he will not race the downhill in Sochi. In February, Ligety became the first man to win three gold medals at a World Championships in 45 years.

Ligety also said he values the World Cup overall title over an Olympic gold medal. He’s already won an Olympic gold (2006 combined) but has never taken the World Cup overall. That in mind, expect Ligety to ski the super-G in Lake Louise in Sunday.

3. Mikaela Shiffrin in giant slalom

Ski fans are well area of the Vail teen’s strength in slalom, but she focused on giant slalom training in the offseason to become a multiple-medal threat in Sochi.

Shiffrin, who won the first slalom of the season in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16, also placed a career-best sixth in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden on Oct. 26.

She’s expected to compete in the giant slalom in Beaver Creek on Sunday, her only race over the next two weeks. Shiffrin posted the Instagram photo below of super-G skis last week, but the U.S. Ski Team said she’s only competing in giant slalom.

You can't really tell from here.. But those are SG skis! 🙂 and my awesome tech making me super fast! @atomicski #weareskiing

A post shared by Mikaela Shiffrin (@mikaelashiffrin) on

You have to wonder how long Shiffrin waits before giving speed events a shot, and if her results in giant slaloms will determine when she decides to try a super-G, downhill or combined.

Shiffrin strapped on downhill skis for the first time in her life in April and owns one downhill start to her name, at the Russian National Championships in February, according to the International Ski Federation.

Video: Lindsey Vonn talks crash, comeback on TODAY

Tony Azevedo retires after 5 Olympics in water polo

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Tony Azevedo of the USA in action during the USA vs Italy Waterpolo group match at Julio de Lamare Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
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Tony Azevedo is ending one of the greatest water polo careers in U.S. history, retiring after a record five Olympics at age 35.

Azevedo, the first American to play in five Olympic water polo tournaments, said it was a tough decision but a necessary one to spend time with his family — wife Sara and two kids, according to the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram.

“The traveling and everything for them would be too much,” said Azevedo, who has a 3-year-old boy and a girl born after the Rio Olympics. “It’s time.”

Azevedo was a teenage prodigy dubbed the “Kobe Bryant of water polo.” A ball boy at the 1996 Olympics, Azevedo made a list of about 13 goals as a “slow, fat, chubby kid” who wanted to start on his high school team.

He reached all of those goals except for one — a gold medal. Azevedo made his Olympic debut out of high school in 2000 and then helped lead the U.S. to silver at Beijing 2008, his lone Olympic or world championships medal in 13 combined appearances. He led the U.S. in goals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

“If anyone asks, am I going to miss the swimming? No. Am I going to miss the games? No. Are you going to miss the Olympics? No,” Azevedo said. “I’m going to miss those days of grinding with your teammates.”

Azevedo was one of the top U.S. stories of the Rio Olympics, since he was born in the Brazilian city and lived there for 23 days before moving to Southern California. Azevedo, whose father was a Brazilian national team member, played for a Sao Paulo club team for much of the past Olympic cycle.

The U.S. went 2-3 in Rio, failing to advance out of group play.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Five takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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Five thoughts after an unpredictable world alpine skiing championships, looking ahead to the Olympics … 

1. Expect Mikaela Shiffrin to be busier in PyeongChang

Shiffrin chose not to enter the super-G or super combined in the first week at worlds, in order to maximize her medal potential in the giant slalom and slalom in the final weekend. It paid off with silver and gold medals.

It seems unlikely that Shiffrin adopts the same, two-race slate in PyeongChang. The 2018 Olympic schedule has the giant slalom and slalom in the first week, followed by the speed events of super-G, downhill and super combined.

Consider also Shiffrin’s mindset going into St. Moritz.

“Right now, I’m going with [only giant slalom and slalom] because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed [events] to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet,” she said. “But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could. I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before.”

The women get their first look at the 2018 Olympic venue with World Cup races in two weeks, a downhill and super-G. Shiffrin said before worlds that she planned to travel to South Korea for training but to leave before the races start. She wanted to prioritize the following week’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

What’s for sure is we can learn plenty about Shiffrin’s Olympic potential in speed events this weekend. She’s set to race at the World Cup stop in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, which is made up of two combineds and a super-G.

If Shiffrin enters all three events, it will bring her career World Cup start total in downhill, super-G and combined up to 10 races. Her best finish in her first seven starts was fourth in a super-G last month.

“I have a lot of goals there,” Shiffrin said of speed events after bagging her third straight slalom world title Saturday. “Hopefully, some day, I’d like to win in super-G and downhill, but I think it’ll take some time before I can do that consistently. It’s definitely a long road from here. I still feel like I just started.”

2. Lindsey Vonn must heal

Vonn made it clear at worlds that she wasn’t 100 percent recovered from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail, let alone comfortably grip a ski pole at 75 miles per hour.

After skiing out of the opening super-G, troubled by that hand, she duct-taped her glove to her ski pole, placed fifth in the super combined and third in the downhill. She said the bronze medal felt like gold given her latest injury comeback.

Vonn became the oldest woman to earn a world championships medal. In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest woman to earn an Olympic Alpine medal.

Vonn’s biggest hurdle is her own health. A smooth finish to the season, regardless of wins, and a normal offseason is key.

“I want to be in a position at the Olympics where I’m at my top form not just struggling to kind of make it back into the mix,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a different ballgame when I’m prepared.”

3. U.S. lacks young stars

Worlds went about to form for the entire U.S. team. Shiffrin and Vonn were the only medalists. No man placed in the top 10 for the first time since 1997.

Injuries and, especially, aging are the concerns.

Four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, out since November 2015 hip surgery, was on the team but didn’t enter any events. The top U.S. men on the World Cup in recent seasons, Ted Ligety and Steven Nyman, went out with season-ending injuries in January. Bode Miller, who has trained but not raced this season, was in the NBC Sports commentary booth.

All of them are 32 years and older. Maybe some summon one last Olympic medal surge next year, but what about after that?

Shiffrin is the only American younger than age 28 who owns a World Cup victory. U.S. men earned Youth Olympic and junior worlds gold medals last year, but they look destined for 2022.

4. Marcel Hirscher approaches Austrian legends

Hirscher was the best skier in St. Moritz, despite reportedly spending days in bed before his first race. He earned two golds and missed a third by .01 in the super combined.

Only Tony Sailer owns more individual world titles among Austrian men. Hirscher is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season, which no man from any country has accomplished.

He’s at 43 World Cup wins, 11 shy of the Austrian men’s mark held by Hermann Maier. At 27 years old, Hirscher ought to eclipse it.

But Hirscher’s résumé has a gaping hole — no Olympic gold medal. He was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom by countryman Mario Matt. And there’s no certainty Hirscher will be a favorite in PyeongChang.

For years, he was the world’s second-best giant slalom skier behind the now-injured Ligety, who could reclaim the throne next season, though that is a tall order.

In slalom, young Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen has been neck and neck with Hirscher but had a poor worlds.

The super combined is the most unpredictable event, but even there Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup races since 2013.

5. Surprises in St. Moritz

Most races provided surprise medalists.

In all five men’s events, either the gold or silver medalist had not won a World Cup race in at least two years (or, in three cases, never made a World Cup podium). Women’s medalists in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the super combined had never won a World Cup race.

New names were going to emerge regardless, considering the list of recent stars not racing (retired Tina Maze, Ligety, Miller, Aksel Lund Svindal) and those who did compete but were slowed or forced out by injury (Vonn, Anna Veith, Gut).

More surprises could be in store in PyeongChang given, as Shiffrin said, it’s a new track for everybody.

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