Lara Gut

Lara Gut takes Beaver Creek downhill; Americans struggle (video)

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Switzerland’s Lara Gut won the first downhill of the World Cup season, while the Americans and international stars struggled at Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday.

Gut, who also won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 26, sped down the new Raptor course in 1 minute, 41.26 seconds, which was .47 of a second better than Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather. Italian Elena Fanchini was third, another half-second back (full results at bottom).

Gut won two World Championships silver medals in 2009 at age 17. She missed the 2010 Olympics after dislocating her right hip in a September 2009 training crash. This is her best form since returning for the 2010-11 season.

“When I came into the World Cup, I was 17, and I was fast; everything was so easy,” Gut said on NBCSN. “The last two years, I was really working hard on my skiing. … Now, I think, it’s working.”

The Beaver Creek World Cup continues with a super-G on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Live Extra) and a giant slalom on Sunday (2:30, NBC, NBC Live Extra).

The U.S. contingent, without injured Lindsey Vonn, surprisingly struggled after a stellar 2012-13 downhill season.

Stacey Cook, who won one of the training runs Wednesday, was the top American in 19th. Three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso was 20th, her worst World Cup downhill finish in nearly two years.

“It’s a really steep and tricky downhill for the start of the season,” Mancuso said on NBCSN. “I really feel like I just need a little bit more time. Downhill’s been tough for me the last few years.”

Laurenne Ross, who made one World Cup podium last season, was 22nd. Leanne Smith missed a gate late in her run and did not finish.

The world’s best all-around skiers didn’t fare too much better.

German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall champion, was seventh. Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze was 16th, continuing her slow start to the season with her worst downhill in nearly one year.

Beaver Creek Downhill

1. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:41.26
2. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:41.73
3. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:42.24
4. Fabienne Suter (AUT) 1:42.30
5. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:42.39
6. Fraenzi Aufdenblatten (SUI) 1:42.46
7. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:42.49
8. Andrea Fishbacher (AUT) 1:42.55
9. Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:42.75
10. Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:42.92
19. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:43.49
20. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:43.71
22. Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:43.86
42. Julia Ford (USA) 1:45.09
44. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:45.39
DNF. Leanne Smith (USA)

Vonn optimistic for Lake Louise after super-G training

Franz Klammer stars in commercial with Alpine skiing champions, Sasquatch

Franz Klammer
Head Ski Facebook
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The 1976 Olympic downhill champion Franz Klammer. Shirtless Aksel Lund Svindal waving a wurst. Sasquatch.

This Head skis commercial has it all.

The skier cameos include some of the most decorated active skiers:

Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway) — 2010 Olympic super-G champion
Kjetil Jansrud (Norway) — 2014 Olympic super-G champion
Anna Veith (Austria) — 2014 Olympic super-G champion
Lara Gut (Switzerland) — 2016 World Cup overall champion

VIDEO: High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise

Eyes of Spain on Javier Fernandez as he builds for last Olympic chance

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 01:  Javier Fernandez of Spain skates in the Men's Free Skate program during Day 5 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Before Javier Fernandez became a two-time world champion, he was the fourth-place finisher in Sochi, missing Spain’s first Winter Olympic medal in 22 years by a mere 1.18 points.

He remembers leaving the Iceberg Skating Palace after competition ended on Feb. 14, 2014, surrounded by the president of Spain’s figure skating federation, his parents and Spanish Olympic Committee officials.

“They were telling me how great I skated,” Fernandez recalled while cupping a hot drink and waiting to christen New York City’s Bryant Park ice rink last Thursday night. “I wanted to skate again. I wanted to do it again, because I knew I could even do it better.”

Fernandez, who was third after the Sochi short program, had one free skate jump invalidated because he performed one too many triple Salchows. Scoring is much more complex than one jump, but many say that zero-point Salchow cost Fernandez a bronze.

Even Fernandez.

“It was just a stupid mistake that took away my Olympic medal,” he says now. “It kind of sucks, I have to say, that you were not on the podium, but it was such a cool experience.”

Today, Fernandez might be the least likely skater to make a stupid mistake. Nobody has been more consistent the last two seasons. A pair of world championships. Two Grand Prix Final silver medals. Five straight Grand Prix series wins.

“But I don’t see being fourth at the Olympics as such a negative thing,” Fernandez continued. “And that’s something what the people don’t understand. … Fourth, it was not that bad of a position. In figure skating … we never had that before. So I also got congratulated by so many people.”

Sochi is far from Fernandez’s mind as he heads into this week’s Grand Prix Final as the only unbeaten man this fall.

As great as Fernandez has been the last two years, what’s coming in 14 months is the last opportunity to fulfill his goal of capturing an Olympic medal.

Fernandez does not plan on skating in a fourth Olympics in 2022. He expects to decide after the Pyeongchang Winter Games just how much longer he will keep competing.

It has been a remarkable ascent. Fernandez, from a nation with maybe 20 ice rinks, made his world championships debut in 2007 and finished 35th out of 42 skaters.

“I’ve been in figure skating for so long,” said Fernandez, who is 25, second-oldest of the six-man Grand Prix Final field. “I’m quite tired, a little bit. I just want to, like, do the last seasons that I have left and then go to the next thing.”

Shortly after the Sochi Olympics, Alejandro Blanco, the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, essentially guaranteed a Spaniard would win a medal in 2018. Maybe Blanco knew then that Fernandez was the only Spanish competitor in any sport to finish better than seventh.

The support for Fernandez in Spain transcends the nation’s Winter Olympic history. After every competition — win or lose — Fernandez says the royal family sends a letter to his home in Spain. After he repeated as world champion in April, the correspondence included an invitation.

“They said they wanted to meet me in person,” Fernandez said. “I was like, really?”

So he put on a suit and visited King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid on April 22.

Fernandez would love to prove Blanco a prophet and to fill the royals with more pride. But the skater is also keeping expectations in check.

Any medal will do in Pyeongchang.

“Of course, I’m going to work and I’m going to train to be the Olympic champion,” Fernandez said. “But then at the competition, I cannot put a goal that I don’t know if I’m going to reach. Because at that competition anything can happen. So I would rather set up a medium goal that I know I can get. … If you say, I want to be Olympic champion. What if I don’t get it? You’re going to be sad the rest of your life because you didn’t reach your goal?”

MORE: Grand Prix Final broadcast schedule