Mikaela Shiffrin

Who are the skiers to watch at the Sochi Olympics?


Lindsey Vonn‘s announcement that she will not compete in Sochi leaves a major Olympic void on the U.S. Ski Team.

However, a few standout U.S. skiers have excelled in her absence on the World Cup tour since she first crashed at the World Championships in February.

Here’s the quartet that will be the focus in Sochi Olympics, followed by international stars:

Mikaela Shiffrin

The 18-year-old is the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom. Yes, she’s been called the next Vonn, simply because they share the same nationality (and Colorado hometown of Vail) and sport.

But Shiffrin is very different from Vonn. She is a technical event skier — slalom and giant slalom — whereas Vonn is a speed queen — downhill and super-G.

Shiffrin has won two of four World Cup slaloms this season, but she’s now facing a challenge from one of her idols, Austrian Marlies Schild. Schild, 32, has also won two slaloms this season after coming back from tearing right knee ligaments on Dec. 20, 2012.

Schild won Olympic silver in 2010, World Championships gold in 2011 and four of six World Cup titles from 2007 through 2012.

Shiffrin has improved mightily in giant slalom over the last year to the point where she is now a medal contender in the event with second- and third-place finishes in World Cup races this season.

Ted Ligety

Vonn’s injury at the World Championships did not overshadow Ligety’s accomplishments in Schladming, Austria.

The 2006 Olympic combined champion became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at single World Championships, sweeping the super-G, giant slalom and super combined.

Ligety, 29, won the first two giant slaloms this World Cup season and seemed poised to be a heavy Olympic gold-medal favorite in the event. But Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher won the last two, setting up a sweet Sochi showdown.

Expecting multiple medals from Ligety in Sochi may be a bit much, though. He had never won a World Cup or World Championships race outside of giant slalom before that World Championships breakthrough.

He has not made a podium outside giant slalom this season, but Ligety has proven a big-event skier.

Bode Miller

Miller, 36, is the most decorated Olympic skier in American history with five medals, including one of every color at the 2010 Olympics.

He missed all of last season after knee surgery but has returned encouraging early results, including taking second behind Ligety at a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Dec. 8.

Miller, now married to beach volleyball player Morgan Beck, looks to be the best U.S. medal hope in men’s downhill and super-G with a top-10 in each but no podium finishes this season.

Julia Mancuso

Mancuso has been silent on the World Cup tour this season with a best finish of 12th.

But she, like Ligety, is a proven star on the biggest stage. She won the 2006 Olympic giant slalom and took silver in the 2010 Olympic downhill and super combined.

Mancuso, 29, steps in for Vonn as the most notable American in the speed events of downhill and super-G. She’s the reigning world bronze medalist in the latter, having finished in the top three in World Cup super-G standings the previous three seasons.

International Women’s Stars

Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Germany

Vonn’s longtime friend and rival leads the World Cup overall standings and steps in as the Olympic downhill favorite, having won both downhills in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December when Vonn made her return.

Hoefl-Riesch was actually more successful than Vonn at the 2010 Olympics, winning gold medals in the super combined and slalom.

She’s won World Championships medals in downhill, super-G, super combined and slalom and could win four medals in Sochi if she’s in form.

Tina Weirather, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, a landlocked European country of some 40,000 people, has won nine Winter Olympic medals, all in Alpine skiing, but none since 1988.

Weirather has emerged as an all-around threat with podium finishes in downhill, super-G and giant slalom this World Cup season. She is the daughter of four-time Olympic medalist Hanni Wenzel.

Lara Gut, Switzerland

Gut shot out of the gates this World Cup season with wins in three of the first four races. She has cooled a bit since but looks like a medal threat in super-G and giant slalom.

She was 17 years old when she won two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships and looked like a major threat to Vonn’s dominance in the downhill until she suffered a hip injury in a September 2009 crash that kept her out of the 2010 Olympics.

Tina Maze, Slovenia

Maze put up the greatest campaign in Alpine skiing history in 2012-13, but the Slovenian singing sensation has been nowhere near that form this season and not won any races.

If Maze finds her spark over the next month, she could win a medal in every Olympic Alpine skiing event. If she doesn’t, she could leave Sochi empty handed.

Olympic goalie mask includes actual gold

Olympic downhill champion wants Formula One-like qualifying in ski racing

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VIENNA (AP) — World Cup skiing needs a qualification system like Formula One, with qualifying runs determining the starting order for the race, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer said Friday.

“You could compete in training for who is the first to pick a start number,” the Austrian skier said.

Mayer’s proposal goes a step further than rules for downhill and super-G implemented this season. In the new system, the top 10 skiers can choose an odd start number between 1 and 19, and the skiers ranked between 11th and 20th pick an even number between 2 and 20.

The International Ski Federation has changed the old format, where the top seven were randomly given a number between 16 and 22, because it hopes TV viewers will watch longer when the best skiers are more spread out.

“It will change something, definitely,” said Mayer, who was speaking at a sponsor event. “The best racer can pick the start number he wants. I think it’s a positive development. But we should discuss a qualifying format in training.”

FIS men’s race director Markus Waldner said skiing’s governing body considered several options before deciding on the new regulation.

“The idea is to spread out the top 10 from the start list,” Waldner said. “Most of our TV viewers were starting to watch a race after the TV break, after the first 15 starters, because the top seven racers all started between 16 and 22. We would like to motivate our TV viewers to watch from the very beginning of a race.”

A winner of three World Cup races, Mayer missed most of last season after breaking two vertebrae in a downhill crash in Val Gardena, Italy. He returned to training on snow in July, and is planning a comeback at the speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Nov. 26-27.

The Austrian skipped the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden last Sunday, though he skied on the course as a forerunner, a skier doing a test run just before the race starts.

MORE: Men’s Alpine skiing season preview

Spain keeps men’s basketball coach through 2020 Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo reacts during the Men's Basketball Bronze medal game between Australia and Spain on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Sergio Scariolo will coach Spain at a third straight Olympics in 2020.

Scariolo’s contract was extended through the Tokyo Games by the Spanish basketball federation, it announced Friday.

The 55-year-old Italian began coaching Spain in 2009 and led the nation to silver at the London Olympics and bronze in Rio.

Spain lost by seven points to the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic final and by six points to the U.S. in the Rio semifinals, though it also lost to Croatia and Brazil in group play in Rio.

The Spanish national team’s NBA veterans are aging. Pau Gasol is 36 and hasn’t announced if he will try for a fourth Olympics in Tokyo. Younger brother Marc Gasol is 31.

José Calderón, 35, retired from the national team after the Rio Games.

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