Felix Neureuther historic in Adelboden giant slalom win as Ted Ligety, Bode Miller DNF

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There is a new force to be reckoned with in the men’s giant slalom

And it is coming from an unlikely source.

With a spectacular second run, German slalom specialist Felix Neureuther made a bit of history while overtaking the technically-proficient French as well as World Cup frontrunners Ted Ligety of the U.S. and Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win the giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland on Saturday.

Neureuther became the first German skier ever to win a race on this course and, with the start of the Olympics just over three weeks away, the first German skier to win a World Cup giant slalom race since Max Rieger on March 2, 1973.

Rieger competed in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Games for West Germany.

“This is a historic moment I am part of and it’s just an awesome feeling,” Neureuther, who won the slalom in Bormio on Monday, said after the race. “I tried to ski smart in the right places and push hard where I needed to. I never thought I would win in giant slalom because I was always better in slalom. But I have been thinking about it since last year, and to come on top with so many great GS skiers like Ted, Marcel, Alexis, is amazing.”

Neureuther hails from a strong pedigree. His father, Christian, was a three-time Olympian between 1972 and 1980 for West Germany. His mother, Rosi Mittermaier, competed in three Olympics for West Germany, winning gold in downhill and slalom and silver in the giant slalom at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. Neureuther’s aunts, Evi  (1976 and 1980) and Heidi (1964) Mittermaier, were also Winter Olympic Alpine skiers.

In winning his seventh World Cup race, Neureuther not only eclipsed his father’s career victory total, he also served notice that he should not be discounted as a medal contender in a second event come Sochi.

The giant slalom has been dominated in recent years by Hirscher and Ligety, who combined to win the four previous races this season but each failed to finish in the top two for the first time in two years.

Neureuther set down a pristine second run, absolutely crushing the bottom half of the course to take a 1.25 second lead with six skiers to follow.

Hirscher was one of those followers, and after a fast, flowing, aggressive start to his second run, he lost most of his advantage in the middle sections and finished third, .19 seconds behind Neureuther. Hirscher retained his lead in the World Cup giant slalom standings with 380 points

After Hirscher came Ligety, the 2013 winner in Adelboden and the reigning world champion. The American looked good out of the gate, but as he approached the midway point of his run, he caught a bump which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing Ligety off the course.

“The snow is just really weird. It kind of pops you out in places and then is really pealy and hard to get anything established in other places,” Ligety, who fell 120 points behind Hirscher in the World Cup giant slalom standings, told AP.

The French followed but their 1-2 placers from the first run didn’t pack the same punch. Alexis Pinturault lost time when he got caught on his inside ski during the rolling turns of the middle section of the course, and finished fourth. And where leader Thomas Fanara was clean in the first run, he made mistakes in the second, and with every turn saw his first run advantage whittled away until he had slipped into second, .10 seconds behind Neureuther.

For Fanara and the other favorites, Adelboden proved to be a tale of two runs.

Having a low bib number proved to be advantageous in the first run as Fanara, wearing bib No. 1, capitalized on the best snow conditions and posted a time which would hold as fastest. Ligety, starting third, finished .89 seconds behind. Hirscher, starting fourth, was one-hundredth behind Ligety. Pinturault, who wore Bib 6, posted the second-fastest time behind his teammate. Neureuther started fifth and finished the first run in seventh place.

“Sure, it was an advantage to go before,” Fanara told AP. “After that, I think I had a complete run.”

Sunny and warm conditions contributed to the deterioration of the course. American Bode Miller, who won this race in 2002, lost his balance in the soft snow midway through his run and skied out.

Further adding to the craziness of the first run was a near collision between Norway’s Henrik Kristofferson and a course worker who strayed onto the piste during his run. Kristoffersen appealed and was given a second start, but by then the course conditions were so carved that he placed 21st in excess of three seconds off Fanara’s early pace. He wound up placing 13th.

Aside from Ligety, two other Americans made the second run. Tim Jitloff wound up finishing 24th on his 29th birthday, while Robby Kelley came in 28th.

Racing will continue in Adelboden on Sunday with a men’s slalom.

Adelboden Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Felix Neureuther (GER) 2:34.60

2. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:34.70

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:34.79

4. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:34.92

5. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:35.84

6. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 2:35.96

7. Davide Simoncelli (ITA) 2:36.00

8. Mathieu Faivre (FRA) 2:36.02

9. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:36.32

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 2:36.38

24. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:37.00

28. Robby Kelley (USA) 2:39.35

DNF Ted Ligety (USA)

DNF Bode Miller (USA)

 Bode Miller says age (36), knee are liabilities

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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