Audi FIS World Cup - Women's Downhill Training

Julia Mancuso improves but U.S. women lag behind favorites in Altenmarkt downhill (video)

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The women wearing the label of Olympic medal favorites definitely looked the part.

A challenge to that supremacy from the Americans is looking less like a sure thing.

Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger thrilled the opening crowd with a 1-2 finish ahead of overall points leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany and rising star Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the fifth downhill race of the World Cup season Saturday in Altenmarkt, Austria.

Meanwhile, the struggles continued for the U.S. women on the whole as they failed once again to reach the podium as the clock ticked to 27 days until the start of the Winter Olympics. There was a bright spot however, as Julia Mancuso put down some of her best skiing of the season and finished 13th.

The American women came into the season as the top-ranked speed unit in the world but have collectively looked lost throughout the first half of the World Cup and have fallen well short of lofty expectations.

Six U.S. women reached a World Cup podium in at least one speed event last season. None have done so this season, and two, Lindsey Vonn and Alice McKennis, are now out of Olympic consideration with knee and leg injuries.

The closest anyone has come to a podium was on Dec. 8 when Leanne Smith finished sixth in the super-G at Lake Louise on Dec. 8. Stacey Cook’s best result is a 12th-place finish in the downhill in Lake Louise on Dec. 7. Mancuso’s best effort in a speed event was her 17th-place finish in the super-G at Lake. Since the opening race of the season, the Beaver Creek downhill on Nov. 29, Laurenne Ross hadn’t finished inside the Top 22.

At the outset, it didn’t appear like things were going to be any better here. Smith and Cook, the first two Americans out of the gate, brought little speed off the steep opening pitch, scrubbed time on the first right hand turn, got no air off the hot-air jump and carried little speed into the gliding flat sections. Cook finished 21st and Smith finished tied for 24th.

That brought up Mancuso, who might have seemed least likely to have a solid performance, especially after she spent Friday in the hospital tending to her younger sister Sara, who was injured powder skiing in Altenmarkt.

But Mancuso lived up to her reputation as a big-race performer and she raised her game. Showing no ill effects or distractions from her family ordeal, she flew through the top third and took speed into the technical mid-section. That enabled her to attack the critical lower half and cross with her best finish of the season.

“It was a good run,” Mancuso told AP. “You can’t expect to change everything in one run. Now I really believe I can win a race. I feel a lot better on my equipment. I skied positive the whole run and was trying to be confident.”

Ross skied the super-G-like turns cleanly but the rest of her run was less-than aggressive. In paying the course such respect, she sacrificed time, finishing 22nd, which equaled her season’s best.

For those looking for more-drastic improvement from the U.S. and not just baby steps, the reasons this performance could be taken as disheartening are two-fold. Firstly, there are only two downhill and two super-G races left until the U.S. Olympic team is selected on Jan. 26 and to quote Yogi Berra, “It gets late early out there.”

Secondly, today’s Kalberloch represented perhaps the closest replica to the Rosa Khutor Olympic course in Sochi that women will ski on the World Cup. It opened with a full 37-degree plunge out of the start, which gets skiers up over 70 miles per hour in four seconds, and featured big jumps and huge technical turns.

In places where the Americans had difficulties, their international counterparts thrived.

Goergl, the Vancouver downhill bronze medalist, was seen by Austrian media as being in danger of not being selected for the Sochi team. She erased those doubts in spectacular fashion today. While she wasn’t clean at the top, she had beautiful turns through the shaded forest section and attacked the key lower half to take a victory which guarantees her Olympic selection by FIS criteria.

“I know I had a super run. That gives me satisfaction,” Goergl told AP. “I am glad that I had a smooth run. Winning isn’t the most important to me. What really counts is skiing well. I wasn’t able to show that last year.”

Fenninger, who had the fastest time in Thursday’s lone training run, faced near disaster on the upper level when she hit a bump that nearly dumped her on her inside shoulder. But she recovered quickly, opened a half-second lead at the midway point and attacked the late turns en route to a lead she would later relinquish to Goergl.

The story was similar for Hoefl-Riesch, who didn’t panic after making a couple mistakes in the early turns and continued to attack. She carried enough speed off the top to glide through the flats, making up time along the way. She nailed those final technical turns in the Panorama section and rocketed into the lead.

Weirather skied the first two thirds of the course even better than Hoefl-Riesch. She had the green light through the first three time intervals but took a bad line into the final long left-footed turn and lost all of her advantage, crossing .28 behind the German.

With the runner-up finish, Fenninger picked up 80 points to take the lead in the World Cup overall standings with 677 points, six more than Hoefl-Riesch and 18 more than Weirather. Hoefl-Riesch continues to lead the downhill standings with 325 points.

Racing will continue here on Sunday with the first super-combined competition of the season.

Altenmarkt-Zauchensee Women’s Downhill

1-Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:47.45

2-Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:48.01

3-Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:48.08

4-Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:48.36

5-Nicole Hosp (AUT) 1:48.47

6-Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:48.58

7-Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:48.59

8-Marianne Kaurmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:48.62

9-Lotte Smiseth Sejersted (NOR) 1:48.72

10-Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:48.73

13-Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:48.84

22-Stacey Cook (USA) 1:49.92

23-Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:49.93

T25-Leanne Smith (USA) 1:50.06

 Lindsey Vonn adopts dog with ‘bum knee’

Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 07:  A general view of the Christ The Redeemer statue atop the Corcovado on July 7, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
AP
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s best known Olympic historian said Friday it will take something more destructive than the Zika virus to cancel the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“Historically, the only times the Games have been cancelled is in war — World War I and World War II,” David Wallechinsky told the Associated Press. “Other than that, nothing has done it.”

Brazil is the epicenter of the rapidly spreading mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is also generating rumors that South America’s first Games may be called off instead of opening on Aug. 5.

Researchers have linked the virus to a birth defect that can leave newborns with long-lasting health and developmental problems.

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement saying that canceling the Games “is not in discussion,” and Rio organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly shot down the notion it’s even being considered.

Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the only similar case was the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, when three athletes from west Africa were banned from competing over fears they had contracted the Ebola virus and the subsequent possibility of it spreading.

“That’s the only time that disease has ever entered into it,” he said.

The 1916 Olympics were called off during World War I, and four Games — two summer and two winter — were cancelled between 1940 and 1944. Two Summer Olympics were hit by partial boycotts in 1980 and 1984.

Wallechinsky said it was too late to move the games from Rio.

“A lot of money has been put into this; the athletes, the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s pretty late to move the Games so I think they’ll go forward.”

Brazil is spending at least $10 billion to prepare for the Games. Add to that, billions spent on television rights, and maybe just as much on sponsorship, advertising across 28 sport federations, and the more than 200 nations that participate.

“There would be a lot of lawsuits,” Wallechinsky said. “It would be a dream event for lawyers.”

The Zika virus adds to other problems with South America’s first Olympics, including water pollution in Rio’s venues for sailing, rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open-water swimming , and deep cuts of almost 30 percent to keep a $2 billion operating budget in balance.

Only about half of the domestic tickets for the game have been sold, and organizers fear the Zika outbreak could scare off foreign tourists — particularly Americans.

Janice Forsyth, an Olympic historian at Western University in Canada, predicted the Zika threat “is going to blow over.”

“But if it really catches on, then we’ve got a global concern that’s not just about the Olympics,” she said. “But it would have to be really extraordinary for the game to be cancelled. Even with threats of terrorism, the games still don’t get cancelled.”

Forsyth said the virus might even have beneficial impact on Rio’s preparations, distracting from other problems.

“In a sad way, maybe it’s a positive diversion from what is actually going on with the games,” she said. “A twist for games that seem to be constantly struggling.”

VIDEO: Rio Olympic venues timelapse

‘Race’ film clip of 1936 Olympic long jump (video)

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“Race,” a film about 1936 Olympic legend Jesse Owens‘ triumphs in the face of Nazi Germany, hits theaters Feb. 19.

In the above clip, Owens competes in long jump qualifying after receiving a tip from fellow jumper German Luz Long to avoid fouling on his last attempt to advance to the final.

Owens would then beat Long in the final, though the pair forged a friendship.

In other clips, Owens, played by Stephan James, speaks with his Ohio State coach, Larry Snyder, played by Jason Sudeikis. Watch that here.

Also, Owens discusses taking part in the Olympics amid racial prejudice in the U.S. Watch that here.

MORE: James discusses playing Owens in ‘Race’ | VIDEO: ‘Race’ trailer