Marie-Michele Gagnon

Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon gets 1st World Cup victory in Altenmarkt super-combined

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Thought it was going to be another day of Austrian home cooking in Altenmarkt, eh?

Well, Canada had something to say about that.

Technical specialist Marie-Michele Gagnon kept herself within reasonable striking distance on the opening super-G leg and then rose to the occasion in slalom, watching with baited breath as many of her faster peers faltered, insuring her of her first career World Cup victory in Sunday’s super-combined, the one and only race before next month’s Sochi Olympics.

Since the inception of super-combined in 2005-06, no Canadian skier in either gender had made a podium in this discipline. Canada’s last World Cup podium in any combination race was Emily Broydon’s third place in the San Sicaro combined in February 2005, and its last victory was by Gerry Sorensenin in 1984.

“It’s really exciting, a magical moment,” Gagnon, who wasn’t even born when Sorensenin won, told AP. “All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. I couldn’t be happier. “My teammate Erin Mielzynski won two years ago in Ofterschwang. She was the first Canadian woman to win in slalom in like 40 years. That was unbelievable and I didn’t expect our team to make history again.”

Austria’s Michaela Kirchgasser finished second while Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch regained the World Cup overall standings lead with a third-place finish. Nicole Hosp of Austria, who led after the opening super-G run, wound up fourth, ahead of Sweden’s Sara Hector and reigning World Cup champion Tina Maze of Slovenia.

It was a rough day for the American women, who had four skiers not finish the race. Surprisingly, their difficulties occurred in the super-G, where speed specialists Stacey Cook and Leanne Smith made mistakes and missed gates, as did Vancouver Olympic silver medalist Julia Mancuso, who last won a super-combi in January 2007, and up-and-coming racer Julia Ford.

Most of the 19 starters who failed to finish the super-G went out at the Panorama, a sharp right turn about 40 seconds into the run. Going into the curve with too much speed made it difficult to make the next gate.

Laurenne Ross, the one American speed skier outside of Mancuso who is most comfortable on slalom skis, survived that turn to make it to the second run. She finished 20th.

Since December 2007, there have been 15 super-combined races contested on the World Cup circuit and only four skiers have teamed to win all those races. American Lindsey Vonn won five, Hoefl-Riesch won four, and Maze and Anja Paerson of Sweden each won three.

With Vonn not skiing as she prepares for a second surgery on her injured right knee and Paerson, the six time Olympic medalist, now retired, who would emerge to challenge Hoefl-Riesch and Maze for the top of the podium?

Gagnon might not have been anyone’s first choice.

Coming into this race, the 24 year old had attained just one podium finish in her career, a third-place effort in slalom in Are, Sweden in March of 2012, and her best result in a World Cup super-combined was last February’s fifth-place finish in Meribel, France.

But the opening run, which is usually a downhill, was contested as a super-G, which suits Gagnon’s strengths. This season, she has finished in the top 10 in two of the three super-G races. She gave herself a fighting chance by finishing 13th, 1.37 seconds behind Hosp, who won a World Cup combi in 2007, the last skier outside of the aforementioned four who have dominated the event recently to have done so.

While a gap of nearly a second and a half would be insurmountable in other disciplines, that is not the case in super-combined, where the speed racers often get off to a flying start but are humbled in the slalom. That proved to be the case once again in this instance, where Gagnon, who dates American speed racer Travis Ganong, built herself a .32 seconds advantage after her slalom run and watched as 12 other skiers failed to overtake her.

“It’s amazing. I was quite surprised,” Gagnon said. “I didn’t expect that after the first run. I knew I had to do a really good slalom run to be on the podium. I just tried to do my best and it looks like the pieces of the puzzle have come together.”

Altenmarkt Women’s Super-Combined

1. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 2:05.55

2. Michaela Kirchgasser (AUT) 2:05.87

3. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 2:05.94

4. Nicole Hosp (AUT) 2:06.06

5. Sara Hector (SWE) 2:06.42

6. Tina Maze (SLO) 2:06.68

7. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) 2:06.72

8. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 2:06.73

9. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 2:06.82

10. Denise Feierabend (SUI) 2:06.86

20. Laurenne Ross (USA) 2:08.70

DNF. Julia Mancuso (USA)

DNF. Stacey Cook (USA)

DNF. Leanne Smith (USA)

DNF. Julia Ford (USA)

Picabo Street believes Lindsey Vonn will race for one more season

Michael Phelps left with one meet before Olympic Trials

Michael Phelps
Getty Images
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Michael Phelps could face his lightest-ever competition run-up to an Olympic Trials after opting not to swim at a meet in Atlanta next week.

Last week, Phelps noted one other scheduled meet before the U.S. Olympic Trials (June 26-July 3). That’s in Austin, Texas, from June 3-5.

In his previous four Olympic cycles, Phelps swam at least two meets in the final two months before the Olympic Trials, according to USA Swimming statistics.

Phelps’ training plan in May and June will be impacted by the impending birth of his first child. Fiancée Nicole Johnson is 36 weeks pregnant, according to her Instagram.

Without Phelps, the Atlanta meet is expected to include five-time 2015 World champion Katie Ledecky, 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin, Olympic 100m free champion Nathan Adrian and rising sprint freestyler Caeleb Dressel.

VIDEO: Phelps’ interview with Matt Lauer

Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic chief quits

Pyeongchang 2018
Reuters
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A former South Korean government minister was nominated to take over the organizing committee of the 2018 Winter Olympics on Tuesday, just hours after Cho Yang-ho quit amid escalating financial troubles at the business group his family controls.

Lee Hee-beom, a former minister of industry and energy, needs to be ratified by a vote of senior committee officials to officially become president of the organizing committee for the Pyeongchang Games.

Cho’s sudden resignation marked the second change in less than two years at the helm of the local organizing committee, which had struggled to get preparations back on track in the face of venue construction delays, disputes over the location of the Olympic Stadium and slow pace of domestic sponsorship.

Cho is chairman of the Hanjin Group, which controls Olympic sponsor Korean Air and a major shipping company struggling with heavy debt.

He said in a statement he couldn’t continue with the Olympic job because he needs to focus on stabilizing Hanjin Shipping, South Korea’s largest container carrier, which said last week that it will undergo a debt revamp program with creditors in its last-ditch efforts to stay in business.

Cho took over as president of Pyeongchang’s organizing committee in July 2014 after the sudden resignation of Kim Jin-sun, the former governor of the region that includes Pyeongchang.

“For the past two years, I have truly put forward my very best efforts to work with every member of the organizing committee to prepare a successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2018,” Cho said in the statement. “I can proudly say that POCOG has become a strong team, and the challenges we have overcome have allowed us to achieve success at our first official test events this past February.”

Pyeongchang organizers have faced a series of challenges in recent years, including the construction delays, local conflicts over venues and criticism about their financial planning, but preparations had seemed to turn a corner after the successful hosting of test events earlier this year in Olympic venues.

Gunilla Lindberg, head of the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the 2018 Winter Games, said the IOC respected Cho’s decision and appreciated his cooperation in recent years.

“Under his leadership, the organizing committee has made great progress and has delivered very successful test events,” Lindberg said. “There remain a number of important steps to be taken ahead of the Games and the IOC remains confident that through our close cooperation with the Pyeongchang 2018 organizing committee these will be successfully addressed.”

The announcement of Cho’s resignation came on the same day the Olympic flame was set to land in Brazil, where problems in preparations have sometimes overshadowed the build up to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

MORE: New events added for 2018 Olympics