Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

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Bode Miller has been saying all season that he is as fit as he has been in over a decade.

He now has another marquee result to reinforce it.

The 36-year-old American star overcame adverse skiing conditions and a shortened course to post his second Top 5 finish in a World Cup downhill this season on Saturday in Wengen, Switzerland.

Dangerously high winds forced race officials to lower the start of the race below the Hundshopf jump at the Minschkante, which cut over a full minute off the course. Soft snow skied over during Friday’s super-combined froze overnight, leaving the lower portion of the course particularly rutty.

The conditions weren’t prohibitive enough to faze Miller, who led early before sliding back to fifth behind Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng, Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria’s Max Franz. Miller’s effort equaled his season best in a downhill as he also finished fifth at Val Gardena, Italy on Dec. 21. Miller’s best finish was runner-up to Ted Ligety in giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Dec. 8.

“He pushed hard, took a lot of risk, and made up time,” U.S. coach Sasha Rearick said. “With those risks he made a couple of little mistakes, but he was pushing hard and letting the skis go, which is great to see Bode doing again.”

Miller was the highlight of a strong showing overall for the Americans.

Rising speed racer Jared Goldberg continued to make a strong case for Olympic selection. After finishing 20th in Friday’s super-combined, he made a huge jump in the standings, starting with Bib 40 and finishing 12th, the best finish of his career.

“I wasn’t trying to think about it too much coming in, because this year has been just a good learning year for me being my first full year on the World Cup,” Goldberg said of the impending Olympic team nominations. “But I feel really good. It was kind of a confidence builder yesterday to do well in the combined and I’ve been looking toward the downhill. Training runs have been going really well and I knew that if I really sent in there I could do well.”

Two-time Olympian Marco Sullivan finished 16th, equaling his finish of the season. Travis Ganong crossed in 28th.

“I am extremely proud of two other guys, Goldberg and Marco Sullivan,” Rearick said. “Certainly the guys in the early draw had a big advantage today. Jared Goldberg and Marco Sullivan put the hammer down with those conditions top to bottom and did a great, great job. I’m really proud of those guys, Marco with his experience, and Jared being a young guy taking some chances and really pushing it.”

In the next to last downhill race before Olympic teams are selected worldwide — the U.S. will announce it’s roster on Jan. 26 — focus was split between winning the 84th edition of the Lauberhorn classic but with an eye toward Sochi.

For Kueng, the biggest performance of his career couldn’t have come at a better time. The 30-year-old, who won his first career World Cup race on Dec. 7 in the super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo., became Switzerland’s fourth winner of this race in six years.

“It’s incredible,” Kueng told the Associated Press. “It’s very special for me. I think it’s the best place to win a race.”

The victory could bode well for Kueng if judging by past performances. The last Swiss winner in Wengen, Beat Feuz in 2012, went on to triumph at the Olympic test event on the Rosa Khutor slope in Sochi a few weeks later.

“Hats off to Kueng, he’s been skiing amazing this season,” Sullivan told AP. “It’s really not a surprise to the racers.”

For Team Austria, traditionally the powerhouses of Alpine skiing, frustration is mounting on the eve of the Games. They have not seen the top of the podium in a World Cup men’s downhill in 13 months, an eternity for the hyper-competitive squad.

Reichelt had the best opportunity to put an end to that drought, but for the third time this season he played the role of bridesmaid, a runner-up finish by .06 seconds that prompted his coach to rip off his helmet and slam it to the snow.

Compounding those feelings was the fact that Reichelt had knocked on the door of victory in this race before, finishing runner-up to Feuz in 2012 and third behind Italy’s Christof Innerhofer last season, only to have access denied.

“(Patrick) was very consistent this season,” Reichelt told AP. “It was just time until he got the victory.”

Reichelt did, however, bump Svindal down a spot to third place by just one-hundredth of a second. The hulking Norwegian, whose 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame suits the long, gliding sections of the shortened course, entered the race as the favorite, and added to his World Cup overall and downhill standings leads. But he fell short of ending a long Wengen losing streak for his country. The last Norwegian winner of this race was Lasse Kjus in 1999.

Canada’s Erik Guay, a Sochi medal favorite skiing as well as he ever has, also faltered on this course. After winning Thursday’s training run, Guay caught a bad bump entering one of the high-speed turns and skied off course. No Canadian has won this race since Ken Read, a two-time Olympian of “Crazy Cowboys” fame, in 1980.

Alexander Glebov provided a glimpse of what Russian fans can expect from their best skier in Sochi. The 30-year-old, a Slovenian by birth, continued his season-long improvement and finished 51st.

Racing will conclude in Wengen on Sunday with the men’s slalom.

Wengen Men’s Downhill

1. Patrick Kueng (SUI) 1:32.66

2. Hannes Reichelt (AUT) 1:32.72

3. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) 1:32.73

4. Max Franz (AUT) 1:32.90

5. Bode Miller (USA) 1:33.01

6. Matthias Mayer (AUT) 1:33.10

7. Peter Fill (ITA) 1:33.20

8. Romed Bauman (AUT) 1:33.26

9. Johan Clarey (FRA) 1:33.28

T10. Beat Feuz (SUI) 1:33.40

T10. Didier Defago (SUI) 1:33.40

12. Jared Goldberg (USA) 1:33.43

16. Marco Sullivan (USA) 1:33.65

28. Travis Ganong (USA) 1:34.10

T37. Erik Fisher (USA) 1:34.34

48. Steve Nyman (USA) 1:34.79

56. Bryce Bennett (USA) 1:35.00

Ted Ligety’s super-combined win key for Sochi Olympic medal hopes

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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