Ted Ligety blasts field, fog for 21st World Cup win in St. Moritz giant slalom

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American Ted Ligety used the final race before the Olympics to make a statement, dominating the field en route to his third World Cup giant slalom victory of the season on Sunday in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Ligety, the reigning World Cup and world champion in the discipline, left little drama as to the outcome of the race with a perfect first run and went on to navigate the thick fog in Run 2 for a 1.51-second victory over Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Alexis Pinturault of France.

The victory was the 21st in Ligety’s career and 20th in the giant slalom, which ranks third all-time in World Cup history. Only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Switzerland’s Michael von Grueningen (23) have won more.

“It was nice to get in another good race and confirm where I’m at in GS and not just having training,” Ligety said. “Hopefully I’ll carry that confidence over into the next couple of weeks.”

Bode Miller, Ligety’s U.S. Olympic teammate, hit a rut and crashed out of the race midway through the first run. Tim Jitloff was the only other American to make the flip, and finished 17th.

“There were already big holes in some places when I went down and you can’t see where they are and the coaches can’t tell you where they are,” Miller told the Associated Press. “The guys making it down were skiing very conservatively, trying not to crash and not to make mistakes. Ted is the only one really who skied normally.”

Ligety couldn’t have picked a better time for a statement performance.

Earlier this season, it appeared Ligety would once again dominate the giant slalom as he has the last two seasons. He won the first two races in Soelden and Beaver Creek, extending his World Cup GS winning streak to four.

But in December, he skied out of the giant slalom in Val d’Isere, a course he was quite critical of afterward, and before scoring a third-place finish in Alta Badia. Earlier this month in Adelboden, he caught a bump during the second run which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing him off the course.

Those struggles dropped Ligety to third place in the World Cup giant slalom standings, 120 points behind Hirscher and 25 behind Pinturault with only three races left on the season. They also called into question Ligety’s status as the Olympic gold medal favorite in the event.

It took just one run for Ligety to remind everyone that he is, indeed, still the man.

Despite a light falling snow, more of the fog that forced the cancellation of Saturday’s downhill, and low light, Ligety carved perfect turns throughout his first trip down the piste, insuring that it got late early out there, to paraphrase the great Yogi Berra.

“Generally, the way I ski is a little bit rounder than everybody else, trying to make smoother, cleaner turns and not worry about the distance so much,” Ligety said of his attack plan. “I think when it is like this and so hacked up that plays well for me because I kind of avoid some of those bigger holes.”

The competition could only shake their heads and offer a tip of the cap to Ligety after he left Pinturault 1.28 seconds behind and Hirscher 1.43 seconds back. Fritz Dopfer of Germany was 1.87 back in fourth while Matts Olsson of Sweden and Philipp Schoerghofer of Austria shared fifth place, 1.91 behind. Everybody else was more than two seconds behind going into the second run.

After the first run, Hirscher conceded that the race “was all but over,” to AP.

But the deteriorating conditions effectively kept every skier in contention, despite the huge time gap. Softening snow left tricky ruts everywhere and the fog went from sporadically thick to shrouding the course like a scene out of a horror movie.

In the second run, Ligety increased his lead over Hirscher to 1.91 seconds at the first interval, but gradually lost some of that advantage down the slope. Nevertheless, his margin was still huge.

“That was a bumpy ride,” Ligety said afterward. “It’s so tough when you can’t see anything. It makes it that much more tiring that was a hack-fast battle for sure. I’m happy I was able to make it to the finish line let alone win.”

With his victory, Ligety picked up 20 points on Hirscher in the giant slalom standings but remains in third place. Hirscher leads with 460 points, followed by Pinturault with 365 and Ligety with 360. Hirscher regained the lead in the World Cup overall standings as Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal skied out in the second run. Hirscher now leads Svindal, 975-897.

The men’s giant slalom in Sochi is scheduled for February 19. Following the Games, there will be giant slalom World Cup races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.

St. Moritz Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Ted Ligety (USA) 2:38.75

2. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:40.26

3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:40.44

4. Matts Olsson (SWE) 2:41.43

5. Philipp Schoerghofer (AUT) 2:41.55

6. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:41.99

7. Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) 2:42.03

8. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 2:42.11

9. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:42.58

10. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:42.71

17. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:43.84

DNF. Bode Miller (USA)

Mikaela Shiffrin tumbles to 7th in final World Cup slalom before Olympics

Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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VIDEO: Nathan Chen makes more history at season opener

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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