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

Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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