‘Dumb luck’: Marcel Hirscher wins gold, Ted Ligety bronze in crazy super combined

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An unconfident Marcel Hirscher wasn’t sure he wanted to start the World Championships super combined. Ted Ligety didn’t think he would win a medal after he finished skiing.

But in an unusual sequence of events, Hirscher captured gold and Ligety bronze in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday.

In the super combined, all skiers take one downhill run. Then, the top 30 from the downhill go in reverse order in the slalom, followed by everybody ranked 31st and lower from the downhill. Skiers are then ranked by their combined times from the downhill and slalom.

Hirscher, a World slalom champion who rarely races downhill, was 31st-fastest in the morning downhill run Sunday. His chances to come back from a 3.16-second deficit would have been zero if not for one thing.

The Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank spectacularly crashed near the end of his downhill run and was disqualified, even though he was reportedly 25th-fastest when he slid across the finish line.

The absence of Bank, who suffered a concussion, allowed Hirscher to move from 31st to 30th and, more importantly, from 31st in the slalom start order to first in the slalom start order. Starting earlier in slalom is an advantage — and a bigger edge given warm conditions like on Sunday.

“If Ondrej Bank hadn’t straddled the last gate, [Hirscher] would’ve started 31st and had no chance,” said Ligety, who was 29th in the downhill, one spot ahead of Hirscher, and started second in the slalom, one spot after Hirscher.

Hirscher ended up beating Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud by .19 in combined time for gold. Jansrud was fastest in the downhill, so he had to start 30th with beat-up snow from the 29 racers who went before him. Ligety was .30 behind for bronze. (full results here)

Hirscher won his second career World Championships individual gold medal and could win two more gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom over the next seven days. The 25-year-old Austrian currently leads the World Cup overall standings and is trying to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to start in the super combined, because my downhill training, especially in the first and the second run, were really bad, around five seconds behind the leader,” Hirscher said on NBC. “Today, I changed a bit of my setup, new boots, new skis, and it worked really well. I’m super lucky that it is warm, and it was definitely not easy to ski today with bib No. 30 [as Jansrud did], so no one expected that I was going to win the gold medal today.”

Ligety won his sixth career World Championships medal, matching Lindsey Vonn for the most by an American. The two-time Olympic champion took Worlds gold in this event in 2013.

“After the downhill run I thought there was no possibility of being anywhere close to a medal,” Ligety said. “It was just dumb luck.”

Ligety, too, benefited from starting early. He estimated that starting first or second versus starting 30th in the slalom was around a three-second advantage.

“If I was a half-second faster in the downhill, I wouldn’t have been able to get a medal at all,” Ligety said. “That’s how big of a difference I thought running early was. It was a brilliant strategy to be that slow, I guess.”

Here’s Ligety’s slalom run:

Hirscher skied his slalom run in 49.93 seconds, the only skier to go sub-50. Ligety went right after Hirscher and had the second-fastest slalom time in the field, 50.36.

Jansrud, who owns three Olympic medals, bagged his first World Championships medal. He finished fourth in the super-G and 15th in the downhill last week after coming in as a favorite to make the podium in both events.

The World Championships continue with the women’s super combined, including Vonn, on Monday.

World Championships broadcast schedule

Here’s Bank’s crash:

Despite blade trouble, Nathan Chen leads men at Skate America

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Nathan Chen leads the men’s field at Skate America after tallying 104.12 points, a new personal best, on Friday night.

During the six-minute warm-up before the final group of skaters, Chen could be seen conferring with his coach, Rafael Arutunian, about his blade. He explained on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA broadcast that during the warm-up, Arutunian manipulated the blade to fix the edge. They plan on playing with it again so it’s better for Saturday’s free skate.

“There’s a lot of points that I could have gotten last year and I’m making sure I take care of them this year,” Chen said of his personal best, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The score is still not that close to some of the top men currently, but that’s something that I know is attainable and it’s something I’m going to work toward.”

Arutunian’s other pupil in the men’s field, Adam Rippon, is in second place behind Chen with a personal best of his own – 89.04 points. Sergei Voronov of Russia sits in third place after the short with 87.51 points.

The third American in the field, Ross Miner, popped a triple Axel and didn’t receive any credit for the element. He tallied 71.59 points and sits in eighth place heading into the free.

The free skate will determine which skaters earn a berth to the Grand Prix Final in Japan in two weeks. Chen, despite being a favorite for the Skate America title, can finish anywhere among the top four for a berth to the Final. Voronov can also finish in the top four to make it to the Final. Rippon needs to finish anywhere on the podium.

Plus, with reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and his training partner Javier Fernandez (a two-time world champion himself) out of the Grand Prix Final, the podium there is wide open. Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion and the Sochi silver medalist, won’t be at the Grand Prix Final either.

MORE: Skate America TV Schedule

Earlier Friday, in the pairs field, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford scored 75.37 to lead the field after the short program.

China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao followed for second with 73.67 points. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who represent Germany, earned 72.55 points for third place after the short program. All three teams have a chance to qualify for the exclusive Grand Prix Final should the podium stand is after Saturday’s free skate. Even with a shakeup among the top three, it is likely that they will all qualify.

The top American team was married couple Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, who scored 64.27 and are fourth after the short. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier tallied 63.04 (sixth) and Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay are eighth with 57.18 points.

MORE: Bruno Massot earns German citizenship

Massot gets German citizenship, path cleared for Pyeongchang

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Bruno Massot learned Thursday he has passed his German citizenship test, clearing the way for him and partner Aliona Savchenko to compete at the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Massot was born in Caen, France, and qualified for the 2014 Sochi Games on the French team, but he was held out of the Olympics because partner Daria Popova did not gain French citizenship in time.

He has since partnered with Savchenko, a Sochi participant, and been working to become a German citizen. This was his third time taking the German citizenship test, and the final time he would be able to qualify for citizenship in time for the Olympics.

“It’s really different,” Massot told The Associated Press, “because I don’t have this now anymore in my head, this question like, `I will be blocked again, or not?”‘

Massot’s naturalization ceremony will take place next Wednesday. Massot and Savchenko are in Lake Placid competing at Skate America this week.

MORE: Skate America preview, TV schedule