Ted Ligety rallies to win third straight World title in giant slalom (video)

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A season that Ted Ligety called less than stellar, even a struggle, continued that way in the first run of the World Championships giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday.

Ligety skied into fifth place in an event he’s owned for much of the last several years — consecutive World Championships gold medals, Sochi Olympic gold and five of seven World Cup titles.

Giant slalom is often called the truest test of a skier’s ability — requiring a mix of speed and technical skills — and Ligety has mastered it better than perhaps anyone ever. They call him Mr. GS.

But close observers wouldn’t have been shocked by Ligety skiing slower than four other men Friday morning. He’s won just one of five World Cup giant slaloms this season, skiing for most of the campaign with four screws inserted into his left hand following a November training injury.

Ligety stepped to the start gate for his second and final run Friday afternoon needing to make up a deficit of .24 and, more challenging, better all four men who would ski after him, punctuated by his biggest rival.

“I definitely feel, I don’t know if it’s nervous or anxious, but I always feel that for sure in the start gate,” Ligety said. “Especially in giant slaloms, where I know any time I get in the start gate of a giant slalom, I have a good chance of winning. That kind of adds that extra bit of pressure. You’re fighting for the title.

“Today I was relaxed as I possibly could be.”

It showed. Ligety was .55 faster in his second run than any other man. He won an unprecedented third straight World title in the giant slalom and by a credible margin, .45 of a second. Ligety has dominated many races by much greater margins, but this title, his seventh gold medal at a Worlds or Olympics, was special.

“I think this one is maybe a little more emotional than some of the other ones just because this year has been a little bit more of a struggle,” Ligety said on NBCSN minutes after the race, sunglasses covering palpable affection, even through TV, from a man who doesn’t often give away more than a smile and a fist pump. “In 2013, I was winning everything and so it felt like, not a given, but that I should be winning it really easily. Same with [Sochi] Olympics. I was skiing great before that. … This one was a bigger question mark.”

Ligety clinched his gold, the first by an American at these Worlds, when first-run leader Marcel Hirscher skied into silver-medal position. France’s Alexis Pinturault took bronze, .88 back.

“Ted was today in a league of his own,” fourth-place German Felix Neureuther said, according to the Denver Post.

Ligety felt extra satisfaction in overtaking Hirscher, throwing one of his skis after the Austrian crossed the finish line and sharing in the crowd’s raucous celebration. Hirscher, just 25, may be on his way to a fourth straight World Cup overall title this season, never before done by a man.

“Who knows what’ll happen the next couple of years, but he’s definitely on his way to becoming one of the greatest of all time, if not already kind of is,” Ligety said. “It adds sweetness to it when I can nab him.”

Ligety is decorated in his own right. The Park City, Utah, native captured his seventh Worlds medal overall, breaking a tie with Lindsey Vonn for most among Americans.

He’s a two-time Olympic champion with more global championship titles than any other American. Ligety is the greatest U.S. racer on the biggest stage.

Ligety’s next mountain to climb is greater than .24 of a second and four skiers. He has three World Cup giant slaloms to go this season to make up 138 points on Hirscher and take a third straight season title in the event.

“Getting my butt handed to me often times by this guy over here was definitely not something that’s super enjoyable,” Ligety said in a press conference, with Hirscher holding a bottle of water to his right.

Each race winner receives 100 points in the World Cup, with 80 for second, 60 for third and on down the line. That means Hirscher controls his own destiny, but the Austrian might not be able to afford scoring zero in one of those three races. Not if Ligety skis like he did Friday afternoon.

“My run was good,” Hirscher said, according to the Associated Press. “Ted’s run was outstanding.”

The World Championships continue with the women’s slalom, featuring defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin, on Saturday.

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Katie Ledecky entered in five events at USA Swimming Nationals

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Katie Ledecky is signed up for five races at the USA Swimming National Championships (Summer Champions Series) next week.

The four-time Rio Olympic champion is entered in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles in Indianapolis. Full entry lists are here.

The top two per individual event qualify for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Ledecky is slated to race four of five days in Indy, starting with a Tuesday double of the 100m and 800m frees. A full broadcast schedule is here.

At last year’s Olympic Trials, Ledecky raced the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, when there was no 1500m free on the Olympic program.

The women’s 1500m free will debut at Tokyo 2020, but it has been on the world championships program since 2001.

At this same meet in the last Olympic cycle in 2013, Ledecky contested the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, winning the three latter races and finishing second to Missy Franklin in the 200m free. Franklin will miss nationals next week as she continues to return from January shoulder surgeries.

Ledecky goes into this year’s nationals ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and No. 5 in the U.S. in the 100m free.

Ledecky showed marked improvement in the 100m free in the last four years. In Rio, she had the second-fastest split on the American 4x100m free relay team that took silver.

Ledecky is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. this year in the 400m individual medley but chose not to race it this summer.

Other headliners for nationals:

  • Ryan Murphy, Olympic 100m and 200m backstroke champion, is entered in all three backstrokes (50m, 100m and 200m) and the 100m freestyle, where he has an outside chance of earning a 4x100m relay berth.
  • Chase Kalisz, Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, is the top seed in the 200m IM and 400m IM and the No. 2 seed in the 200m butterfly.
  • Simone Manuel, four-time Rio medalist, is the top seed in the 50m and 100m frees and the No. 5 seed in the 200m free.
  • Lilly King, Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, is favored to make the team in the 50m, 100m and 200m breasts. She is also entered in the 200m IM.
  • The men’s 50m free is loaded with Olympic champions Anthony ErvinNathan AdrianCullen Jones and Caeleb Dressel as the top four seeds.

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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor to stand trial on sex assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered a longtime doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting six young gymnasts who said he molested them while they were seeking treatment for various injuries.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. made his decision after hearing testimony from the alleged victims over two days and watching a campus police interview of Dr. Larry Nassar.

It is one of four Michigan criminal cases against Nassar following reports last year in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse, sometimes when their parents were in the exam room at Michigan State.

“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told the judge. “Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”

Nassar didn’t testify nor did his lawyers offer an argument against sending the case to trial. The legal threshold in Michigan is probable cause, a low standard at the initial stages of a criminal case.

The final evidence Friday was a video of Nassar’s 40-minute interview last August with a Michigan State police detective, who was investigating a complaint from a former gymnast, now in her 30s. He was not under arrest and spoke voluntarily.

Nassar denied any inappropriate contact and said he got no sexual pleasure from treating gymnasts. He said if he had an erection, as a gymnast claimed, “that’s rather embarrassing.”

The camera was above Nassar’s head. He repeatedly moved his arms and hands as he explained his techniques, using phrases such as “lift and shift” and “tissue tension” to describe treatments for back and hip injuries. He sighed, scratched his forehead and appeared frustrated with the allegations against him.

“I’m trying my best to help the patient. I’m trying to get real-time feedback. I don’t want to hurt someone,” Nassar told Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford.

The judge watched the video and later noted that Nassar had put his fingers in a position that matched the testimony of one of the alleged victims, who said the doctor had penetrated her with his hands in 2000.

“Every victim who testified was unambiguous” about being molested, Poviliatis said. “They were clear and consistent and precise.”

Outside of the criminal cases, Nassar and Michigan State are being sued by dozens of women and girls. Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics also is a defendant in some of the lawsuits.

Nassar will appear in court in Eaton County next Friday on assault charges involving two more gymnasts. He’s separately charged in federal court in Grand Rapids with possessing child pornography.

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