Alpine skiing men’s World Cup season preview

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Marcel Hirscher must wait one more year before another shot at his first Olympic gold, making this season all about chasing more records while others continue to chase him.

The Austrian can capture his sixth straight World Cup overall title, which no man or woman has ever done.

He’s already tied with Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli for the most overall crowns by a man and can match Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell for the non-consecutive, either-gender record of overall titles.

Hirscher, still just 27 years old, begins his campaign at the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday (NBC Sports app, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET; NBCSN, 9:30 p.m. ET). He has won there just once (2014) but made the podium four years running.

Hirscher is still lacking an Olympic title, but he displayed typical dominance last season, making 19 podiums in 28 World Cup starts (both career highs) with eight victories (one shy of his career high).

His World Cup overall title margin of victory — 497 points — was the most in the men’s standings since 2002.

Hirscher racked up wins in slalom, parallel slalom, giant slalom and, for the first time, a super-G. He also narrowly avoided a drone from falling onto his head mid-race.

Hirscher reached 39 career World Cup victories, sixth all-time among men. If he repeats his win total from each of the last two seasons, he will move into solo fourth, trailing legends Ingemar StenmarkHermann Maier and Alberto Tomba.

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But keep this mind — Hirscher trailed in the World Cup overall standings by 107 points on Jan. 23, when leader Aksel Lund Svindal suffered a season-ending crash in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Svindal, a Norwegian who earned a medal of every color at the 2010 Olympics, is taking a cautious approach in returning from damaging his right knee. He will not race Saturday and isn’t yet committing to the season’s first speed races on Thanksgiving weekend.

Hirscher will get a head start on Svindal, but two rivals in technical events could also bring his overall point total down this season.

Ted Ligety, who has won every major giant slalom gold medal since 2011, returns Saturday after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. Ligety, 32, also skied last season after suffering three herniated disks in his back and tearing a hip labrum.

It showed. He failed to finish six straight races and missed the podium in 11 straight after winning and finishing second in his first two starts.

At his best, Ligety was superior to Hirscher in giant slaloms. The American could take a bite out of Hirscher’s points with a resurgence. In February, Ligety will try to become the first male skier to win four world championships titles in the same event.

Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen was the world’s best slalom skier last season, a title held by Hirscher the previous three years.

At 22, Kristoffersen may still be on the rise as a technical skier. Hirscher has branched out to race more super-Gs and super combineds the last few years, leaving less time to focus on his trademark technical events of giant slalom and, especially, slalom.

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Russian skiers stay suspended awaiting Olympic doping cases

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Six Russian cross-country skiers will stay suspended until an IOC panel judges if they were part of a state-backed doping conspiracy at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says the Olympic commission – chaired by International Olympic Committee member Denis Oswald – should deliver rulings “during the summer period.”

The court says the skiers will stay provisionally suspended until at least Oct. 31. They include Alexander Legkov, the Olympic 50-kilometer freestyle champion, and Maxim Vylegzhanin, a three-time silver medalist at Sochi.

The skiers appealed against interim bans imposed by the International Ski Federation in December after they were implicated by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

CAS hearings this month did not examine detailed doping allegations against Legkov, Vylegzhanin, Alexey Petukhov, Evgenia Shapovalova, Evgeniy Belov and Julia Ivanova.

Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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