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Five men to watch at World Alpine Skiing Championships

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The time is ripe for new men to establish themselves as Olympic medal contenders at the World Alpine Skiing Championships.

The three most successful active Americans on the World Cup tour are not racing in St. Moritz the next two weeks — Bode Miller (commentating for NBC Sports, but may come back next season), Ted Ligety (back surgery) and Steven Nyman (knee injury).

Neither is Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, the greatest active speed racer, due to knee surgery.

Who will star in their absences?

The list has to start with Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the five-time reigning World Cup overall champion who is expected to race five of six events (including the team event) in St. Moritz.

Hirscher leads a talented field of 20-somethings who next year will be looking to unseat the aforementioned old guard for their first Olympic gold medals. The new crop is mostly from Europe — Europeans have won 26 of 27 World Cup races this season.

The U.S. team — with neither Miller nor Ligety for the first time since 1997 — has no racers in the top five of the World Cup standings in any discipline. The last time the U.S. men earned no medals at worlds was 2007, which could be a stat heard often over the next two weeks in St. Moritz.

Here’s the schedule (all ET):

Wednesday, Feb. 8 — Super-G — 6 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Saturday, Feb. 11 — Downhill — 6 a.m. (Streaming; NBC, 2:30 p.m.)
Monday, Feb. 13 — Super Combined Downhill — 4 a.m. (Streaming)
Monday, Feb. 13 — Super Combined Slalom — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Friday, Feb. 17 — Giant Slalom Run 1 — 3:45 a.m. (Streaming)
Friday, Feb. 17 — Giant Slalom Run 2 — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Sunday, Feb. 19 — Slalom Run 1 — 3:45 a.m. (Streaming)
Sunday, Feb. 19 — Slalom Run 2 — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)

Full broadcast schedule | Five women to watch

Here are five skiers to watch:

Marcel Hirscher, Austria
Expected events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: Overall standings leader; podiums in 14 of 20 starts
2015 Worlds: Gold in combined; silver in giant slalom; DNF in slalom
2014 Olympics: Silver in slalom; fourth in giant slalom

The Austrian technical-race ace is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season. No other man has won that many, consecutive or not. He already owns world titles in slalom and super combined, but his best shot at gold in St. Moritz appears to be the giant slalom. Hirscher was second to Ted Ligety at the last two worlds, but the American is out the rest of this season due to back surgery.

Hirscher has already proven his excellence on the World Cup and world championships stages. It’s PyeongChang where he must deliver, since he lacks Olympic gold. Hirscher is only 27 years old, but he has cast doubt on going all the way to the 2022 Winter Games.

Alexis Pinturault, France
Expected events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: Tied for second in overall standings; four wins
2015 Worlds: Bronze in giant slalom; fifth in combined; 11th in super-G; DNF in slalom
2014 Olympics: Bronze in giant slalom; DNF in slalom, combined

Pinturault, the son of a Norwegian mother and a Courchevel hotelier, is the most talented all-around skier in the world without an Olympic or world title. The 25-year-old has won nine World Cup races in the last 365 days, more than any other man, including Hirscher. That talent manifests most in the super combined. Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup combined races since 2013.

Henrik Kristoffersen, Norway
Expected events: Giant Slalom, Slalom
2017 World Cup: Tied for second in overall standings; five wins (all slalom)
2015 Worlds: Fourth in slalom; 13th in giant slalom
2014 Olympics: Bronze in slalom; 10th in giant slalom

Norway is known for its speed skiers, but the 22-year-old Kristoffersen is a notable exception. In Sochi, he became the youngest man to earn an Olympic Alpine medal. He missed the medals at the 2015 Worlds but beat out Hirscher for last season’s World Cup slalom title. This season, Kristoffersen has won five of his eight slalom starts. Nicknamed “Wild Child” as a kid due to his energy, Kristoffersen skipped the season’s first slalom because the Norwegian federation wouldn’t let him wear a helmet with a Red Bull logo.

Kjetil Jansrud, Norway
Expected events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: No. 4 in overall standings; four wins
2015 Worlds: Silver in combined; fourth in super-G; 15th in downhill
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; bronze in downhill; fourth in combined; DNF in giant slalom

Jansrud, raised in the 1994 Olympic town of Lillehammer, is from more of the burly Attacking Viking mold we’re used to seeing from the Norwegian contingent. He tore his ACL at the 2013 Worlds and came back to have the best Olympics of any male Alpiner with two medals and a fourth-place finish. In the absence of fellow Olympic super-G champion Aksel Lund Svindal, Jansrud shoulders the majority of Norway’s hopes in the speed races in St. Moritz.

Travis Ganong, USA
Expected events: Downhill, Super-G
2017 World Cup: Downhill win in Garmisch-Partenkirchen ended a 15-month U.S. men’s drought
2015 Worlds: Silver in downhill; DNF in super-G
2014 Olympics: Fifth in downhill; 23rd in super-G

With Miller, Ligety and Nyman out, the U.S. medals hopes pretty much rest on Ganong, the only man on the roster with a World Cup win. The 28-year-old enjoyed a fifth-place finish in his Olympic debut in the Sochi downhill, made his first World Cup podium later that month and won his first World Cup race in December 2014. He followed that up with a surprise 2015 World Championships downhill silver medal. Ganong went more than one year between top-five finishes on the World Cup before winning a downhill on Jan. 27.

MORE: Vonn develops friendship with young skier battling cancer

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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