The search for a new U.S. gymnastics captain

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The eight year de facto U.S. gymnastics team captain, Alicia Sacramone, announced her retirement from the sport late last month, and so this post started as a tear-stained, high school diary entry. But that didn’t seem totally appropriate. Instead I’ve decided to be positive, kind of, and pick who might be the next Alicia. Unfortunately Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, who took charge of the role while Alicia was out with an Achilles injury, isn’t in the picture for 2013 and hasn’t announced any future intentions to continue in the sport. So we have cross her off for now. Who’s next?

1. Jordyn Wieber – Wieber seems like the obvious choice. She’s mentally tough and physically dependable. She showed strength of character by putting her personal disappointment aside and coming through big time to help her team clench gold in the Olympic team final. Sounds like leadership material to me. She’ll be one of the most experienced, and most decorated seniors going into the 2013 season.

2. Elizabeth Price – Ebee was phenomenal at Olympic Trials. Still a little green, she was just short of making the team and settled for alternate. Since then she’s been on fire winning two world cup all-around titles and gaining valuable international experience. Ebee has the respect of the other elite gymnasts and in time could grow into a team leader with her positive outlook and powerful presence.

3. Mckalya Maroney – Maroney recently revealed she’s, “not done” and that she’d like to compete at the 2013 national championships and make the world team. She’s admitted that it’s a long shot due to her 2012 surgery following a tour related injury, but that doesn’t mean she can’t contribute leadership. Maroney only competed one event for team USA in London, but she was by far the biggest cheerleader for the entire team on the sidelines. Plus, she has that natural leadership swagger.

4. Rebecca Bross – No word yet from Bross on retirement (which is a good thing). Touted as the future of USA gymnastics in 2009, Bross had a meltdown at the U.S. Trials and failed to the make the team as an event specialist. Yet, she’s the most decorated world championship gymnast of the last four years (six world medals) and having seen both great success and great disappointment she has the right perspective that makes a great leader. Bross has been there and could be trusted to help lift a team up. She gets my vote.

Who gets yours?

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.