Marcel Hirscher wins Levi World Cup slalom, reindeer; Ted Ligety 11th (video)

Marcel Hirscher
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There was no offseason change atop the slalom hierarchy.

Marcel Hirscher cruised to victory in the first slalom of the World Cup season one day after Mikaela Shiffrin took the women’s race in Levi, Finland.

The reigning two-time World Cup overall champion posted a two-run time of 1 minute, 45.42 seconds to beat fellow Austrian Mario Matt by .62 of a second. Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen came in third.

Hirscher, 24, received a reindeer as a prize, just as Shiffrin did Saturday. Shiffrin named hers, “Rudolph.” Hirscher named his, “Ferdinand,” after his father.

American Ted Ligety, who won three golds at the World Championships in February, improved from 24th after the first of two runs to finish 11th.

“I wouldn’t say that either run was all that impressive, but second run I skied a little bit more like I should be skiing from run to run,” Ligety said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “But it’s still far from what I need to be doing in slalom. I need to be scoring in the top five to top three. I need to up it if this is going to be a meaningful route to getting me enough points (to win the overall World Cup title). I guess it’s not a horrible day to start out the slalom season.”

Levi’s a drag race. It’s the easiest course on the World Cup by far so the margins are super tight and the little mistakes cost you a ton of time. It makes it difficult to be one of the fastest guys because you really pay when you are a little bit off.

The World Cup season continues with speed races at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thanksgiving weekend. The next slalom is in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 15.

Hirscher, who was second in Levi last year, has made six straight World Cup podiums dating to last season, when he made every slalom podium and won the World Championship.

Ligety, who emphasized slalom work in the offseason, posted his best World Cup slalom finish since an 11th in Adelboden, Switzerland, in January.

Levi World Cup Slalom
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:45.42
2. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:46.04
3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) 1:46.35
4. Ivica Kostelic (CRO) 1:46.64
5. Mattias Hargin (SWE) 1:46.71
6. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:47.15
7. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:47.17
8. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 1:47.21
9. Sebastian-Foss Solevaag (NOR) 1:47.24
10. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:47.36
11. Ted Ligety (USA) 1:47.38

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”