Felix Neureuther historic in Adelboden giant slalom win as Ted Ligety, Bode Miller DNF

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There is a new force to be reckoned with in the men’s giant slalom

And it is coming from an unlikely source.

With a spectacular second run, German slalom specialist Felix Neureuther made a bit of history while overtaking the technically-proficient French as well as World Cup frontrunners Ted Ligety of the U.S. and Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win the giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland on Saturday.

Neureuther became the first German skier ever to win a race on this course and, with the start of the Olympics just over three weeks away, the first German skier to win a World Cup giant slalom race since Max Rieger on March 2, 1973.

Rieger competed in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Games for West Germany.

“This is a historic moment I am part of and it’s just an awesome feeling,” Neureuther, who won the slalom in Bormio on Monday, said after the race. “I tried to ski smart in the right places and push hard where I needed to. I never thought I would win in giant slalom because I was always better in slalom. But I have been thinking about it since last year, and to come on top with so many great GS skiers like Ted, Marcel, Alexis, is amazing.”

Neureuther hails from a strong pedigree. His father, Christian, was a three-time Olympian between 1972 and 1980 for West Germany. His mother, Rosi Mittermaier, competed in three Olympics for West Germany, winning gold in downhill and slalom and silver in the giant slalom at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. Neureuther’s aunts, Evi  (1976 and 1980) and Heidi (1964) Mittermaier, were also Winter Olympic Alpine skiers.

In winning his seventh World Cup race, Neureuther not only eclipsed his father’s career victory total, he also served notice that he should not be discounted as a medal contender in a second event come Sochi.

The giant slalom has been dominated in recent years by Hirscher and Ligety, who combined to win the four previous races this season but each failed to finish in the top two for the first time in two years.

Neureuther set down a pristine second run, absolutely crushing the bottom half of the course to take a 1.25 second lead with six skiers to follow.

Hirscher was one of those followers, and after a fast, flowing, aggressive start to his second run, he lost most of his advantage in the middle sections and finished third, .19 seconds behind Neureuther. Hirscher retained his lead in the World Cup giant slalom standings with 380 points

After Hirscher came Ligety, the 2013 winner in Adelboden and the reigning world champion. The American looked good out of the gate, but as he approached the midway point of his run, he caught a bump which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing Ligety off the course.

“The snow is just really weird. It kind of pops you out in places and then is really pealy and hard to get anything established in other places,” Ligety, who fell 120 points behind Hirscher in the World Cup giant slalom standings, told AP.

The French followed but their 1-2 placers from the first run didn’t pack the same punch. Alexis Pinturault lost time when he got caught on his inside ski during the rolling turns of the middle section of the course, and finished fourth. And where leader Thomas Fanara was clean in the first run, he made mistakes in the second, and with every turn saw his first run advantage whittled away until he had slipped into second, .10 seconds behind Neureuther.

For Fanara and the other favorites, Adelboden proved to be a tale of two runs.

Having a low bib number proved to be advantageous in the first run as Fanara, wearing bib No. 1, capitalized on the best snow conditions and posted a time which would hold as fastest. Ligety, starting third, finished .89 seconds behind. Hirscher, starting fourth, was one-hundredth behind Ligety. Pinturault, who wore Bib 6, posted the second-fastest time behind his teammate. Neureuther started fifth and finished the first run in seventh place.

“Sure, it was an advantage to go before,” Fanara told AP. “After that, I think I had a complete run.”

Sunny and warm conditions contributed to the deterioration of the course. American Bode Miller, who won this race in 2002, lost his balance in the soft snow midway through his run and skied out.

Further adding to the craziness of the first run was a near collision between Norway’s Henrik Kristofferson and a course worker who strayed onto the piste during his run. Kristoffersen appealed and was given a second start, but by then the course conditions were so carved that he placed 21st in excess of three seconds off Fanara’s early pace. He wound up placing 13th.

Aside from Ligety, two other Americans made the second run. Tim Jitloff wound up finishing 24th on his 29th birthday, while Robby Kelley came in 28th.

Racing will continue in Adelboden on Sunday with a men’s slalom.

Adelboden Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Felix Neureuther (GER) 2:34.60

2. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:34.70

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:34.79

4. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:34.92

5. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:35.84

6. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 2:35.96

7. Davide Simoncelli (ITA) 2:36.00

8. Mathieu Faivre (FRA) 2:36.02

9. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:36.32

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 2:36.38

24. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:37.00

28. Robby Kelley (USA) 2:39.35

DNF Ted Ligety (USA)

DNF Bode Miller (USA)

 Bode Miller says age (36), knee are liabilities

Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

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