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

Allyson Felix withdraws from Prefontaine Classic

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Allyson Felix withdrew on the eve of the Prefontaine Classic and will miss Saturday’s anticipated 400m showdown with Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world champion Phyllis Francis.

No reason was given by the meet director at a Friday press conference, according to media in Eugene, Ore.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist and 16-time world outdoor championships medalist, was scheduled to race on the top international level for the first time since Aug. 20. She has raced in smaller meets this season, most recently last Friday.

This is the one year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships, making the Diamond League, and the Pre Classic in particular, marquee meets.

“In the 19 years that I’ve been running track, I’ve never taken a break,” the 32-year-old Felix said in an Instagram video Thursday after an intense training session but before her name was taken off Saturday’s start list. “Never had a year where I took it easy. … Now that this is kind of a year without a championship, I’ve had to force myself to have a different approach because my goal is 2020. … To be able to be at my best when it counts, I think that means not having as intense of a year as I usually do. Being a competitor and an athlete, that’s something that I struggle with. … This year, that’s what I’m really trying to force myself to do is have quality races, quality over quantity. … So, if you guys don’t see me at as many of the races as I usually run, don’t worry, I’m fine, I’m just challenging myself to be smarter.”

Felix will miss the Pre Classic for the second time in the last nine years. She was absent in 2016 with an ankle injury.

The USATF Outdoor Championships are in one month.

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Will Japan’s Olympic legend return for Tokyo 2020?

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NEW YORK — The Tokyo Olympics are in 790 days. Will Japan’s most dominant Olympian compete?

“She hasn’t decided yet,” a translator said beside wrestler Kaori Icho, who stood in street clothes, some given to her by an American host family, matside at the annual Beat the Streets meet on the edge of the East River on Manhattan last week.

Icho, who turns 34 on June 13, is the only woman to earn an individual gold medal at four Olympics. She has not wrestled in competition since capturing that fourth title in Rio. She has not announced retirement, either.

Icho once held a 13-year winning streak on the mat and owns 10 world championships.

While in New York, Icho did a high school clinic in Brooklyn (one wonders if the students knew they were learning from the greatest of all time), met Olympic and world champion Kyle Snyder (a particular highlight of this trip) and trained with Helen Maroulis before attending the meet as a spectator. In Rio, Maroulis became the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling title.

Maroulis is familiar with Icho. In 2012, they trained together and drove to a Drake concert in Colorado. They met again in 2014. But last week was different. The most intense training they’ve shared. Their first full practice, said Maroulis, recently cleared from a January concussion.

“I think she’s coming back,” Maroulis said with confidence. Here’s why: “[Icho] busted out the video camera,” Maroulis went on. “Like, hey, can I record practice?

“She feels good. She’s still got it. She’s smaller than she was, obviously, right at the Olympics. She’s amazing. There’s so much to learn from her.”

Icho said through the translator that if she does come back, she would start in the next year rather than leaving it a few months before the Tokyo Games.

She is already the oldest woman to win Olympic wrestling gold (women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Icho’s first Games). By 2020, she will be older than any men’s wrestling champion since Bulgarian Valentin Yordanov in 1996.

How much a home Olympics influences Icho’s decision is something that she didn’t share. Icho said she might go for a fifth Olympics even if the 2020 Games were not in Japan.

“It’s hard to say,” said Ken Marantz, who has covered sports in Japan for three decades. “She’s kind of a quiet person.”

United World Wrestling shadowed Icho and the more-famous Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida before the Rio Olympics as both trained to go for their fourth gold medals. The international federation made a 20-minute documentary titled, “The Celebrity and the Samurai.”

Yoshida was the celebrity, her face a constant on TV, Icho the samurai, a zen-like warrior. Yoshida would lose in her Rio Olympic final to Maroulis, one day after Icho won her weight class.

“Kaori, she was always more private and less approachable, not in a bad way,” said William May, who has written about international wrestling for 30 years, including for Kyodo News in Tokyo. “She’s always been kind of a mystery to the Japanese.”

Like when she lived in Canada with her sister for months after the 2008 Olympics, skipping a world championships during her peak years.

“It’s not that I don’t like being on TV, but I don’t like my practice time being taken away or to lose time for myself,” Icho said in the 2016 United World Wrestling film.

Something else to consider is that Japan is the world power in women’s wrestling. It might be more difficult for Icho to earn Japan’s one available Olympic spot in the 58kg division than run through the Olympic bracket of the best from the rest of the world.

Japanese women took gold at the 2017 World Championships in both the 55kg and 60kg divisions. Those two women, both several years younger than Icho, must choose to go for the Olympics in the 53kg, 58kg or 63kg divisions.

Maroulis, who now competes at 58kg, wants to face Icho at the Olympics in what she called “a dream” matchup. The American’s dominance the last three years rivals Icho’s heyday — world titles in 2015 and 2017 without surrendering a point, winning the latter title with a torn thumb ligament, and dethroning Yoshida in Rio in between, all three golds at different weights while compiling a 78-1 record before the concussion.

Icho described her recent practice with Maroulis as “very hard.”

“She doesn’t quit,” Icho said through the translator. “She just keeps coming.”

Icho re-emerged in Japanese headlines in recent months as a tragic figure. A reported history of verbal harassment and threats from a Japanese Wrestling Federation director who resigned.

The biggest Japanese athlete story at the Tokyo Games would be if two-way baseball star Shohei Ohtani suited up, Marantz said. But Ohtani is on a Los Angeles Angels contract until 2024, which would keep him out of the Games unless MLB reverses its stance and releases players for the Olympics.

After that, perhaps Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic all-around champion gymnast expected to compete in fewer events in the last years of his career. (Icho said that if she could pick anybody to light the Olympic cauldron, not including wrestlers, it would be Uchimura.)

Or the Japanese men’s 4x100m relay team that took silver in Rio and bronze at the 2017 Worlds. Or a rising group of table tennis players challenging the rival Chinese.

Swimming, gymnastics and judo are more popular sports in Japan than wrestling, Marantz said. But the nation would be pulling for Icho’s pursuit of individual gold in five Olympics, something no man or woman from any nation in any sport has done.

“Icho does not care one bit for records,” Tim Foley, who followed Icho for the 2016 film and escorted her in New York, said before the Rio Games. 

“Of course [Icho] wants to win, but it’s less important than wrestling a perfect match,” May said. That’s one thing she hasn’t done.

“I think she likes the challenge,” Marantz said. “Any tournaments that I went to that she won, which was all the ones she was in, she never, ever said she wrestled good.”

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