Austria’s Marcel Hirscher wins Adelboden slalom, takes World Cup points lead

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With the clock ticking down to the start of the Olympics, every race is becomes more critical for fine-tuning things before heading to Sochi.

One skier who seems to be well dialed in is Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who fought through the soft snow and rapidly deteriorating course conditions to win the World Cup slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland.

Hirscher, the two-time defending World Cup overall champion, lost some most of his first-run advantage at the top of the second run but was masterful carving through the gates on the steep final pitch to finish in front of Sweden’s Andre Myhrer, by 0.29 seconds. The runner-up effort was the best of the season for Myhrer and the 16th slalom podium of his career.

“It is really tough,” Hirscher said. “But I am not sure which was tougher, to ski it or prepare the course with weather at 10-plus degrees (Celsius). But it’s kind of a special race and it’s working pretty well for me.”

Teenager Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was third, 0.66 behind Hirscher. It matched the best finish of his young career, another third-place performance in Levi, Finland on Nov. 17, and came one day after he almost collided with a television production worker who strayed on the course during Saturday’s giant slalom.

“I skied over the back of his skis,” Kristoffersen told AP. “I was definitely touching him a little bit there. (It) happens. We’re only humans.”

The victory earned Hirscher his 25th career podium placement in the discipline, making him the 12th skier in history to score as many Top 3 finishes. At 24 years and 316 days old, he is also the third youngest ever to accomplish the feat behind Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden (21 years, 270 days) and Gustav Thoeni of Italy (23 years, 336 days).

With 100 race points for victory, Hirscher now leads Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by 23 points in the overall standings. Svindal skips slalom races.

American David Chodounsky had a strong showing, toughing out the second run to finish eighth, the second-best slalom result of his career behind Dec. 15’s seventh-place showing in Val d’Isere, France. With just two more slalom races before the Games, the 29-year-old is pleased with his progression.

“It’s a really tough sport, especially on days like today,” Chodounsky said. “It was fast and it’s the steepest pitch on the tour but for me it was solid. This year, the snow is not great and it’s very warm. The course gets rutty. In the second run it starts to get dark as the sun goes down. It’s got all sorts of tricks to throw at you. I had a couple of mistakes but if I can clean that up, it will be really good. I am happy with where I am.”

Adelboden wasn’t as kind to American stars Ted Ligety and Bode Miller.

Ligety, who caught an unlucky bump and straddled a gate during the second run of giant slalom on Saturday, skied off course again in the second run of slalom. Miller, a winner on this course in slalom in 2002, skied out in Saturday’s first run of giant slalom and then lost his race line and speed at the top of the final pitch in this race and finished 43rd, not good enough to make the Top 30 and earn a second run.

Fellow American teammates Colby Granstrom and Nolan Kasper finished 39th and 44th respectively, and did not qualify for a second run.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who won the Bormio slalom last Monday and was a surprise and historic winner in Saturday’s giant slalom, had his dream bid for an unprecedented technical sweep in Adelboden dashed when he straddled a gate and skied off course late in the second run. No German man has won back-to-back World Cup slalom races since Armin Bittner in 1988-89. Neureuther’s father, Christian, also won consecutive slaloms in January 1973 and January 1974.

Adelboden Men’s Slalom

1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:49.75

2. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:50.04

3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) 1:50.41

4. Mattias Hargin (SWE) 1:50.55

5. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:50.75

6. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:50.97

7. Markus Larsson (SWE) 1:51.06

8. David Chodounsky (USA) 1:51.45

9. Stefano Gross (ITA) 1:51.49

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 1:51.59

DNF. Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ. Bode Miller (USA)

DNQ. Nolan Kasper (USA)

DNQ. Colby Granstrom (USA)

Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon gets 1st World Cup victory in Altenmarkt super-combined

Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics