Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

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Bode Miller has been saying all season that he is as fit as he has been in over a decade.

He now has another marquee result to reinforce it.

The 36-year-old American star overcame adverse skiing conditions and a shortened course to post his second Top 5 finish in a World Cup downhill this season on Saturday in Wengen, Switzerland.

Dangerously high winds forced race officials to lower the start of the race below the Hundshopf jump at the Minschkante, which cut over a full minute off the course. Soft snow skied over during Friday’s super-combined froze overnight, leaving the lower portion of the course particularly rutty.

The conditions weren’t prohibitive enough to faze Miller, who led early before sliding back to fifth behind Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng, Austria’s Hannes Reichelt, Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal and Austria’s Max Franz. Miller’s effort equaled his season best in a downhill as he also finished fifth at Val Gardena, Italy on Dec. 21. Miller’s best finish was runner-up to Ted Ligety in giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Dec. 8.

“He pushed hard, took a lot of risk, and made up time,” U.S. coach Sasha Rearick said. “With those risks he made a couple of little mistakes, but he was pushing hard and letting the skis go, which is great to see Bode doing again.”

Miller was the highlight of a strong showing overall for the Americans.

Rising speed racer Jared Goldberg continued to make a strong case for Olympic selection. After finishing 20th in Friday’s super-combined, he made a huge jump in the standings, starting with Bib 40 and finishing 12th, the best finish of his career.

“I wasn’t trying to think about it too much coming in, because this year has been just a good learning year for me being my first full year on the World Cup,” Goldberg said of the impending Olympic team nominations. “But I feel really good. It was kind of a confidence builder yesterday to do well in the combined and I’ve been looking toward the downhill. Training runs have been going really well and I knew that if I really sent in there I could do well.”

Two-time Olympian Marco Sullivan finished 16th, equaling his finish of the season. Travis Ganong crossed in 28th.

“I am extremely proud of two other guys, Goldberg and Marco Sullivan,” Rearick said. “Certainly the guys in the early draw had a big advantage today. Jared Goldberg and Marco Sullivan put the hammer down with those conditions top to bottom and did a great, great job. I’m really proud of those guys, Marco with his experience, and Jared being a young guy taking some chances and really pushing it.”

In the next to last downhill race before Olympic teams are selected worldwide — the U.S. will announce it’s roster on Jan. 26 — focus was split between winning the 84th edition of the Lauberhorn classic but with an eye toward Sochi.

For Kueng, the biggest performance of his career couldn’t have come at a better time. The 30-year-old, who won his first career World Cup race on Dec. 7 in the super-G at Beaver Creek, Colo., became Switzerland’s fourth winner of this race in six years.

“It’s incredible,” Kueng told the Associated Press. “It’s very special for me. I think it’s the best place to win a race.”

The victory could bode well for Kueng if judging by past performances. The last Swiss winner in Wengen, Beat Feuz in 2012, went on to triumph at the Olympic test event on the Rosa Khutor slope in Sochi a few weeks later.

“Hats off to Kueng, he’s been skiing amazing this season,” Sullivan told AP. “It’s really not a surprise to the racers.”

For Team Austria, traditionally the powerhouses of Alpine skiing, frustration is mounting on the eve of the Games. They have not seen the top of the podium in a World Cup men’s downhill in 13 months, an eternity for the hyper-competitive squad.

Reichelt had the best opportunity to put an end to that drought, but for the third time this season he played the role of bridesmaid, a runner-up finish by .06 seconds that prompted his coach to rip off his helmet and slam it to the snow.

Compounding those feelings was the fact that Reichelt had knocked on the door of victory in this race before, finishing runner-up to Feuz in 2012 and third behind Italy’s Christof Innerhofer last season, only to have access denied.

“(Patrick) was very consistent this season,” Reichelt told AP. “It was just time until he got the victory.”

Reichelt did, however, bump Svindal down a spot to third place by just one-hundredth of a second. The hulking Norwegian, whose 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame suits the long, gliding sections of the shortened course, entered the race as the favorite, and added to his World Cup overall and downhill standings leads. But he fell short of ending a long Wengen losing streak for his country. The last Norwegian winner of this race was Lasse Kjus in 1999.

Canada’s Erik Guay, a Sochi medal favorite skiing as well as he ever has, also faltered on this course. After winning Thursday’s training run, Guay caught a bad bump entering one of the high-speed turns and skied off course. No Canadian has won this race since Ken Read, a two-time Olympian of “Crazy Cowboys” fame, in 1980.

Alexander Glebov provided a glimpse of what Russian fans can expect from their best skier in Sochi. The 30-year-old, a Slovenian by birth, continued his season-long improvement and finished 51st.

Racing will conclude in Wengen on Sunday with the men’s slalom.

Wengen Men’s Downhill

1. Patrick Kueng (SUI) 1:32.66

2. Hannes Reichelt (AUT) 1:32.72

3. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) 1:32.73

4. Max Franz (AUT) 1:32.90

5. Bode Miller (USA) 1:33.01

6. Matthias Mayer (AUT) 1:33.10

7. Peter Fill (ITA) 1:33.20

8. Romed Bauman (AUT) 1:33.26

9. Johan Clarey (FRA) 1:33.28

T10. Beat Feuz (SUI) 1:33.40

T10. Didier Defago (SUI) 1:33.40

12. Jared Goldberg (USA) 1:33.43

16. Marco Sullivan (USA) 1:33.65

28. Travis Ganong (USA) 1:34.10

T37. Erik Fisher (USA) 1:34.34

48. Steve Nyman (USA) 1:34.79

56. Bryce Bennett (USA) 1:35.00

Ted Ligety’s super-combined win key for Sochi Olympic medal hopes

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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