France’s Alexis Pinturault rallies to win World Cup slalom in Wengen

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It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.

That was certainly the story of the day in Wengen, Switzerland where France’s Alexis Pinturault used a spectacular second run to overtake first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win his first World Cup men’s slalom victory of the season on Sunday.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who was bidding to join his father Christian (1973-74) as a winner of this race, finished second while Hirscher slid into third but maintained his hold on the season standings lead in the discipline.

It was a rough day for the American tech team as rising slalom specialist David Chodounsky had a gate crash down on his skis, causing his tips to cross and him to fall.. He had finished eighth in the last World Cup slalom in Adelboden on Jan 12, and had finishes of 15th in Bormio on Jan. 6 and seventh in Val d’Isere on Dec. 15.

Ted Ligety, who won the super-combined in Wengen on Friday, lost his race line and needed to hike back up the hill to avoid missing a gate and being disqualified. The lost time plummeted him to 35th place, which did not qualify him for a second run. The day’s results saw Ligety overtaken by Pinturault for third place in the World Cup slalom standings.

“There wasn’t much I could do there,” Ligety told the Associated Press. “I got a little stuck on my skis.”

The top American in the race was old-faithful himself, 36-year-old Bode Miller who finished the first run in 21st place, 2.62 seconds behind Hirscher, and placed 26th overall, earning his first World Cup points in the discipline since 2011. His performance also gave the U.S. another quota spot in the discipline for Olympic selection.

There were positives to be taken from that performance as it relates to the super-combined, an event Miller will defend his gold medal in at the Sochi Olympics. The hill got the better of him in Friday’s super-combined slalom run, but difficult gate placement in this race served as an excellent opportunity for Miller to hone his slalom and he got in two solid runs.

With just one World Cup slalom race scheduled before the start of the Olympics, Pinturault could not have picked a better time to breakout of a season-long slump that has seen him crash out of races in Levi and Val d’Isere, get disqualified for straddling a gate in Bormio and then finishing 23rd in Adelboden. Pinturault’s last slalom victory came on Dec. 8, 2012 in Val d’Isere.

“It was especially a reward and satisfaction after a difficult time that I’ve had at the beginning of the season,” Pinturault told AP. “That can happen to anyone. I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could go faster.”

Some mistakes in the first run left him in seventh place, .92 seconds behind Hirscher, who somehow managed to pick up speed where his competitors bled time in deteriorating conditions on the lower portion of the course.

The same course conditions manifested themselves in Run 2, but Pinturault threw down a flawless run, managing to stay on top of his skis with his knees driving forward despite all of the ruts in the soft snow. When the 22-year-old crossed with a .76 second advantage and pumped his fists in the air, it sent a clear message to the remaining skiers: come get me.

Manfred Moelgg of Italy, Fritz Dopfer of Germany, Mario Matt of Austria, Neureuther, and Andre Myhrer of Sweden were unable to usurp the lead from the Frenchman.

That left Hirscher, who was on course to take his 14th career slalom victory, which would have tied an Austrian record. But the 24-year-old made a huge mistake on the last pitch. In taking a too-ambitious approach coming onto the roll, he lost his line and threw away victory within sight of the finish.

“It was a stupid mistake,” Hirscher told AP.

World Cup racing will move to Kitzbuehel, Austria with a super-combined on Friday, the Hahnenkamm classic downhill on Saturday, and a slalom on Sunday.

Wengen Men’s Slalom

1. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 1:42.87

2. Felix Neureuther (GER) 1:43.21

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:43.50

4. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:43.62

5. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:43.63

6. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:43.68

7. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 1:43.71

8. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:43.80

9. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:44.00

10. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:44.01

26. Bode Miller (USA) 1:45.85

DNQ Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ Will Brandenburg (USA)

DNF David Chodounsky (USA)

DNF Tim Kelly (USA)

Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
Getty
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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