Tina Maze

Tina Maze ends drought in Cortina d’Ampezzo

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At last, Tina Maze returned to a familiar position — the top of the podium — two weeks before the Sochi Olympics.

The Slovenian skiing and singing sensation won a World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday, her long-awaited first victory of the season after unprecedented domination last year.

“There were a lot of emotions,” Maze said, according to The Associated Press. “It was a really long time. … When I find the right feeling like I found it today I can ski fast.”

Maze prevailed in 1 minute, 37.79 seconds in the Italian Dolomites, beating Swiss Marianne Kaufman-Abderhalden by .27. Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather was third, followed by German World Cup overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch in fourth.

The top Americans were Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso in fifth and seventh, their second straight day in the top 10 as they continue to improve from a slow start to the season.

“This week has been a perfect preparation for the Olympics,” Mancuso said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I couldn’t be in a better place right now, and I am excited I was able to come out of that valley and be ready to fight for medals.”

But the day belonged to Maze, a broken record phrase last season.

How dominant was Maze in 2012-13? Here are some stats:

*Led the overall standings from wire to wire over 35 races.
*Finished first or second in all five race disciplines.
*Made the podium a record 24 times in one season.
*Shattered the record for most points in a season with 2,414 (Hermann Maier had 2,000).
*Had more than twice as many points as second place (Hoefl-Riesch).
*Shattered the record for margin of victory with 1,313 (Maier had 743).

All of which made it shocking it took Maze until the 22nd race for her maiden win of the follow-up season. She didn’t free fall, but she was clearly not in form the first couple months, making three podiums over the first 12 races.

“It’s always difficult after that kind of season [in 2012-13],” Maze told Reuters recently. “I know I’m in the best shape of my career even if I’m not showing it.

Two weeks ago, Maze announced she split with Italian coach Walter Ronconi and replaced him with Swiss Mauro Pini. Ronconi was not the coach responsible for Maze’s rise to Alpine’s zenith. He had replaced Livio Magoni, who left after last season for a spot with the Italian women’s team.

Maze’s boyfriend, Andrea Massi, still oversees Maze and is labeled as the head coach or team manager in various reports.

Now, Maze can take confidence into not only the remaining World Cup races (beginning with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday) but also Sochi.

Lindsey Vonn‘s absence leaves an opening for a new woman to become an Olympic star. Maze, 30, will be going to her fourth Games, already owning silver medals from the 2010 Olympic super-G and giant slalom.

She has the talent to win medals in all five Olympic races and put pressure on Mikaela Shiffrin in slalom, though that is her weakest event.

Cortina d’Ampezzo Downhill
1. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:37.79
2. Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:38.06
3. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:38.17
4. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:38.33
5. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:38.35
5. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:38.35
7. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:38.42
8. Dominique Gisin (SUI) 1:38.46
9. Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT) 1:38.52
10. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:38.58

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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