Ted Ligety blasts field, fog for 21st World Cup win in St. Moritz giant slalom

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American Ted Ligety used the final race before the Olympics to make a statement, dominating the field en route to his third World Cup giant slalom victory of the season on Sunday in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Ligety, the reigning World Cup and world champion in the discipline, left little drama as to the outcome of the race with a perfect first run and went on to navigate the thick fog in Run 2 for a 1.51-second victory over Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Alexis Pinturault of France.

The victory was the 21st in Ligety’s career and 20th in the giant slalom, which ranks third all-time in World Cup history. Only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark (46) and Switzerland’s Michael von Grueningen (23) have won more.

“It was nice to get in another good race and confirm where I’m at in GS and not just having training,” Ligety said. “Hopefully I’ll carry that confidence over into the next couple of weeks.”

Bode Miller, Ligety’s U.S. Olympic teammate, hit a rut and crashed out of the race midway through the first run. Tim Jitloff was the only other American to make the flip, and finished 17th.

“There were already big holes in some places when I went down and you can’t see where they are and the coaches can’t tell you where they are,” Miller told the Associated Press. “The guys making it down were skiing very conservatively, trying not to crash and not to make mistakes. Ted is the only one really who skied normally.”

Ligety couldn’t have picked a better time for a statement performance.

Earlier this season, it appeared Ligety would once again dominate the giant slalom as he has the last two seasons. He won the first two races in Soelden and Beaver Creek, extending his World Cup GS winning streak to four.

But in December, he skied out of the giant slalom in Val d’Isere, a course he was quite critical of afterward, and before scoring a third-place finish in Alta Badia. Earlier this month in Adelboden, he caught a bump during the second run which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing him off the course.

Those struggles dropped Ligety to third place in the World Cup giant slalom standings, 120 points behind Hirscher and 25 behind Pinturault with only three races left on the season. They also called into question Ligety’s status as the Olympic gold medal favorite in the event.

It took just one run for Ligety to remind everyone that he is, indeed, still the man.

Despite a light falling snow, more of the fog that forced the cancellation of Saturday’s downhill, and low light, Ligety carved perfect turns throughout his first trip down the piste, insuring that it got late early out there, to paraphrase the great Yogi Berra.

“Generally, the way I ski is a little bit rounder than everybody else, trying to make smoother, cleaner turns and not worry about the distance so much,” Ligety said of his attack plan. “I think when it is like this and so hacked up that plays well for me because I kind of avoid some of those bigger holes.”

The competition could only shake their heads and offer a tip of the cap to Ligety after he left Pinturault 1.28 seconds behind and Hirscher 1.43 seconds back. Fritz Dopfer of Germany was 1.87 back in fourth while Matts Olsson of Sweden and Philipp Schoerghofer of Austria shared fifth place, 1.91 behind. Everybody else was more than two seconds behind going into the second run.

After the first run, Hirscher conceded that the race “was all but over,” to AP.

But the deteriorating conditions effectively kept every skier in contention, despite the huge time gap. Softening snow left tricky ruts everywhere and the fog went from sporadically thick to shrouding the course like a scene out of a horror movie.

In the second run, Ligety increased his lead over Hirscher to 1.91 seconds at the first interval, but gradually lost some of that advantage down the slope. Nevertheless, his margin was still huge.

“That was a bumpy ride,” Ligety said afterward. “It’s so tough when you can’t see anything. It makes it that much more tiring that was a hack-fast battle for sure. I’m happy I was able to make it to the finish line let alone win.”

With his victory, Ligety picked up 20 points on Hirscher in the giant slalom standings but remains in third place. Hirscher leads with 460 points, followed by Pinturault with 365 and Ligety with 360. Hirscher regained the lead in the World Cup overall standings as Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal skied out in the second run. Hirscher now leads Svindal, 975-897.

The men’s giant slalom in Sochi is scheduled for February 19. Following the Games, there will be giant slalom World Cup races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.

St. Moritz Men’s Giant Slalom

1. Ted Ligety (USA) 2:38.75

2. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:40.26

3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:40.44

4. Matts Olsson (SWE) 2:41.43

5. Philipp Schoerghofer (AUT) 2:41.55

6. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:41.99

7. Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) 2:42.03

8. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 2:42.11

9. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:42.58

10. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:42.71

17. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:43.84

DNF. Bode Miller (USA)

Mikaela Shiffrin tumbles to 7th in final World Cup slalom before Olympics

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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