Ted Ligety

Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals preview

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Both overall titles are undecided going into the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, this week. Americans, too, have achievements at stake in the final races of the Alpine skiing season.

The men’s overall crystal globe — the trophies given to overall and individual discipline winners — will come down to two-time reigning champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.

Hirscher goes into the final four races with a slim four-point lead. A race winner earns 100 points, followed by 80 for second place, 60 for third, 50 for fourth and on down the line.

The women’s overall will come down to German veteran Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Austrian riser Anna Fenninger. Hoefl-Riesch leads by 29 points, but was ill and missed training Tuesday. Fenninger has been on a tear since the Olympics, winning two races and finishing second in another.

The Lenzerheide schedule calls for downhills Wednesday and super-Gs on Thursday. The men will race giant slalom and the women slalom on Saturday and then flip it for Sunday’s final races.

Of the Americans, Ted Ligety has the most at stake. He’s in second place in giant slalom, the event he won at the Olympics, and is fourth in the overall standings. He could win the giant slalom and finish third in the overall with strong results this week.

The giant slalom is of utmost importance, but Ligety hasn’t forgotten about the overall. His goal at the start of the season was to win the overall title for the first time. That’s not possible anymore, but he could still match his third from last year.

“I guess, a mini goal, that’s kind of inconsequential is trying to get third in the overall,” Ligety said. “[Alexis] Pinturault and I have a little mini fight for that. I think it’s somewhat close. He definitely has an advantage, but I feel if I can have some good speed results here I can make that a little bit closer race.”

Six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller could cap his best overall season in six years with top-10 finishes in the overall, downhill and super-G.

Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin has already successfully defended her slalom title and can’t mathematically win the giant slalom nor the overall. But she would like to finish the season with another first — her maiden World Cup giant slalom race win.

Here’s a globe-by-globe rundown:

Men’s Overall

Standings
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) — 1,050
2. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) — 1,046
3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) — 819
4. Ted Ligety (USA) — 744
8. Bode Miller (USA) — 525

This one could come down to the final race between Hirscher and Svindal. Hirscher is a noted technical specialist, having won crystal globes in the slalom and giant slalom. Svindal won the downhill and super-G crystal globes the last two seasons.

Hirscher is attempting to become the third man ever to win three straight overall titles and the first since American Phil Mahre from 1981-83. Svindal is looking for his first overall title since 2009.

Ligety could get as high as No. 3, which would match his best overall finish from last season.

Miller could get as high as No. 5 with a spectacular week and some help, but finishing in the top 10 is a worthy accomplishment for a 36-year-old who missed all of last season following knee surgery. Miller’s set for his best World Cup overall finish since winning the crystal globe in 2008.

Men’s Downhill

Standings
1. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) — 525
2. Hannes Reichelt (AUT) — 360
3. Erik Guay (CAN) — 357
7. Bode Miller (USA) — 232
9. Travis Ganong (USA) — 210

Svindal has this title wrapped up, his third straight downhill crystal globe. Miller, who was fifth two years ago, could finish as high as fourth. Ganong, who is seemingly improving every week, will better his 18th-place finish from last season.

Men’s super-G

Standings
1. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) — 346
2. Patrick Kueng (SUI) — 239
3. Kjetil Jansrud (NOR) — 227
6. Bode Miller (USA) — 160

Svindal also has this title clinched, his fourth straight in the discipline. Miller could secure his highest super-G standings finish since winning the crystal globe in 2007.

Men’s Giant Slalom

Standings
1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) — 510
2. Ted Ligety (USA) — 460
3. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) — 378

Ligety’s in for a fight for his fifth giant slalom globe in seven seasons. If Ligety wins the Lenzerheide giant slalom, Hirscher must finish fifth or lower for Ligety to win the crystal globe outright. Hirscher has made the podium in six of seven World Cup giant slaloms this season.

Men’s Slalom

Standings
1. Felix Neureuther (GER) — 470
2. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) — 465
3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) — 430

The German took over the lead via his win in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on Sunday, albeit a very slim one. Hirscher is the reigning World Cup slalom champion, beating Neureuther by 244 points last year. Kristoffersen also has an outside shot.

Women’s Overall

Standings
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) — 1,180
2. Anna Fenninger (AUT) — 1,151
3. Tina Weirather (LIE) — 943
6. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 773

It’s not as tight as the men’s overall, but Hoefl-Riesch and Fenninger could also take this crystal globe down to the finale. Hoefl-Riesch has seen her lead drastically fall since the Olympics due to Fenninger’s two victories and a second-place finish. Hoefl-Riesch is, at her best, better in the downhill and slalom, while Fenninger has the edge in super-G and giant slalom.

Hoefl-Riesch is all but guaranteed to finish in the top three of the overall standings for an eighth straight season, remarkable consistency for the 29-year-old who may retire this year.

Fenninger, 24, has steadily risen from 26th to 12th to fifth to third the last four seasons. The last Austrian woman to take the overall crystal globe was Nicole Hosp in 2007.

Shiffrin finished fifth overall last season despite not entering any downhill, super-G or combined races. She turns 19 on Thursday and could move into the top five in Lenzerheide.

Women’s Downhill

Standings
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) — 504
2. Anna Fenninger (AUT) — 424
3. Tina Weirather (LIE) — 400
13. Stacey Cook (USA) — 143
16. Julia Mancuso (USA) — 134

Fenninger must win to have any shot of taking the globe outright from Hoefl-Riesch. Even if Fenninger wins, Hoefl-Riesch can finish 12th or better to win her first downhill season title.

Women’s super-G

Standings
1. Lara Gut (SUI) — 348
2. Tina Weirather (LIE) — 310
3. Anna Fenninger (AUT) — 277
13. Stacey Cook (USA) — 80
14. Julia Mancuso (USA) — 78

Gut doesn’t have to worry about Weirather, who’s done for the season due to injury. Fenninger, though, could derail the Swiss’ bid for her first crystal globe. Gut can clinch by finishing eighth or better regardless of what Fenninger does.

Women’s giant slalom

Standings
1. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (SWE) — 432
2. Anna Fenninger (AUT) — 418
3. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) — 299
6. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 235

This has been the most unpredictable discipline — men or women — this season. Five women have won the seven races this season, but it’s Fenninger who’s on a roll, winning the last three and favored to overtake Lindell-Vikarby in the finale.

Shiffrin improved from 19th in the giant slalom last season with second- and third-place finishes. She’s said her next goal is to win a World Cup giant slalom race. Shiffrin could move all the way up to third if she does that in Lenzerheide.

Women’s Slalom

Standings
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 538
2. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) — 408
3. Marlies Schild (AUT) — 325

Shiffrin clinched this crystal globe for the second straight year by winning in Are, Sweden, on Saturday. She could have extra motivation to win her fifth slalom of the season to surpass her total from last year.

Sullivan Award nominees announced

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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