Mikaela Shiffrin

Alpine skiing women’s World Cup preview

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The women’s Alpine skiing landscape changed plenty since the Sochi Olympics, creating intrigue going into this season, which begins with the traditional opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday.

Five storylines to watch as the campaign unfolds:

1. Mikaela Shiffrin adds speed

Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever in Sochi, taking gold at age 18. She then won the final two World Cup slaloms of the season in March, clinching a second straight season title in her trademark event.

This year, she will be on overwhelming favorite to bag her third straight World Cup slalom crystal globe (a feat no woman has done since Swiss great Vreni Schneider won four straight from 1992 to 1995).

But Shiffrin’s goals expand to the giant slalom, where she has risen from 49th to 19th to seventh in the World Cup standings the last three seasons. She made her first giant slalom podiums last season. This year, she’d like to win her first giant slalom race, perhaps in Soelden on Saturday.

Shiffrin’s giant slalom results will go into determining if and when she makes her World Cup debut in the super-G, which she would like to do before the World Championships in Colorado in February.

Shiffrin, who was fifth and sixth in the overall World Cup standings the last two years, could begin her blossom into a threat to the world’s top all-around skiers this season.

2. Lindsey Vonn’s return

The last time ski fans saw the 2010 Olympic downhill champion race, she couldn’t finish a downhill in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 21. Two weeks later, Vonn gave up her bid to return to the Olympics from major right knee surgery.

Now, the four-time World Cup overall champion is targeting a return at the first speed races of the season in Lake Louise, Alberta, the first weekend of December. It’s the same setting where she debuted last season following her February 2013 World Championships crash and November 2013 training setback.

Vonn likely won’t be a contender for the overall title this season, since she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to race giant slalom, let alone if she ever does slalom again.

Her goal instead is to close the gap on retired Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s record for World Cup victories (62). Vonn has 59 wins.

3. Anna Fenninger, the returning champion

Shiffrin, Vonn, Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze garnered most of the headlines the last few years, but it’s the Austrian Fenninger who was the world’s best skier last season.

Fenninger, 25, won the Sochi Olympic super-G and took silver in the giant slalom. She came back from the Winter Games to finish first or second in five of the final eight races of the season, surpassing Hoefl-Riesch for the World Cup overall title.

Fenninger became the youngest World Cup overall champion since Vonn in 2009 and the first woman from Austria to claim the title since Nicole Hosp in 2007. Austria is the most successful nation in Olympic Alpine history and also home to the world’s best male skier, Marcel Hirscher.

Fenninger excels in the downhill, super-G and giant slalom. She’ll be in the way of Vonn in the former two events and Shiffrin in the latter. Given her age, there’s reason to believe she hasn’t peaked yet. Her closest competitor last season, Hoefl-Riesch, has retired.

4. Tina Maze’s final season?

Maze, a four-time Olympic medalist, said that Sochi marked her final Winter Games. The Slovenian will also take a break after this season to assess her future. She is 31, one year older than Vonn and two years older than Hoefl-Riesch.

Maze had arguably the greatest World Cup season ever in 2012-13 with a record 2,414 points (more than twice as many as second-place Hoefl-Riesch). She was first or second in all five disciplines.

She was not the same skier for most of 2013-14, needing three months and a coaching change before winning her first race Jan. 25. Maze flipped the switch in February, becoming the only Alpine skier to win two gold medals in Sochi, but didn’t win any more races the rest of the World Cup season.

At her best, Maze is Shiffrin’s biggest threat in the slalom, the world’s best in the giant slalom and a podium favorite in the super-G and downhill. But it’s anyone’s guess what kind of form to expect as Soelden approaches.

5. Best of the rest

Julia Mancuso‘s bronze medal in the Sochi super combined was shocking because she didn’t finisher higher than seventh in any World Cup race that season.

Mancuso, 30, owns nine Olympic or World Championships medals, but she hasn’t won a World Cup race since Feb. 21, 2012, and has never won a World Cup season title in any discipline. Will she build on that Olympic bronze, or should we expect to see results more in line with last year’s World Cup?

More should be expected of Swiss Lara Gut and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, who were third and fifth in the overall standings last season.

Gut, 23, won three of the first four races last season, including Soelden, and two of the last four at the World Cup finals. She went into a midseason lull, though, and managed the same Olympic medal output as Mancuso — a single bronze.

Weirather, 25, excelled during the midseason in December and January. She looked like a multiple medal threat in Sochi until crashing in training one day before her first race, wiping her out of the Winter Games and the rest of the World Cup campaign.

Russian Olympic bobsled champ Aleksander Zubkov retires

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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