Alpine skiing men’s World Cup preview

Bode Miller, Ted Ligety

Any predictions for the men’s Alpine skiing season were torn to shreds along with Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal‘s Achilles tendon last week.

The revised picture is that of an Austrian seeking history, two veterans and a rising speed racer leading the U.S. men and a jumble of international threats across all disciplines.

Five storylines to watch as the campaign unfolds, beginning with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday:

1. Marcel Hirscher can stand alone

It’s pretty remarkable that a man with one career individual Olympic or World Championships gold medal has been the world’s best overall skier three years running.

But so it is for the Austrian Hirscher, who last year likened the pressure he skis under to trying to survive a pack of “a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up.”

Hirscher is a clear favorite to win the World Cup overall title for a fourth straight campaign this year, given the now-sidelined Svindal was runner-up the last two seasons.

No man has ever won four straight World Cup overall titles. Only one woman has done it, another Austrian of course. Annemarie Moser-Proell took five straight from 1971 through 1975.

Hirscher can take comfort that this is a non-Olympic season. He was a heavy favorite to win Olympic slalom gold in Sochi but was relegated to silver by countryman Mario Matt. Hirscher finished fourth, fourth and fifth in his other three career Olympic races.

Hirscher has proven more formidable over the course of a season. He ousted Ted Ligety for the giant slalom season title in 2011-12, then took the slalom crowns the last two seasons. He is so strong in those technical events that he wins World Cup overall titles racing few super-Gs, even fewer super combineds and no downhills.

His battle with Ligety in giant slaloms, beginning in Soelden, ought to be compelling.

2. Ted Ligety wants to be a ‘true champion’

Ligety finally won his coveted Olympic giant slalom gold medal in February, but he has said there is a trophy he would rather have — the crystal globe that goes to the World Cup overall champion.

“Because it’s a compilation of a season’s work,” Ligety said last year. “It’s really the mark of a true ski champion. Winning an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It shows you can really get yourself on the top level that day and push yourself. There’s a lot different things that can go into that, maybe the best guy doesn’t always win. The overall title, the best guy always wins that.”

Ligety is on the cusp. He improved from ninth in the overall standings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 to third in 2012-13 and fourth last year. He may be Hirscher’s biggest threat with Svindal out of the picture.

Ligety will go for his sixth career season title in the giant slalom, but he’ll need to capitalize in the faster super-G and slower slalom to close the points gap on Hirscher. He is the reigning World champion in the super-G, but Ligety has made the podium just once in a World Cup super-G race, five years ago.

No U.S. man has won a World Cup overall title since Bode Miller in 2007-08.

3. Bode Miller’s last season?

Miller had his best World Cup season since 2007-08 last year and capped it with his sixth career Olympic medal in Sochi. He said two months after Sochi that the 2014-15 season would likely be his last, but he has also not completely ruled out a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018.

Miller still has World Cup goals. Specifically, he would like to win the circuit’s famed downhill race, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Miller has won two races in Kitzbuehel, but both were combined events rather than downhills. In the Hahnenkamm, he owns two seconds and a third over his decorated career that began before GPS navigations were available for driving through Europe.

“For any racer, Kitzbuehel is pretty much the pinnacle. It’s the top of downhill,” he told an Austrian media outlet in 2012. “I’ve never won the downhill here, and it is one of those things that I do feel is missing from my career and my downhill record book.”

This year’s Hahnenkamm is Jan. 24, very likely before the World Cup downhill champion Svindal returns from injury.

4. The next U.S. star?

Ligety is 30 years old. Miller is 37. They carried U.S. men’s skiing the last two Olympic cycles. The next man up may be Travis Ganong, a 26-year-old from California.

Ganong entered his first Olympics in February with zero career top-five finishes on the World Cup circuit. Then he finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic downhill. Then he finished third and fourth in the first two World Cup races after the Olympics last winter.

Ganong is a speed-event racer — he won’t ski the technical giant slalom in Soelden on Sunday — and could be a big beneficiary to Svindal’s absence this year. He’ll likely debut at the season’s first speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Thanksgiving weekend.

5. Best of the rest

In the speed races, Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria is a promising talent at 24 years old, but he suffered a knee injury last week and hopes to debut in Lake Louise.

This could be the year that Kjetil Jansrud, the Olympic super-G champion, takes Svindal’s crown as Norway’s best overall skier and runs with it. He won two World Cup races after the Sochi Olympics last season and is fully recovered from blowing out his knee at the 2013 World Championships.

Veterans Alexis Pinturault (France) and Felix Neureuther (Germany) will look to unseat Ligety and Hirscher in the technical events, though Neureuther is out this weekend due to back problems. They all may be surpassed by Norway’s 20-year-old phenom Henrik Kristoffersen, the Olympic slalom bronze medalist.

Women’s Alpine skiing World Cup preview

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini

Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing

USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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