Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin lead World Alpine Skiing Championships women’s preview


Lindsey Vonn will ski for medals for the first time in two years next week, following two crashes, two major knee surgeries and one missed Olympics.

She won’t be alone in the spotlight at the first World Alpine Skiing Championships in the U.S. since 1999. Mikaela Shiffrin is a gold-medal favorite, like Vonn, but specializing in different events. Julia Mancuso will look to extend her record of global championship success, unmatched among American women.

The world’s best skiers will invade Beaver Creek, Colo., a group that includes the last two World Cup overall champions — Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger.

Here’s the schedule (all ET):

Tuesday, Feb. 3 — Super-G, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Friday, Feb. 6 — Downhill, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Monday, Feb. 9 — Super Combined Downhill, noon (Universal Sports)
Monday, Feb. 9 — Super Combined Slalom, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Thursday, Feb. 12 — Giant Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Thursday, Feb. 12 — Giant Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra at 4:30)

Full broadcast schedule

Here are five skiers to watch:

Lindsey Vonn
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Five wins in 10 races (all downhill and super-G); leads downill and super-G standings
2014 Olympics: Did not compete (injury)
2013 World Championships: DNF in super-G (crash)

Vonn hasn’t come out of a World Championships healthy since 2005. In 2007, she crashed in a slalom training run and suffered a season-ending ACL sprain. In 2009, she sliced open her right thumb on a broken champagne bottle after winning the downhill. In 2011, she ended her Worlds after two races due to post-concussion effects. In 2013, that crash in the opening super-G.

So Vonn will hope for better at home, with Tiger Woods slated to appear amid a busy golf schedule. Vonn is the favorite in the opening super-G and the downhill, especially having trained on the course much more than top rivals Tina Maze, Anna Fenninger and Lara Gut (though Vonn has yet to *race* there).

She hasn’t raced anything other than downhill and super-G in more than two years, so her chances in the giant slalom and, possibly, the super combined aren’t clear.

Vonn talks fear, risk, future ahead of World Championships

Mikaela Shiffrin
Possible events: Giant Slalom, Slalom
2015 World Cup: Three wins in 10 races (all giant slalom and slalom); second in slalom standings, third in giant slalom standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in slalom, fifth in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in slalom, sixth in giant slalom

Also skiing at home, Shiffrin will be very familiar with her schedule. It’s the same two races she’s done exclusively on the World Cup and at the World Championships and Olympics the last two years.

The 19-year-old overcame an early season slump and won two of her last three races going into Worlds. That affirmed her favorite status in the slalom, barely over a group that includes the World Cup slalom standings leader Frida Hansdotter of Sweden. Shiffrin will try to become the second woman since World War II to successfully defend a World title in that event, joining the Croatian legend Janica Kostelic.

Shiffrin is also a medal threat in giant slalom, with the last two World Cup overall champions Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger. Italian Deborah Compagnoni is the only woman to sweep the slalom and giant slalom at a World Championships in the last 30 years.

As with the Olympics, we won’t see Shiffrin race until the second week of the competition.

Video: Shiffrin comes up just short in last race before Worlds

source: Getty Images
Tina Maze won three medals at the 2013 World Championships. (Getty Images)

Tina Maze
Possible events: Everything
2015 World Cup: Three wins in 20 races; overall standings leader, top five in every discipline
2014 Olympics: Gold in downhill, giant slalom; fourth in super combined; fifth in super-G; eighth in slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in super-G; silver in super combined, giant slalom; fifth in slalom, seventh in downhill

These may be the final World Championships for the Slovenian who fancies singing. Maze, 31, has said she will not ski at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and will decide after this season whether to continue competing at all.

She would be leaving at or near the top of the sport. Maze, two years removed from perhaps the greatest season in World Cup history, will likely win the World Cup overall title again this season.

It wouldn’t be a shock if she collects medals in all five World Championships races, which no woman has ever done (one man has, Norway’s Lasse Kjus in 1999).

Anna Fenninger
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Seven podiums in 14 races; second in overall standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; silver in giant slalom; eighth in super combined; DNF in downhill
2013 World Championships: Bronze in giant slalom; 11th in downhill; DNF in super-G, super combined

Fenninger is five and six years younger than Vonn and Maze. She is the future of the speed events along with Swiss Lara Gut. Fenninger hasn’t won since the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but she finished second in each of the last three races.

Austria is the most successful nation in ski racing history, and she is its female star following the retirement of slalom ace Marlies Schild. She has more Twitter followers than Shiffrin and Maze but is certainly not as recognized, especially among the U.S. audience.

Julia Mancuso
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: One podium in 13 races
2014 Olympics: Bronze in super combined; eighth in downhill, super-G; DNF in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Bronze in super-G; fifth in downhill; eighth in super combined; 22nd in giant slalom

Incredibly, Mancuso has more combined Olympic and Worlds medals (nine in 36 races) than World Cup wins (seven in 392 races). Even though she isn’t in the top five of any World Cup discipline this season, Mancuso is a definite medal threat in multiple events at Worlds. Bode Miller is the only U.S. skier with more combined Olympic and Worlds medals, with 11.

World Championships men’s preview

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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