Bode Miller, Ted Ligety lead World Alpine Skiing Championships men’s preview

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Bode Miller and Ted Ligety hope to put injury-hindered World Cup seasons behind them and perform like they’ve done so many times at major competitions. At the World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., it might be their last chance to do so together.

Miller and Ligety, owners of a combined 18 Olympic and Worlds medals, lead the U.S. men into the biggest event of the Alpine skiing season over the next two weeks.

Miller, 37 and a six-time Olympic medalist, hasn’t competed this season due to Nov. 17 back surgery. He’s optimistic of racing the next two weeks, beginning Wednesday, but U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick said Sunday that a decision on Miller’s participation hadn’t been made yet.

Ligety, who won three gold medals at the last World Championships in 2013, is off to his slowest start to a season in six years. He’s skiing through pain, with four screws inserted into one of his hands Nov. 22.

In 2013, Ligety became the first man in 45 years to win at least three golds at a single World Championships — claiming his precious giant slalom, the super-G and the super combined.

“The head in the clouds goal would be repeating that, but I don’t know if that’s the realistic goal,” Ligety said on Universal Sports last week. “Winning the giant slalom is the biggest goal. Hopefully I can piece together another medal or two.”

Miller, should he race, and Ligety will face strong competition from World Cup overall leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria, downhill and super-G leader Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and the possible return of Jansrud’s countryman, eight-time Worlds medalist Aksel Lund Svindal.

Here’s the schedule (all ET):

Wednesday, Feb. 4 — Super-G, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Saturday, Feb. 7 — Downhill, 1 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra at 2:30)
Sunday, Feb. 8 — Super Combined Downhill, noon (Universal Sports)
Sunday, Feb. 8 — Super Combined Slalom, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 5)
Friday, Feb. 13 — Giant Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Friday, Feb. 13 — Giant Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Sunday, Feb. 15 — Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Sunday, Feb. 15 — Slalom Run 2, 4:30 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra)

Full broadcast schedule

Here are five skiers to watch:

Bode Miller
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: No races (injury)
2014 Olympics: Bronze in super-G; sixth in super combined; eighth in downhill; 20th in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Did not compete (injury)

Miller, already the oldest Olympic Alpine medalist, hopes to become the second-oldest man to win a World Championships medal. It’s a tall ask.

Miller has only taken part in downhill training runs this season due to his recuperating back. But he showed he can contend, as sixth-fastest in a training run in Kitzbuehel, Austria, two weeks ago.

He told The New York Times he won’t race the giant slalom and is unlikely for the super combined. That leaves two races — the downhill and super-G — for Miller to win his first Worlds medal since 2005, when he swept the downhill and super-G in Bormio, Italy.

Miller said in April that this season would likely be his last before retiring, according to the New York Times.

Video: Miller is ‘Grandpa Bode’ in Audi commercial

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Ted Ligety had four screws put into his hand in November. (Ted Ligety’s social media)

Ted Ligety
Possible events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: One win, three podiums in 18 races; second in giant slalom standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in giant slalom; 12th in super combined; 14th in super-G; DNF in slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in super-G, giant slalom, super combined; DNF in slalom

Ligety was wise to downplay thoughts of repeating his 2013 World Championships triple. While he has a home-course advantage, Ligety hasn’t finished in the top 10 of any super-G this season and did not finish the only super combined.

He’s no sure thing in the giant slalom, either. Top rival Marcel Hirscher has won four of the five giant slaloms this season and is likely to keep Ligety from a third straight World Cup season title in his prized event. However, the only time Ligety beat Hirscher in a giant slalom this season came at Beaver Creek on Dec. 7.

Ligety is looking to become the third man to win three straight World titles in the same event (Ingemar Stenmark, Kjetil Andre Aamodt) and the first to do it in giant slalom.

Marcel Hirscher
Possible events: Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Six wins, 11 podiums in 16 races; overall and giant slalom leader
2014 Olympics: Silver in slalom; fourth in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in slalom; silver in giant slalom

Hirscher is likely to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles this season, which is remarkable for three reasons. He’s just 25 years old. He doesn’t ski downhill and rarely super-G. He owns just one gold medal from the Olympics and World Championships.

Hirscher can bolster his big-event reputation by performing well as Austria’s biggest star these next two weeks. He’s known more for slalom, but it appears he has less competition in giant slalom (Hirscher and Ligety have won the last eight World Cup giant slaloms).

In slalom, Hirscher trails German Felix Neureuther in the season standings, and the last four World Cup slaloms have been won by four different men, none of whom are Hirscher.

Kjetil Jansrud
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Five wins in 17 races; downhill and super-G standings leader
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; bronze in downhill; fourth in super combined; DNF in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: DNF in super-G (injured)

Just like Lindsey Vonn, the Norwegian Jansrud came back from a major knee surgery suffered in the 2013 World Championships super-G and now leads the World Cup downhill and super-G standings.

Jansrud’s crash in Schladming was not as brutal as Vonn’s. Unlike Vonn, he skied at the Olympics and won the super-G gold medal, plus downhill bronze. He must be the downhill and super-G favorite this week. Jansrud won the World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek on Dec. 5 and finished second in the super-G the next day.

Jansrud’s path at Worlds could be impeded by countryman Aksel Lund Svindal, the reigning World champion in the downhill hoping to make his season debut after rupturing an Achilles tendon playing soccer in October.

One more U.S. speed racer
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Travis Ganong, Steven Nyman won downhills
2014 Olympics: Andrew Weibrecht won super-G silver
2013 World Championships: No notable finishes

It’s been 10 years since an American man other than Miller or Ligety won a World Championships medal. Their teammates have an opportunity to break that streak on home snow the next two weeks.

Ganong, 26, showed the most promise last season when he finished fifth in the Olympic downhill and made his first World Cup podium two weeks later. Ganong won his first World Cup race Dec. 28, a downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy.

Nyman, 32, won a World Cup race on Dec. 19 for the first time in more than two years. He’s the top American in the World Cup downhill standings, fourth place, and the man behind Fantasy Ski Racer.

Then there’s Weibrecht, 28, who owns as many Olympic medals as Lindsey Vonn (two) but has never made a World Cup podium. However, Weibrecht did notch his first World Cup top-five in a super-G in Kitzbuehel two weeks ago.

World Championships women’s preview

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

Chris Corning
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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

Simon Ammann
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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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