‘Dumb luck’: Marcel Hirscher wins gold, Ted Ligety bronze in crazy super combined

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An unconfident Marcel Hirscher wasn’t sure he wanted to start the World Championships super combined. Ted Ligety didn’t think he would win a medal after he finished skiing.

But in an unusual sequence of events, Hirscher captured gold and Ligety bronze in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday.

In the super combined, all skiers take one downhill run. Then, the top 30 from the downhill go in reverse order in the slalom, followed by everybody ranked 31st and lower from the downhill. Skiers are then ranked by their combined times from the downhill and slalom.

Hirscher, a World slalom champion who rarely races downhill, was 31st-fastest in the morning downhill run Sunday. His chances to come back from a 3.16-second deficit would have been zero if not for one thing.

The Czech Republic’s Ondrej Bank spectacularly crashed near the end of his downhill run and was disqualified, even though he was reportedly 25th-fastest when he slid across the finish line.

The absence of Bank, who suffered a concussion, allowed Hirscher to move from 31st to 30th and, more importantly, from 31st in the slalom start order to first in the slalom start order. Starting earlier in slalom is an advantage — and a bigger edge given warm conditions like on Sunday.

“If Ondrej Bank hadn’t straddled the last gate, [Hirscher] would’ve started 31st and had no chance,” said Ligety, who was 29th in the downhill, one spot ahead of Hirscher, and started second in the slalom, one spot after Hirscher.

Hirscher ended up beating Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud by .19 in combined time for gold. Jansrud was fastest in the downhill, so he had to start 30th with beat-up snow from the 29 racers who went before him. Ligety was .30 behind for bronze. (full results here)

Hirscher won his second career World Championships individual gold medal and could win two more gold medals in the giant slalom and slalom over the next seven days. The 25-year-old Austrian currently leads the World Cup overall standings and is trying to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to start in the super combined, because my downhill training, especially in the first and the second run, were really bad, around five seconds behind the leader,” Hirscher said on NBC. “Today, I changed a bit of my setup, new boots, new skis, and it worked really well. I’m super lucky that it is warm, and it was definitely not easy to ski today with bib No. 30 [as Jansrud did], so no one expected that I was going to win the gold medal today.”

Ligety won his sixth career World Championships medal, matching Lindsey Vonn for the most by an American. The two-time Olympic champion took Worlds gold in this event in 2013.

“After the downhill run I thought there was no possibility of being anywhere close to a medal,” Ligety said. “It was just dumb luck.”

Ligety, too, benefited from starting early. He estimated that starting first or second versus starting 30th in the slalom was around a three-second advantage.

“If I was a half-second faster in the downhill, I wouldn’t have been able to get a medal at all,” Ligety said. “That’s how big of a difference I thought running early was. It was a brilliant strategy to be that slow, I guess.”

Here’s Ligety’s slalom run:

Hirscher skied his slalom run in 49.93 seconds, the only skier to go sub-50. Ligety went right after Hirscher and had the second-fastest slalom time in the field, 50.36.

Jansrud, who owns three Olympic medals, bagged his first World Championships medal. He finished fourth in the super-G and 15th in the downhill last week after coming in as a favorite to make the podium in both events.

The World Championships continue with the women’s super combined, including Vonn, on Monday.

World Championships broadcast schedule

Here’s Bank’s crash:

Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

MORE: Michael Phelps qualifies for first Olympics at age 15

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

MORE: Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis competition

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