Ted Ligety rallies to win third straight World title in giant slalom (video)

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A season that Ted Ligety called less than stellar, even a struggle, continued that way in the first run of the World Championships giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday.

Ligety skied into fifth place in an event he’s owned for much of the last several years — consecutive World Championships gold medals, Sochi Olympic gold and five of seven World Cup titles.

Giant slalom is often called the truest test of a skier’s ability — requiring a mix of speed and technical skills — and Ligety has mastered it better than perhaps anyone ever. They call him Mr. GS.

But close observers wouldn’t have been shocked by Ligety skiing slower than four other men Friday morning. He’s won just one of five World Cup giant slaloms this season, skiing for most of the campaign with four screws inserted into his left hand following a November training injury.

Ligety stepped to the start gate for his second and final run Friday afternoon needing to make up a deficit of .24 and, more challenging, better all four men who would ski after him, punctuated by his biggest rival.

“I definitely feel, I don’t know if it’s nervous or anxious, but I always feel that for sure in the start gate,” Ligety said. “Especially in giant slaloms, where I know any time I get in the start gate of a giant slalom, I have a good chance of winning. That kind of adds that extra bit of pressure. You’re fighting for the title.

“Today I was relaxed as I possibly could be.”

It showed. Ligety was .55 faster in his second run than any other man. He won an unprecedented third straight World title in the giant slalom and by a credible margin, .45 of a second. Ligety has dominated many races by much greater margins, but this title, his seventh gold medal at a Worlds or Olympics, was special.

“I think this one is maybe a little more emotional than some of the other ones just because this year has been a little bit more of a struggle,” Ligety said on NBCSN minutes after the race, sunglasses covering palpable affection, even through TV, from a man who doesn’t often give away more than a smile and a fist pump. “In 2013, I was winning everything and so it felt like, not a given, but that I should be winning it really easily. Same with [Sochi] Olympics. I was skiing great before that. … This one was a bigger question mark.”

Ligety clinched his gold, the first by an American at these Worlds, when first-run leader Marcel Hirscher skied into silver-medal position. France’s Alexis Pinturault took bronze, .88 back.

“Ted was today in a league of his own,” fourth-place German Felix Neureuther said, according to the Denver Post.

Ligety felt extra satisfaction in overtaking Hirscher, throwing one of his skis after the Austrian crossed the finish line and sharing in the crowd’s raucous celebration. Hirscher, just 25, may be on his way to a fourth straight World Cup overall title this season, never before done by a man.

“Who knows what’ll happen the next couple of years, but he’s definitely on his way to becoming one of the greatest of all time, if not already kind of is,” Ligety said. “It adds sweetness to it when I can nab him.”

Ligety is decorated in his own right. The Park City, Utah, native captured his seventh Worlds medal overall, breaking a tie with Lindsey Vonn for most among Americans.

He’s a two-time Olympic champion with more global championship titles than any other American. Ligety is the greatest U.S. racer on the biggest stage.

Ligety’s next mountain to climb is greater than .24 of a second and four skiers. He has three World Cup giant slaloms to go this season to make up 138 points on Hirscher and take a third straight season title in the event.

“Getting my butt handed to me often times by this guy over here was definitely not something that’s super enjoyable,” Ligety said in a press conference, with Hirscher holding a bottle of water to his right.

Each race winner receives 100 points in the World Cup, with 80 for second, 60 for third and on down the line. That means Hirscher controls his own destiny, but the Austrian might not be able to afford scoring zero in one of those three races. Not if Ligety skis like he did Friday afternoon.

“My run was good,” Hirscher said, according to the Associated Press. “Ted’s run was outstanding.”

The World Championships continue with the women’s slalom, featuring defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin, on Saturday.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

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Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

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