Tina Maze, Anna Fenninger, Lindsey Vonn

Three takeaways from World Alpine Skiing Championships

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The just-completed World Championships brought together one of the greatest collections of Alpine skiing talent in history, a group that will likely never compete at the same event again.

The U.S. held its own at its first home World Championships since 1999, but traditional powerhouse Austria dominated with a leading five gold medals and nine overall.

Before the World Cup season continues this weekend, let’s take a look at the lasting storylines of the last two weeks in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colo.:

1. A U.S. all-star team like we’ve never seen

Combined, they own 43 Olympic/World Championships medals. They include the fantastic four of this golden generation of U.S. skiing — Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso — plus new stars Mikaela Shiffrin and Travis Ganong as well as Andrew Weibrecht.

In Beaver Creek, they took part in the same competition for the first time ever. And they’ll likely never compete together again.

Vonn, in her return from two knee surgeries that forced her to miss the Sochi Olympics, captured super-G bronze but was disappointed not to earn more medals.

Ligety became the most decorated U.S. skier in World Championships history with his sixth and seventh medals, gold in the giant slalom and bronze in the super combined.

Miller spectacularly crashed in his only race, the super-G, likely ending his decorated career.

Mancuso, known for rising to the occasion in pressure events, failed to earn a medal at an Olympics or World Championships for just the second time in more than a decade.

Shiffrin and Ganong both delivered as they usher in the new era of U.S. skiers. Vonn, Ligety, Miller and Mancuso are all age 30 and over. Shiffrin, 19, repeated as World champion in the slalom. Ganong, 26, captured his first major championships medal, silver in the downhill.

2. Tina Maze stakes her claim to greatest of her era

Vonn was the talk of Alpine skiing in December and January. Her comeback and pursuit of Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s World Cup victories record dominated the news.

But, the Slovenian Maze has been the best all-around skier this season and for much of the last three years. Maze proved it again in Beaver Creek, winning medals in her first three races to bring about more historic headlines, a shot at becoming the first woman to win five individual medals at one World Championships.

Though Maze fell short, she easily outperformed Vonn in Beaver Creek to bring about this question:

Who is the greatest female skier of this generation? Add in German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who retired after last season, and here are the candidates’ credentials:

Skier Olympic Golds World Champs Golds World Cup Wins World Cup Overall Titles World Cup Discipline Titles
Lindsey Vonn 1 2 64 4 13
Tina Maze 2 4 26 1 3
Maria Hoefl-Riesch 3 2 27 1 5

Each owns unprecedented accomplishments — Vonn’s 64 World Cup wins, Maze’s 2,414 points in the 2013 World Cup season and Hoefl-Riesch the only skier to win World Cup titles in both downhill and slalom.

“Tina’s been on the World Cup for a long time, and it’s only the last three or four years that she’s really come into her peak form,” Vonn said. “Maria’s been pretty consistent throughout her whole career. Julia’s [Mancuso] been there as well. … I think everyone pushes each other.”

Hoefl-Riesch pointed out a difference among them. She and Vonn both missed major championships due to knee surgeries, but Maze has stayed largely injury-free in comparison.

“All the three of us were good skiers in every discipline,” said Hoefl-Riesch, who worked as a commentator for German TV in Beaver Creek. “Tina, actually, was the only one who was lucky with her body. As far as I know, she never had a really bad knee injury. She had a really consistent, great career, especially always at the big events she was having the best performances. What we all had together was big success over many years. We also had times where we had to fight.”

Maze has said she will not ski at a fifth Olympics in 2018 and may even retire following this season.

3. Austria makes amends

The greatest skiing nation fizzled the last time a major competition was held outside Europe. Austria left the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games with a total of four Alpine medals, one gold and zero from the men.

Beaver Creek turned out to be a vastly different affair. The Austrians were in line to pull off their greatest World Championships in 28 years with Marcel Hirscher leading going into the final men’s slalom run Sunday. Though Hirscher straddled a gate, failing to win his third gold of the two weeks, he put it in proper perspective.

“Yes it sucks, but who cares,” he said on Eurosport.

In between the first and second runs Sunday, Hirscher called it a “perfect World Championships.” He could have spoken for all of the Austrians, who combined for five gold medals and nine overall. Especially Anna Fenninger, who earned two gold medals and one silver.

“We have done so much better than expected [in Beaver Creek],” Austrian 1976 Olympic downhill champion Franz Klammer said on Eurosport, adding that the expectations were for two or three golds.

Hirscher helped make up for his own disappointing performance in Sochi, failing to win his first Olympic gold medal. The 25-year-old has won the World Cup overall title the last three years and leads the standings again this season, looking to become the first man to capture four straight crowns.

“It is great to be a hero in Austria, because skiing is the No. 1 sport,” Klammer said on Eurosport. “And it is fun.”

All living Miracle on Ice players to gather in Lake Placid for first time since 1980 Olympics

Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics