Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
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Women’s Alpine skiing season preview

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The Alpine skiing season figures to be a three-woman show, following a slew of retirements and one star’s announced break from the sport.

Of the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup champions across all five disciplines, three total skiers are active this year — Anna FenningerLindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin.

The season starts with a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday (full schedule here).

Co-Olympic downhill champion Dominique Gisin retired after last season, as did three-time Olympic medalist Nicole HospTina Maze, who earned two gold medals at the 2014 Olympics and at the 2015 World Championships, is sitting out this season and may never return.

This is the only season in the four-year cycle that doesn’t have a World Championships or Olympics, so the dangling carrot is the World Cup overall title — awarded to the skier who accumulates the most points from World Cup season results across all disciplines from October through March.

Fenninger (1,553), Vonn (1,087) and Shiffrin (1,036) are the only returning skiers who tallied more than 1,000 points last season. The next-best returning skier is Swedish slalom specialist Frida Hansdotter, who had 679 points.

That drop-off is the main reason why this season’s World Cup overall chase figures to be fought among three women.

Fenninger, a 26-year-old known for doing a photo shoot with live cheetahs, aims to join Vonn as the only women since 1992 to win three straight World Cup overall titles.

Fenninger is nearly a dominant all-around skier, notching at least three World Cup podium finishes each in downhill, super-G and giant slalom last season, plus winning the only super combined. She rarely races slalom.

Fenninger, who was set back slightly by a knee injury in preseason training, is coming off prevailing in one of the tightest World Cup overall races ever last season. She entered the season’s final race trailing Maze by 18 points, won the finale, and edged Maze by 22 points for the overall title.

Vonn, who turned 31 on Sunday, has said her goal this season is to earn a fifth World Cup overall title. She hasn’t taken the crown since 2012, one year before the first of her two major knee surgeries that kept her from defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

For Vonn to close last year’s gap on Fenninger, she likely must tally significant points in the giant slalom. And she must overcome another injury, fracturing an ankle in August training in New Zealand. Vonn reportedly said Monday that she is “more likely than not” to skip Soelden.

Vonn impressed in her comeback last season, winning eight races and breaking the women’s World Cup career wins record, but all the victories were in downhill and super-G.

Vonn made three total starts in combineds and giant slaloms, finishing one of them, the World Cup finale giant slalom, where she was fifth. That earned Vonn 45 total World Cup points in those disciplines.

In contrast, Fenninger gained 642 points in giant slalom and super combined en route to finishing 466 points clear of Vonn in the final overall standings. There’s your difference.

Vonn can become the oldest women’s World Cup overall champion ever this season. She can also move within one overall title of the record six held by retired Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll.

Vonn can also grab her eighth downhill season title, which would tie the record for most titles in one discipline. That mark is held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Stenmark also holds the overall World Cup career wins record of 86. Vonn is 19 wins shy of that. If Vonn continues on the pace she set last season, she will reach 86 during the 2018 Olympic season, when she hopes to become the oldest women’s Alpine skiing Olympic medalist ever.

Then there’s Shiffrin, who in 2014 became the youngest Olympic slalom champion. The 20-year-old who races with the letters ABFTTB on the back of her helmet (Always Be Faster Than The Boys) hopes to test herself against the world’s fastest women for the first time this season.

Like Vonn, Shiffrin must expand her repertoire to challenge Fenninger for the World Cup overall title.

Shiffrin has won every slalom title the last three seasons and is improving in giant slalom, but she’s never raced a World Cup downhill, super-G or combined. She can’t possibly contend with Fenninger of the last two seasons with zero points in three of the five World Cup disciplines.

Shiffrin knows that and, for the second straight year, hopes to make her World Cup super-G debut. Last season’s plan was scrapped after a slow start to her season in slalom.

Shiffrin, while famous for saying at the Sochi Olympics that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in 2018, has more realistically said she doesn’t want to contest the speed events of super-G and, later, downhill if the additions could jeopardize her prowess in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom.

Shiffrin will be heavily favored to earn a fourth straight World Cup slalom season title, in part because two of the four women closest to her in last year’s standings aren’t competing this season. The other two, Hansdotter and Czech Sarka Strachova, turn 30 and 31, respectively, this year.

Shiffrin’s progression in the giant slalom is just as notable as her continued dominance in the slalom. In GS, she’s risen in the World Cup standings from 49th to 19th to seventh to third the last four seasons.

No woman has captured both the giant slalom and slalom World Cup season titles since Swede Anja Pärson in 2004.

If Shiffrin wins the World Cup overall title, she would be the youngest to do so since Janica Kostelic in 2001.

MORE ALPINE SKIING: Bode Miller to skip season, not ruling out 2018 Olympics

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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