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.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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