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Men’s Alpine skiing season preview

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Amid ebbs and flows in men’s Alpine skiing, a constant endured the last four seasons — Marcel Hirscher atop the World Cup overall standings.

This season, the Austrian can extend his record for consecutive titles to five and match the record for non-consecutive titles, the five set by Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli in 1993.

Hirscher begins his quest Sunday, at home in the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden. Hirscher notched his first career win on the Rettenbach glacier last year, the first of his eight total World Cup victories for the season.

The knock on Hirscher used to be his relative lack of success at the Olympics and World Championships, but gold medals in the slalom in 2013 and super combined in February bolstered his résumé.

The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games are a little more than two years away. Hirscher, 26, reportedly said he didn’t see himself staying in the sport that long after he was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom, settling for silver. Reinvigorated, he said at the World Championships in Colorado in February that he may compete into 2019.

There are no World Championships or Olympics this season, so the World Cup overall title is the biggest prize.

Hirscher, the leading active men’s skier with 31 World Cup race wins, could be a heavy title favorite given he’s still at a peak age and that his top rivals the last two seasons, in their 30s, may cancel each other out in the overall standings.

Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who won the 2007 and 2009 World Cup overall titles plus medals of every color at the 2010 Olympics, returns after missing most of last season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon from playing soccer.

Svindal was second to Hirscher in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, but his form, at age 32, is unknown.

Another veteran Norwegian, Kjetil Jansrud, filled Svindal’s role last season, winning seven races, all downhills and super-Gs, to finish 160 points behind Hirscher in the overall standings.

Hirscher, who specializes in giant slalom and slalom, could sit back and watch Svindal and Jansrud split wins in the downhills and super-Gs and fail to gain enough ground separately to overthrow him in the overall race.

That’s not to say Hirscher won’t have his hands full in his technical events.

Start with his longtime giant slalom rival coming back from his worst World Cup campaign since 2006-07.

American Ted Ligety struggled last season while skiing with four screws in his left hand following a November training injury.

Though the two-time Olympic champion won an unprecedented third straight World Championship in the giant slalom in February, he had his least successful World Cup campaign in eight years — one victory, 11th place in the overall standings and third in the giant slalom standings.

No U.S. man finished in the top 10 of the World Cup overall standings last season — hadn’t happened since 2001 — and Ligety will shoulder most of the hopes this year with Bode Miller not racingTravis Ganong and Steven Nyman will look to build after notching one downhill victory apiece last year.

If Hirscher’s status as the overall favorite is solid, his footing in his most familiar discipline is shaky.

Seven different men won the final seven slaloms last season (including France’s Jean-Baptiste Grange‘s shocker at Worlds). Hirscher eked out his third straight season slalom title by 23 points.

Jansrud, Svindal, Ligety and the rest will hope the overall chase is the one that tightens this year.

MORE ALPINE SKIING: Watch Marcel Hirscher ski with exploding colors

Rewind: Australia’s Steven Bradbury gains gold and lasting fame after pileup takes out Apolo Ohno

Steven Bradbury
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Heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, young American Apolo Ohno was a phenom with a legitimate shot at multiple medals in short-track speedskating.

The 1999 world junior champion and future “Dancing with the Stars” champion had finished first in the World Cup season standings in all three individual disciplines in the 2000-01 season. In the 2001 world championships, he took gold in the relay and the 3,000m (a non-Olympic event), silver in the 1,000m and fourth in the 1,500m.

Australia’s Steven Bradbury was at the other end of his career, enduring all sorts of misfortune in the years that followed — a 1995 accident in which he needed more than 100 stitches after a skate blade sliced his thigh, then a 2000 accident in which he broke two vertebra in his neck. 

The highlights of Bradbury’s career were relay world championships medals — gold in 1991, bronze in 1993, silver in 1994. He and his relay teammates also took Olympic bronze in 1994.

Bradbury barely advanced to one individual final, the 1,000m in 2002. He advanced from the quarterfinal when Canadian favorite Marc Gagnon was disqualified. He advanced from the semifinal when multiple skaters fell.

In the final, Bradbury was matched up against three outstanding skaters, including Ohno and Li Jiajun of China, who won this event and the overall title at the 2001 world championships. Ohno and Li had finished 1-2 in the 1,000m World Cup standings in 2001.

Bradbury couldn’t keep up. The other four skaters were in a pack, making dangerous passes among each other, while Bradbury fell further and further behind.

Those dangerous passes finally caught up to the rest of the field in the final turn. Li bumped into Ohno, which would lead to Li’s disqualification. After the lead pack jockeyed for position through the entire race, all four tumbled to the ice.

Bradbury, the last man standing, crossed the finish line first.

 

From the tangled pile-up, Ohno managed to fling himself, skate-first, across the finish line to take silver. Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte made it across for bronze.

Ohno wasn’t done in Salt Lake City. He won the 1,500m gold after the disqualification of Kim Dong-Sung, a controversial decision that made Ohno the object of South Korean derision.

Less controversially, Ohno won three more individual world championship events from 2005 to 2009, plus two relay golds, and the overall world title in 2008. In the Olympics, he took six more medals, including gold in the 500m in 2006 and silver in the 1,500m in 2010.

Bradbury missed the finals in the other two events in Salt Lake City, but his name lives on in the Urban Dictionary and elsewhere as a synonym for an improbable and even accidental victory. He embraced his unique place in history to carve out a career as a motivational speaker delivering more than 1,000 speeches in 19 countries, according to the International Skating Union and has even seen his win commemorated in Legos.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier form new figure skating pair

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A few weeks after her husband and skating partner, Chris Knierim, stepped away from competitive figure skating, Alexa Scimeca Knierim has a new partner.

Brandon Frazier, who was also looking for someone to form a new pair after longtime partner Haven Denney stepped away from competition, at least temporarily, will join Scimeca Knierim on the ice whenever they’re able to train and compete again.

Frazier is a longtime friend of Chris Knierem. Scimeca Knierim told U.S. Figure Skating’s FanZone that Frazier had played a pivotal role in kindling the Knierem’s off-ice romance.

Denney and Frazier won the U.S. championship in 2017 and finished 20th in the world championships that year. They finished third in their two Grand Prix assignments last fall — Skate America and the Internationaux de France. They were runners-up in the 2019 U.S. championships and fifth this year, when they revived their “Lion King” free skate.

The Denney-Frazier pair took an unusual path to figure skating, starting as roller skaters.

The Knierims won their third U.S. championship in January but handed their slot in the world championships to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson when Chris Knierim, struggling with his form and depression, decided he was unable to continue beyond the Four Continents Championship. The world championships were later canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

READ: Resilient Knierims withdraw from world championships

The couple had earned attention for their romance and for their inspirational returns from illness and injury. Their U.S. championship win earlier this year was their third.

Skate America, the first event on the Grand Prix circuit, is scheduled to start Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.

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