Top Alpine skiers say World Cup schedule is unfair

Aksel Lund Svindal, Kjetil Jansrud
AP
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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Technical events, 23. Speed races, 19.

The men’s World Cup calendar has sparked a debate about fairness. Do downhill and super-G racers have an equal chance to win the overall title when slalom and giant slalom specialists are given four more opportunities to score points?

Hannes Reichelt doesn’t think so.

The super-G world champion has slammed the inequality in the calendar, saying it leaves speed specialists without a realistic chance.

”If you win both speed globes but are not good enough in the giant slalom, you have no chance,” Reichelt said in a recent interview. ”On the other hand, if you win slalom and GS, you’re the overall champion automatically. That’s unfair.”

A member of governing body FIS’ athletes committee, Reichelt said an overall champion should be among the best in at least three disciplines.

But though his Austrian teammate Marcel Hirscher has won four titles in a row while competing almost exclusively in slalom and GS, opinions are divided.

Primarily, the international ski federation doesn’t see a problem here.

”From our view there is a good balance between speed and tech events,” men’s race director Markus Waldner said Friday, two days before the season starts with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier.

Waldner acknowledged the calendar has been ”slightly overloaded with more slaloms” but stressed ”it’s absolutely possible for the speed guys to go for the overall.”

Reichelt’s criticism, however, is shared by Aksel Lind Svindal, a two-time former champion. The Norwegian is a speed specialist but has also scored heavily in GS.

”There should be the same amount of races. That would be the most fair,” Svindal said. ”If you give away a lot more points in technical event than in speed events, than that is not fair.”

However, Svindal added that for him it’s ”a mathematical question.”

”Marcel is so good. That he has won four in a row is not an argument that it’s not fair,” the Norwegian said.

Svindal finished runner-up to the Austrian two years ago. He recalled how he skied out of his skin in super-G, but was still outscored by the Austrian.

”The worst place I had in super-G two years ago was second, which was historical,” Svindal said. ”But that didn’t really help because Marcel was top three in every slalom. I did something that hadn’t been done since Hermann Maier but he did something that even (Alberto) Tomba hadn’t done.”

Another challenger of Hirscher’s, Kjetil Jansrud, agreed with his Norwegian teammate.

Jansrud led the overall standings last season after winning four of the first six speed events but still ended up 160 points short of Hirscher.

”In a perfect world we would have the same amount of all disciplines. It would be an even fight for the overall,” Jansrud said.

The Olympic super-G champion blamed only himself for losing his lead last year (“I could have won it if I had a very good giant slalom season”) but still believed the current system could do with a little tweak.

A new parallel giant slalom in Alta Badia in December and a city event in Stockholm in February are no ordinary slalom or GS race but still count toward the overall standings.

”We should stick by the classic disciplines,” Jansrud said, calling the new events ”important for the interest in the sport” but not comparable to a usual World Cup race.

”It’s tough if you lose the overall because some guy grabbed the 100 points in a parallel slalom while you won Wengen and Kitzbuehel.”

MORE ALPINE SKIING: Men’s season preview

U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba
Getty
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The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
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Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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