Ted Ligety wins World Cup season opener

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — American standout Ted Ligety earned his 25th career World Cup win Sunday, overcoming a tough course to take the season-opening giant slalom.

Trying to regain dominance in his strongest discipline, the Olympic and world GS champion held on to his first-run lead to beat Thomas Fanara of France by 0.15 and Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 0.17. The rest of the field finished at least 1.90 seconds off the lead.

“It was tough. I am a little bit surprised I made it to the finish line as it’s a battlefield out there,” Ligety said. “So many ruts in there and tough to see so I just tried to hammer and look for speed.”

The victory marked Ligety’s 50th podium finish in a World Cup race. He became the third American male skier to reach the feat after Bode Miller (79), who is skipping this season, and Phil Mahre (69).

It was Ligety’s fourth win on the Rettenbach glacier. The Austrian resort, which features an icy course with a steep pitch, is the traditional venue for the first race of the Alpine skiing season.

“The hill has been treating me well but Soelden is not a feel-good hill. I didn’t feel great,” Ligety said between runs. He finished in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 23.88 seconds.

The American has dominated the discipline since 2012 but was beaten for the GS title by Hirscher last year. The Austrian went on to win his fourth overall title.

Hirscher won here last year but settled for finishing third this time.

“It went better than I expected,” he said. “I am very relieved that I am there among the best. You see the other guys getting stronger so I have to keep up with their progress.”

Ligety made no secret that regaining the GS season title from Hirscher is his main priority.

“My big goal for the season is trying to get the giant slalom title back,” said Ligety, who didn’t rate high his chances to take the overall championship, even after the perfect start to the new season.

“A bunch of little things have to come together to make that possible,” the American said. “But I am definitely an outsider contender.”

A good offseason preparation laid the base for Ligety’s strong performance. Training camps in Chile and New Zealand allowed him to train much more on snow than before the previous season, which was disappointing apart from defending his world GS title.

“I am the type of skier that needs a lot of volume,” he said. “I ski a lot more than most skiers do. Because I do all the events but also because for me to get my confidence, I need more miles than most guys.”

Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, expected to be Hirscher’s closest competitors for the overall championship, finished more than four seconds off the lead in 24th and 25th respectively.

“I wish I could be little bit faster. I am not happy but I can understand it,” Jansrud said, referring to the tough hill.

Alexis Pinturault, who has finished in the top 10 of the overall standings for four straight years while placing third in the past two seasons, came 2.01 behind in fifth.

The next men’s World Cup race is a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 15.

MORE ALPINE SKIING: Men’s season preview

Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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