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

Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

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Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Usain Bolt offered contract with Australia soccer club, hurdles remain

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Usain Bolt has been offered a contract with his Australian soccer team after playing for the Central Coast Mariners on a tryout deal, but the club said it likely needs more money from an external party to sign Bolt.

The club also said in a press release that while Bolt “made great progression” in his two months of preseason training, it “does not have the luxury” to play him in regular-season league matches.

“I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world, I do appreciate that, but you have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions,” Central Coast coach Mike Mulvey said Sunday, after his club began regular-season play in Australia’s top division without Bolt.

Bolt will not train with the club this week until he signs — if he signs.

Bolt scored his first two goals for the Mariners on Oct. 12 in a friendly against a team that is not in the A-League. Bolt had said the match, his third, would determine his future after he first joined the club on an indefinite trial in hopes of getting a contract.

“After this game is where we can talk because the season’s coming up,” Bolt said after the match.

The eight-time Olympic champion Bolt has long harbored dreams of playing pro soccer.

Since retiring in summer 2017, he has trained alongside club teams in South Africa, Jamaica and Norway, plus had a much-publicized visit with Borussia Dortmund in March. Bolt and Dortmund share an apparel sponsor in Puma.

Bolt said he turned down offers from teams in France and Spain, but not in the top division. He prefers Australia, where he doesn’t have to learn a language. His long-time dream has been to play for Manchester United.

“The [Mariners] coach has explained to me that there won’t be any special treatment,” Bolt said as his Mariners trial began in August. “They will treat me just like a footballer should be treated. … I don’t want to be treated like I’m the world’s fastest man.”

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