Ted Ligety wins World Cup season opener

Leave a comment

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

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

Leave a comment

Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

Leave a comment

Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Shiffrin among 10 dominant Winter Olympians of 2010s decade