Marcel Hirscher details ‘insane’ drone incident

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VIENNA (AP) — The International Ski Federation is banning camera drones from its World Cup races after one of the flying objects crashed and nearly hit Austrian skier Marcel Hirscher during a slalom in Italy.

FIS will prohibit drones “as long as I am responsible … because they are a bad thing for safety,” men’s race director Markus Waldner told The Associated Press on Wednesday, a day after the night race in Madonna di Campiglio.

“It was huge luck that Marcel was not hurt,” Waldner said. “I am very angry.”

The drone carrying a TV camera came down and shattered on the icy slope just behind Hirscher, a few seconds after the Olympic silver medalist started his second run.

The company responsible for the drone, sports marketing agency Infront, said its initial investigation “indicates a malfunction of the drone.”

“The most likely reason is a strong and unforeseen interference on the operating frequency, leading to limited operability,” Infront said in a statement. “The pilot followed the official security procedure, purposely flying the drone as close as possible to the ground before releasing it. The aim was to destroy the drone, in order to prevent it from losing control.”

Hirscher was unhurt and continued his run, finishing second behind Norwegian winner Henrik Kristoffersen.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I felt something,” the four-time overall World Cup champion said. “I thought it was a course worker behind me, or a gate.”

Course workers slip through the gates shortly after each skier to smooth the snow surface for the next competitor.

“I am very relieved that nothing happened,” Hirscher said. “You don’t want to think about what could have happened when 10 kilograms (22 pounds) are coming down 20 meters (65 feet). That would have been a very serious, bad injury. There are a lot of cool things nowadays. But you have to guarantee the safety — and that was just insane.”

Infront said the drone and its pilot were provided by a third party, adding that an external independent expert will formally investigate the matter.

“We are extremely relieved that apparently none was hurt,” said Infront, a Switzerland-based agency that has been the long-term TV rights holder of the FIS Alpine skiing World Cup.

According to Waldner, FIS had agreed on the use of the drone at Tuesday’s slalom, but the pilot wasn’t allowed to fly the camera directly over the race course.

“He did not follow our instructions,” the race director said. “He had to fly outside of the race track and follow the racer from a 15-meter (50-foot) distance. Then there would have been a margin and nothing could have happened.”

Drones have been used many times before at ski races. The ski federation said the technology was aimed at enhancing the experience for TV viewers as it provides moving pictures from an overhead angle which regular cameras can’t shoot.

FIS said legal restrictions in Italy for the use of drones at events are not as tight as in many other countries, such as Austria and Switzerland, where flying over a crowd has been banned.

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Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter passes away

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

Grieving Mikaela Shiffrin returns to World Cup Alpine action with fourth reindeer at stake

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The traditional World Cup Alpine skiing season opener last month in Soelden, Austria, was an emotional one for Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin’s grandmother, Pauline Condron, was in declining health in the days leading up to the race, making Shiffrin wonder if she should head home instead of staying in Soelden. Condron was especially close to Shiffrin, helping to take care of her soon after birth.

Condron passed away Oct. 22, four days before the Soelden giant slalom, at age 98.

“Polly loved sports,” Condron’s obituary said. “She was an avid bowler in her younger years and enjoyed playing tennis and skiing. Few people know that she excelled at ping pong, had a killer serve, gave up very few games and played into her 90s.”

Condron was able to see Shiffrin in person at World Cup races in Killington, Vt. The World Cup will return next weekend to Killington, which has just passed its FIS inspection.

Shiffrin finished second in Soelden’s giant slalom to an upstart rival, 17-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson. Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the giant slalom, but she hasn’t won in Soelden since 2014.

In the slalom, Shiffrin is more dominant. She won eight of nine World Cup races last year, losing only to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, and won her fourth straight world championship despite battling illness. The last time Shiffrin finished worse than second in the technical discipline was in the 2018 Olympics, when she uncharacteristically faltered and finished fourth.

Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland, is a slalom. Shiffrin has won three of the last five races in Levi, which means she also has three reindeer  Rudolph, Sven and Mr. Gru. She can win a fourth on Saturday.

The men also have a slalom this weekend in Levi, racing Sunday.

Both runs for each event stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with the Olympic Channel also carrying the second runs each day.

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