Alpine skiing men’s World Cup season preview

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Marcel Hirscher must wait one more year before another shot at his first Olympic gold, making this season all about chasing more records while others continue to chase him.

The Austrian can capture his sixth straight World Cup overall title, which no man or woman has ever done.

He’s already tied with Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli for the most overall crowns by a man and can match Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell for the non-consecutive, either-gender record of overall titles.

Hirscher, still just 27 years old, begins his campaign at the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Sunday (NBC Sports app, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET; NBCSN, 9:30 p.m. ET). He has won there just once (2014) but made the podium four years running.

Hirscher is still lacking an Olympic title, but he displayed typical dominance last season, making 19 podiums in 28 World Cup starts (both career highs) with eight victories (one shy of his career high).

His World Cup overall title margin of victory — 497 points — was the most in the men’s standings since 2002.

Hirscher racked up wins in slalom, parallel slalom, giant slalom and, for the first time, a super-G. He also narrowly avoided a drone from falling onto his head mid-race.

Hirscher reached 39 career World Cup victories, sixth all-time among men. If he repeats his win total from each of the last two seasons, he will move into solo fourth, trailing legends Ingemar StenmarkHermann Maier and Alberto Tomba.

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But keep this mind — Hirscher trailed in the World Cup overall standings by 107 points on Jan. 23, when leader Aksel Lund Svindal suffered a season-ending crash in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Svindal, a Norwegian who earned a medal of every color at the 2010 Olympics, is taking a cautious approach in returning from damaging his right knee. He will not race Saturday and isn’t yet committing to the season’s first speed races on Thanksgiving weekend.

Hirscher will get a head start on Svindal, but two rivals in technical events could also bring his overall point total down this season.

Ted Ligety, who has won every major giant slalom gold medal since 2011, returns Saturday after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. Ligety, 32, also skied last season after suffering three herniated disks in his back and tearing a hip labrum.

It showed. He failed to finish six straight races and missed the podium in 11 straight after winning and finishing second in his first two starts.

At his best, Ligety was superior to Hirscher in giant slaloms. The American could take a bite out of Hirscher’s points with a resurgence. In February, Ligety will try to become the first male skier to win four world championships titles in the same event.

Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen was the world’s best slalom skier last season, a title held by Hirscher the previous three years.

At 22, Kristoffersen may still be on the rise as a technical skier. Hirscher has branched out to race more super-Gs and super combineds the last few years, leaving less time to focus on his trademark technical events of giant slalom and, especially, slalom.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”