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Five men to watch at World Alpine Skiing Championships

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The time is ripe for new men to establish themselves as Olympic medal contenders at the World Alpine Skiing Championships.

The three most successful active Americans on the World Cup tour are not racing in St. Moritz the next two weeks — Bode Miller (commentating for NBC Sports, but may come back next season), Ted Ligety (back surgery) and Steven Nyman (knee injury).

Neither is Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, the greatest active speed racer, due to knee surgery.

Who will star in their absences?

The list has to start with Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the five-time reigning World Cup overall champion who is expected to race five of six events (including the team event) in St. Moritz.

Hirscher leads a talented field of 20-somethings who next year will be looking to unseat the aforementioned old guard for their first Olympic gold medals. The new crop is mostly from Europe — Europeans have won 26 of 27 World Cup races this season.

The U.S. team — with neither Miller nor Ligety for the first time since 1997 — has no racers in the top five of the World Cup standings in any discipline. The last time the U.S. men earned no medals at worlds was 2007, which could be a stat heard often over the next two weeks in St. Moritz.

Here’s the schedule (all ET):

Wednesday, Feb. 8 — Super-G — 6 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Saturday, Feb. 11 — Downhill — 6 a.m. (Streaming; NBC, 2:30 p.m.)
Monday, Feb. 13 — Super Combined Downhill — 4 a.m. (Streaming)
Monday, Feb. 13 — Super Combined Slalom — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Friday, Feb. 17 — Giant Slalom Run 1 — 3:45 a.m. (Streaming)
Friday, Feb. 17 — Giant Slalom Run 2 — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)
Sunday, Feb. 19 — Slalom Run 1 — 3:45 a.m. (Streaming)
Sunday, Feb. 19 — Slalom Run 2 — 7 a.m. (NBCSN, Streaming)

Full broadcast schedule | Five women to watch

Here are five skiers to watch:

Marcel Hirscher, Austria
Expected events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: Overall standings leader; podiums in 14 of 20 starts
2015 Worlds: Gold in combined; silver in giant slalom; DNF in slalom
2014 Olympics: Silver in slalom; fourth in giant slalom

The Austrian technical-race ace is en route to his sixth straight World Cup overall title this season. No other man has won that many, consecutive or not. He already owns world titles in slalom and super combined, but his best shot at gold in St. Moritz appears to be the giant slalom. Hirscher was second to Ted Ligety at the last two worlds, but the American is out the rest of this season due to back surgery.

Hirscher has already proven his excellence on the World Cup and world championships stages. It’s PyeongChang where he must deliver, since he lacks Olympic gold. Hirscher is only 27 years old, but he has cast doubt on going all the way to the 2022 Winter Games.

Alexis Pinturault, France
Expected events: Super-G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: Tied for second in overall standings; four wins
2015 Worlds: Bronze in giant slalom; fifth in combined; 11th in super-G; DNF in slalom
2014 Olympics: Bronze in giant slalom; DNF in slalom, combined

Pinturault, the son of a Norwegian mother and a Courchevel hotelier, is the most talented all-around skier in the world without an Olympic or world title. The 25-year-old has won nine World Cup races in the last 365 days, more than any other man, including Hirscher. That talent manifests most in the super combined. Pinturault has won six of the 11 World Cup combined races since 2013.

Henrik Kristoffersen, Norway
Expected events: Giant Slalom, Slalom
2017 World Cup: Tied for second in overall standings; five wins (all slalom)
2015 Worlds: Fourth in slalom; 13th in giant slalom
2014 Olympics: Bronze in slalom; 10th in giant slalom

Norway is known for its speed skiers, but the 22-year-old Kristoffersen is a notable exception. In Sochi, he became the youngest man to earn an Olympic Alpine medal. He missed the medals at the 2015 Worlds but beat out Hirscher for last season’s World Cup slalom title. This season, Kristoffersen has won five of his eight slalom starts. Nicknamed “Wild Child” as a kid due to his energy, Kristoffersen skipped the season’s first slalom because the Norwegian federation wouldn’t let him wear a helmet with a Red Bull logo.

Kjetil Jansrud, Norway
Expected events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2017 World Cup: No. 4 in overall standings; four wins
2015 Worlds: Silver in combined; fourth in super-G; 15th in downhill
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; bronze in downhill; fourth in combined; DNF in giant slalom

Jansrud, raised in the 1994 Olympic town of Lillehammer, is from more of the burly Attacking Viking mold we’re used to seeing from the Norwegian contingent. He tore his ACL at the 2013 Worlds and came back to have the best Olympics of any male Alpiner with two medals and a fourth-place finish. In the absence of fellow Olympic super-G champion Aksel Lund Svindal, Jansrud shoulders the majority of Norway’s hopes in the speed races in St. Moritz.

Travis Ganong, USA
Expected events: Downhill, Super-G
2017 World Cup: Downhill win in Garmisch-Partenkirchen ended a 15-month U.S. men’s drought
2015 Worlds: Silver in downhill; DNF in super-G
2014 Olympics: Fifth in downhill; 23rd in super-G

With Miller, Ligety and Nyman out, the U.S. medals hopes pretty much rest on Ganong, the only man on the roster with a World Cup win. The 28-year-old enjoyed a fifth-place finish in his Olympic debut in the Sochi downhill, made his first World Cup podium later that month and won his first World Cup race in December 2014. He followed that up with a surprise 2015 World Championships downhill silver medal. Ganong went more than one year between top-five finishes on the World Cup before winning a downhill on Jan. 27.

MORE: Vonn develops friendship with young skier battling cancer

Tokyo Olympics have 3 months to decide virus impact, senior IOC member says

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TOKYO (AP) — Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, estimates there’s a three-month window to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which are being threatened by the fast-spreading virus from China.

Pound, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, did not sound alarmist. But he did speak frankly about the risks facing the Olympics, which open July 24.

Pound has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1978, 13 years longer than current President Thomas Bach.

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said, which would mean putting off a decision until late May and hoping the virus is under control. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

And if it got to the point of not going ahead, Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.”

“This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”

China on Tuesday reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths. South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 977, including 10 deaths.

Clusters of the illness are now appearing in the Middle East and Europe. This could signal a new stage in the spread of the virus with four deaths reported in Japan.

Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, and another 4,400 for the Paralympics, which open on Aug. 25.

“As far as we all know you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

The modern Olympics dating from 1896 have only been cancelled during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1976 in Montreal, in 1980 in Moscow and 1984 in Los Angeles — all in Pound’s memory.

The Olympics in 1940 were to be in Tokyo, but were called off because of Japan’s war with China and World War II.

Pound called uncertainty a major problem and repeated the IOC’s stance — that it’s depending on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move. So far, the games are on.

“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it,” Pound said.

He said whatever advice the IOC is now getting, “it doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”

If changes have to be made, Pound said every option faced obstacles.

Pound said moving to another city seemed unlikely.

“To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on,” Pound said.

London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested that was an inappropriate offer, using the virus as political campaign fodder.

Pound said he would not favor a dispersal of events over various venues because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.”

He said it would be very difficult to spread around all these sports in a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice.

How about delaying for a year, but staying in Tokyo? Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a national audit board says the country is spending twice that much.

“Then you have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year,” Pound said. “Then of course you have to fit all of this into the entire international sports schedule.”

Pound said the IOC has been building up an “emergency fund” for such circumstances, reported to be about $1 billion. That could fund international sports federations who depend on income from the IOC to operate — and the IOC itself.

“This would be what you normally call a force majeure,” said Pound, a Canadian lawyer by training, using the legal phrase for “unforeseeable circumstances.”

“It’s not an insurable risk and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side.”

Pound said the future of the Tokyo Games was largely out of the IOC’s hands, depending on the virus and if it abets.

“If it gets to be something like the Spanish Flu,” Pound said, referring to a deadly pandemic early in the 20th century that killed millions. “At that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

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