Marcel Hirscher clinches record 7th World Cup overall title

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KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP) — Marcel Hirscher capped his stellar season by securing an unprecedented seventh overall World Cup title on Sunday.

Dominating the penultimate slalom of the season, the double PyeongChang Olympic champion from Austria stretched his lead over his only remaining rival, Henrik Kristoffersen, to 289 points. The Norwegian, a specialist in technical races, cannot overtake Hirscher because he will only compete in two more events this season.

“This is so surreal, I can’t believe it,” said Hirscher, who also locked up the slalom and GS titles this weekend, two weeks before the season-ending races in Sweden.

“Now I am going for one week vacation to Are,” he quipped. “That is always really nice because the stress has gone away.”

Building on a big first-leg lead of 0.82-seconds over Kristoffersen, Hirscher did not hold back in his final run and extended the margin to 1.22 seconds, a country mile in the sport.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland was 1.61 behind in third, while PyeongChang gold medalist Andre Myhrer, who was third after the opening run, dropped to 24th.

Shortly after finishing and with his skis still clipped on, Hirscher fell on his back and celebrated the victory.

“Incredible. You can’t believe it’s possible,” he said after becoming the first skier in the 51-year history of the World Cup to win seven overall titles. No other male skier has won more than five, and fellow Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell won six times on the women’s circuit (though not all consecutive) in the 1970s.

Sunday’s victory also gave Hirscher this year’s slalom title with a race to spare, a day after he also locked up the season-long title in the giant slalom.

“With all the problems before the season started, with the broken ankle, it is… I can’t find the right words. It is very surreal,” said Hirscher, who missed all of his preseason preparation after fracturing his ankle while straddling a gate on his first training day on snow in August.

“The summer really wasn’t easy. It went from a possible end of career to my best season,” Hirscher said after Sunday’s win, his 12th of the World Cup season and 57th overall.

Last month, Hirscher crowned his illustrious career by adding the only prize he was missing — Olympic gold. He won the super combined and the giant slalom, but came up short as clear favorite in the slalom, where he went out in the opening run.

“I don’t know, to be honest,” Hirscher said when asked about his next goals. “I am happy to go home now and enjoy this. I have to make up my mind where my journey goes next.”

Hirscher said the ongoing rivalry with Kristoffersen, who beat the Austrian for the slalom title two years ago, has enabled him to further raise his level.

“Hats off, the future belongs to this young man,” Hirscher said about the 23-year-old Norwegian. “He has made it really tough. He performed, performed, performed, and made no mistakes so I had to bring something extra all the time.”

Kristoffersen, who performed a deep bow to Hirscher at the prize giving ceremony after Sunday’s race, called the Austrian “the best ski racer in the world.”

“So it’s OK for me to be second. At the moment he is just better, so it’s OK when he wins the slalom globe, the GS globe, the overall globe,” Kristoffersen said.

The men’s World Cup continues with a downhill and a super-G in Kvitfjell, Norway, next weekend.

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Chinese figure skating judges banned for biased Olympic scoring

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Two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended by the International Skating Union for biased judging at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Chen Weiguang and Huang Feng had “preferential marking” for top Chinese skaters Jin Boyang (fourth place in PyeongChang) and the silver medalist pairs’ team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, respectively, according to the ISU.

Chen was banned two years and excluded from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Huang got a one-year ban.

Chen awarded her highest grades of execution scores of the men’s competition to Jin, as well as her second-highest program components scores, trailing only gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Both sets of scores, in both the short and long programs, were out of line with the other eight judges.

“There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors,” an ISU report read. “Her marks were completely unrealistic.”

The pairs’ judge Huang “obviously favored his pair also vis-à-vis the other top candidates for the Olympic gold medal,” the ISU said in a report, referencing inflated scores for Sui and Han and lower scores for gold and bronze medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

Huang was warned one month before the Olympics by the ISU for biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs’ event.

Both suspensions are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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Javier Fernandez to skip Grand Prix, still compete next season

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Javier Fernandez, who in PyeongChang became the first Spanish Olympic figure skating medalist, will skip the fall Grand Prix series but return for January’s European Championships, which could be his final competition.

Europeans will be Fernandez’s focus for the season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fernandez, 26, added an Olympic bronze medal to his 2015 and 2016 World titles. He has said that his third Olympics in PyeongChang would be his last. But Fernandez did not say he would retire after the Winter Games, though he did skip the world championships in March.

Fernandez now plans to compete in his 13th straight European Championships in Minsk in January. He won the last six titles. It’s unknown if he will continue on to the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

In Fernandez’s absence, the top male singles skaters in the fall Grand Prix season should be double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, PyeongChang silver medalist Shoma Uno and American Nathan Chen, who was fifth at the Olympics after a disastrous short program but ran away with March’s world title by the largest margin in history.

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