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U.S. softball qualifies for Olympics, wins worlds on walk-off

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The U.S. qualified for softball’s return to the Olympics and won the world championship on an extra-inning walk-off Sunday.

Kelsey Stewart drove in the winning run in the 10th as the U.S. beat host Japan 7-6 to repeat as world champs. The Americans rallied from a 6-4 deficit in the last frame against Japanese star pitcher Yukiko Ueno.

“They always find a way to come back,” U.S. coach Ken Eriksen said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t get too wrapped up in what your swings looks like, what your pitch is supposed to do. Just play softball.'”

Softball is back on the Olympic program in Tokyo in 2020 after being cut following the 2008 Beijing Games.

The Americans qualified for the six-team Olympic tournament when Japan eliminated Canada from the world tournament in Japan earlier Sunday.

With Japan already qualified for the Tokyo Games as host nation, the U.S. clinched the lone berth available at worlds.

The U.S. and Japan met in the last seven Olympic and world championship finals dating to 2006, including Japan’s upset of the U.S. in the 2008 Olympic final.

The U.S. went 9-0 for the tournament, including beating Japan in the semifinals, 4-3 in eight innings, on Saturday.

Eriksen paid tribute to Ueno, who pitched a total of 17 innings between two games Sunday in hot and humid weather.

“There are not many pitchers who could do what she did,” he said. “It shows you how great she is. We got fortunate that she ran out of gas at the end, her ball wasn’t moving as much as it was in the last inning.”

Monica Abbott, the fifth U.S. pitcher used, picked up the win despite giving up two runs on one hit over the final two innings. Abbott, 33, is the only player on the U.S. team who played in the Beijing Olympics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: 49-year-old Olympic champion plays first event in 10 years

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Marcel Hirscher dominates to win third slalom world title

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As he has done for most of this World Cup season, Austria’s Marcel Hirscher came out hot in the first run of the men’s slalom in Are, attempting to win his third world title in the event. But big events have not always worked out for the man ranked third on the all-time World Cup win list.

Hirscher’s body of work at events like the Olympics and world championships have, in the past, swung between the extremes of skiing superiority to disastrous mistakes. Thirty-two of Hirscher’s 68 career World Cup wins have come in slalom. He won his first slalom world championship title in 2013, but did not get his second until 2017. His attempt to win back-to-back titles in 2015 ended after he straddled a gate in the final run.

At the Olympics, Hirscher has not won a single slalom medal in three attempts. At the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Hirscher shockingly fell in his opening run. He was skiing for his third gold medal in PyeongChang when he faltered.

Despite his career hiccups, there is no doubt that Hirscher is the most dominant slalom skier currently competing.

In Are, Hirscher made his statement early, slicing up the course, gaining speed as he rushed down the hill, posting a first run time that was well out of reach for the majority of the field.

NBC Sports’ Steve Porino pointed out many of the men were crossing the finish line completely “gassed,” gasping to catch their breath, indicating to Porino that many of them were exerting themselves in the flats, pushing off their skis at each turn to generate more speed.

None did it better than Hirscher.

The first run finished with Hirscher ahead of France’s Alexis Pinturault by a little more than a half second. Austria’s Marco Schwarz was nearly a full second and a half off the lead in third.

Skiing to just ahead of Hirscher in the second run, Pintauralt showed he was gunning for the top podium spot. Pushing himself beyond his limit, Pintauralt lost his balance mid-run, going down on the snow but quickly recovered to cross the finish line in third.

Hirscher now entered the start gate with just over a second and a half cushion. Once more he attacked the slalom course as if he were fighting from the back of the pack. Hirscher crossed the line to win his third world championship slalom title by more than two seconds.

It was an all-Austrian podium in the men’s slalom, with Hirscher’s countrymen Michael Matt winning silver and Marco Schwarz getting bronze. Pintauralt’s mistake cost him the podium, dropping the Frenchman to fourth.

Full results are here.

Hirscher’s slalom win is the first gold medal for Austria at these world championships. Hirscher also won silver in giant slalom earlier in Are.

With the 2019 World Championships now complete, World Cup competition picks back up with both the men and women back on skis on Tuesday for a city event in Stockholm. The two tours split for the upcoming weekend with the men skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria as the women travel to the Swiss Alps region of Crans-Montana. Check out the full slate below for ways to watch on the networks of NBCSN and Olympic Channel on TV and streaming.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Stockholm, Sweden; Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 11:30 a.m. City Event – Stockholm Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. City Event – Stockholm* NBCSN
Friday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:15 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
5:45 a.m. Men’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.