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, Pinturault showed he was gunning for the top podium spot. Pushing himself beyond his limit, Pinturault 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.

“The first part I tried to push it really, really hard,” Hirscher said after the race. “There were two or three gates where it was bumpy, hopefully [I would] stay safe there and into the finish line.

“It is unbelievable, you know? After ’13, ’17 and now ’19, maybe my last world champs, finally get another gold medal.”

The 29-year-old Hirscher, who became a father back in October, has been forthcoming about his future in competitive Alpine racing, saying it’s “not the most important thing.”

It was an all-Austrian podium at the end of the day, with Hirscher’s countrymen Michael Matt winning silver and Marco Schwarz getting bronze. Although he made a remarkable recovery, Pinturault’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

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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