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Ski federation says ‘too many races’ on Alpine World Cup schedule

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — The upcoming Alpine skiing World Cup season includes “too many races,” the International Ski Federation (FIS) has conceded amid criticism from racers and coaches.

Without Olympic Games or world championships in February, the sport’s top-level circuit runs non-stop from October through March with 44 men’s events at 22 different venues, and 41 women’s events at 21 venues.

That’s an increase of six races for both competitions compared to last season and has led to concerns that the tight schedule will not leave enough time for skiers to rest between events.

“I know it’s not easy for the athletes and also for some organizers. We are now at a certain limit, there is no question,” FIS President Gian-Franco Kasper said Friday, a day before the season starts with a women’s giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold), followed by a men’s race on Sunday (5 and 8 a.m., NBC Sports Gold).

“We have too many races. But FIS is not here to prevent races but to organize races,” said Kasper, adding that FIS could improve on scheduling by planning the calendars three years ahead.

While there is a four-week break until the next event — slalom races in Finland on Nov. 23-24 — the circuit will take up full speed afterward, with stops in Canada, the United States, China and Japan adding to its European core.

The city events for top-16 racers have been removed from the schedule, but FIS added more parallel slaloms and giant slaloms to regular World Cup venues.

Also, the Alpine combined discipline has been revived, with three races for the men and four for the women.

However, no racer is planning to compete in all 44 or 41 events.

More skiers have been specializing in one or two disciplines in recent years, while the few all-rounders left have skipped a few events in order to create sufficient rest days in their schedules.

Like Mikaela Shiffrin, who could potentially start in all events but has been taking midseason breaks each year.

“For sure I am going to continue this process of picking which races make sense and what’s going to work,” the three-time World Cup overall champion told The Associated Press.

Last season, for instance, she skipped races in Rosa Khutor to avoid a grueling journey from Switzerland to Russia and back to the Czech Republic within 10 days.

“Sometimes it doesn’t really make sense how they make it work,” Shiffrin said. “Which races are where? You are traveling all over the place, kind of in the wrong direction half of the time. That’s actually very difficult to manage. But then they can’t expect us to do everything.”

Austria men’s head coach Andreas Puelacher also pointed out it’s not just the high volume but the actual scheduling of races that causes problems.

“FIS hasn’t listened to us,” he told Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung. “All coaches have pleaded for a reduction of the number of races. It’s dangerous.”

Puelacher named a floodlit night slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, on Dec. 23, followed by downhill training in Bormio three days later, as the worst example.

“So as a racer you get home on the 23rd in the night or the 24th in the morning and you have to leave for Bormio on the 25th. That’s irresponsible,” he said.

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Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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