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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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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.