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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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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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