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Ted Ligety will keep ski racing, so long as he’s contending

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Ted Ligety, a seven-time Olympic or world champion, had a best finish of eighth on the World Cup circuit last season. That is simply unacceptable for the most successful U.S. male Alpine skier in history.

“If the best race result I get all year is eighth place, like last year, then I’m not going to be doing this for much longer,” said Ligety, a 35-year-old father whose 321 career World Cup starts are the most among active Olympic medalists now that Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal have retired. “I don’t want to keep going if my peak is eighth place. I want to keep going if I can win races.”

Ligety knows how to win at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (Sunday, 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

He prevailed a record four times between 2011 and 2015, before a string of significant injuries: a hip labrum tear in 2015, a season-ending ACL tear in 2016 and season-ending surgery for three herniated disks in his back in 2017.

He raced full seasons the last two years but not at his typical level — one World Cup podium (two weeks before the PyeongChang Olympics) and finishes of 15th and 11th in his bread-and-butter giant slalom at the 2018 Winter Games and 2019 Worlds.

Ligety said he’s felt healthy through preseason training. The back is the only concern at this point, and it’s holding up.

“It’s always hard to say until race season starts because there’s nothing quite like the forces and pressures a race puts on your body,” he said.

Ligety will deem this a successful season if he’s winning races. His 25 career World Cup victories (24 in giant slalom) are most among active men with longtime rival Marcel Hirscher‘s retirement.

“It’s always hard to see at the get-go, but I’m hoping [winning or making the podium] is possible in Soelden,” he said. “It’s been a hill that’s treated me well. I’ve had a lot of success here. That’s definitely the goal.”

His chances may be greatly impacted before he gets to the start gate. Course setups in recent years have worked against Ligety, known for his unique ability to carve turns.

“It’s pretty crazy watching video from 2014 versus now how much less turn there is,” he said. “Nowadays, a course is almost dead straight. It’s really done a lot different, for nothing other than just a trend within the coaches setting that way. Maybe this year, the person who sets the first course maybe sets a turning one, and all of a sudden we start having turning courses again.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said Ligety is one of the more difficult racers to read.

“Because he really can race above his training ability,” Porino said. “If I base it on what I saw last year, it’s going to be one of these scenarios where if the course and conditions are in his wheelhouse. … When they’re straight, he doesn’t stand much of a chance. But they’re not all going to be straight.

“When the course has a lot of swing to it, he’s still really good at that, and he’s got a chance of being on the podium.”

Ligety plans to race a more limited schedule than in years’ past — just giant slaloms, and probably the Beaver Creek super-G — and spend more time back home in Utah with his family. His current stretch ahead of Soelden — three weeks on the road — will be by far his longest away from home.

Ligety will use that extra time for training and to race on the U.S.-based World Pro Ski Tour, which runs from December to April.

“If I go past this season, then probably going through the [2022 Beijing] Olympics, but otherwise it’s really hard to say,” he said.

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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

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