Matthias Mayer ends Kitzbuehel downhill drought for Austria

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KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — For the second time in two days at the 80th Hahnenkamm races, Matthias Mayer spread his arms and bent over backward in celebration.

While his leading time in Friday’s World Cup super-G didn’t hold up, his gutsy run on the Streif course on Saturday earned him the victory in the classic downhill, becoming the first Austrian winner of the event in six years.

In cloudy conditions but on a perfect track, Mayer finished 0.22 ahead of Austrian teammate Vincent Kriechmayr and Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who tied for second.

“There is nothing better than crossing the finish in front of those thousands of people. It’s really incredible,” said Mayer, who won the super-G here three years ago.

“In Kitzbuehel there is always tension but I was just looking forward to this race, I wanted to enjoy it,” he added.

It was the eighth career World Cup win for the two-time Olympic champion and third of the season, after triumphing in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December and an Alpine combined in Wengen, Switzerland, last week.

No Austrian had won the prestigious race, which is usually attended by tens of thousands of spectators, since Hannes Reichelt in 2014.

“It’s very important, simply cool,” Mayer said about winning one of the marquee events of the season.

World Cup downhill champion Feuz was denied victory in the circuit’s most challenging race once again, as he finished runner-up for the fourth time in the last five years.

“Again I was not fast enough,” Feuz said. “But second place on the most difficult course in Kitzbuehel, you have to be satisfied. In Wengen luck has been on my side three times, here in Kitzbuehel it has not been on my side.”

Feuz, however, extended his lead in the discipline standings, having finished in the top three each race this season.

Feuz is currently 96 points clear of Dominik Paris, who won the downhill here last season, while Mayer climbed to third, trailing Feuz by 180 points.

Paris has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after the Italian tore the ACL and fractured the fibula head in his right knee in a crash during super-G practice this week.

“It’s a shame what happened to Dominik. That was a super battle,” Feuz said. “The gap is a bit bigger now. But Mayer has also been top five all the time so I cannot allow myself to make mistakes.”

Feuz led the race until Kriechmayr clocked the same time. It was already the sixth race this season with a tie for a podium place, which also happened in Friday’s super-G.

Kriechmayr crashed in Thursday’s downhill training and placed a disappointing sixth in the super-G the next day.

“It was a good run, I wanted to show that I could do better than yesterday,” he said after the Austrian 1-2 finish. “Our fans have deserved this. We have don’t well in recent years.”

France duo Johan Clarey and Maxence Muzaton placed fourth and fifth, respectively, while Kjetil Jansrud, who won the super-G Friday, finished sixth.

American downhiller Steven Nyman was among the fastest starters and still was ahead of Mayer’s time at the fourth split time but he couldn’t match the Austrian’s pace in the demanding bottom section of the course.

Nyman came 1.05 off the lead in 13th, five places behind the best American finisher, Bryce Bennett.

Peter Fill, who won the race in 2016 for one of his three career victories, failed to finish before announcing his retirement at the end of the season after 17 years on the circuit.

The 37-year-old Italian won the World Cup downhill title in back-to-back seasons in 2016 and 2017, and the Alpine combined rankings the following year. Fill also won super-G silver at the 2009 world championships.

The Hahnenkamm races traditionally end with a slalom on Sunday.

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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