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Alpine skiing World Cup Finals canceled due to coronavirus concern

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Mikaela Shiffrin’s chances of extending her three-year reign as overall champion took another hit when the alpine skiing World Cup Finals in Italy were canceled Friday because of the virus outbreak.

Shiffrin already lost her lead in the standings because of a month-long absence following the death of her father.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation was hoping to host the Finals, scheduled for March 18-22 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, without fans. But during an emergency International Ski Federation board meeting on Friday, every nation besides Italy voted to cancel the event, the Italian federation said.

“It’s with great disappointment that I accept this decision,” Italian federation president Flavio Roda said. “Every member of the board made their decision based on limitations that their respective governments have imposed in relation to the virus.”

World Cup rules prevent the Finals from being moved to another location.

Shiffrin announced on Thursday she was returning to the circuit in Europe but she has only one set of races left in Åre, Sweden — if she enters — to try to erase her 153-point deficit to Italian rival Federica Brignone.

“It’s an inconclusive way to finish the season,” Brignone said. “What really hurts me will be the loss of the prize celebrations, which represent a special moment to share with the entire team, and the pleasure of hearing your national anthem play.

“I’m really upset. We were looking forward to racing in front of our fans in order to finish this great season in the best manner possible.”

“It’s even more disturbing if I think about how well I’ve been skiing lately, and how every race was an opportunity to post good results. … I’m also upset because it means I finish second in the super-G standings behind Corinne Suter courtesy of that hundredth of a second that cost me the victory in La Thuile last Saturday.”

The cancellation leaves only two weekends of racing left for the men, with Alexis Pinturault leading the overall standings, 26 points ahead of Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, and 107 points ahead of Henrik Kristoffersen.

The title will be decided by speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, this weekend, and tech races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, next weekend.

The cancellation of the Finals means Beat Feuz of Switzerland clinched the downhill title. He leads Thomas Dressen of Germany by 194 points.

If she races, Shiffrin will be among the favorites in the three races in Åre beginning next Thursday: A parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom.

The American skier announced in a video posted on Instagram that she was flying to Scandinavia this week.

“I have no promises if I’ll actually be able to race,” Shiffrin said in a six-minute video message that addressed the emotions about her father, Jeff, who died on Feb. 2.

Shiffrin said she trained a little but with difficulty.

Also in contention for the women’s title is Petra Vlhová. She is 189 points behind Brignone, who is attempting to become the first Italian woman to win the large crystal globe.

The races in Cortina were slated to be the first major test of a new men’s course for next year’s world championships in the Italian resort. The resort known as “the Queen of the Dolomites” is also slated to host skiing during the Milan-Cortina Olympics in 2026.

Nearly 150 people have died in Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for the virus. Many nations have imposed travel restrictions to Italy.

A total of nine events were scheduled for Cortina: Four men’s races, four women’s races, and a team parallel event.

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MORE: IOC member: Tokyo Olympics have 3 months to decide coronavirus impact

FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”