luge
Getty Images

Luge officials ‘well-prepared’ for full World Cup season

Leave a comment

The International Luge Federation is still planning for a full 10-race international season this fall and winter, though it has yet to say what protocols will be added to deal with the coronavirus.

The FIL released a slightly updated plan for the season Thursday, with no changes to the previously announced schedule and locations. Races will be held in seven different countries, including a World Cup stop in Lake Placid, New York, on Jan. 23 and 24 hosted by USA Luge and the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

“ORDA feels they’ll be well-prepared for our World Cup here in January,” USA Luge CEO Jim Leahy said Thursday. “They’ll have enough information to protect the athletes.”

Thursday’s schedule announcement was largely about detailing which cities will host sprint races and team relays as part of the World Cup stop.

The season will begin as usual at Innsbruck, Austria on Nov. 28 and 29, followed by races the next three weekends in German cities – Altenberg, Oberhof and Winterberg. After a Christmas and New Year’s break, the tour resumes Jan. 9 and 10 in Sigulda, Latvia, then the following weekend in Konigssee, Germany and then the race in Lake Placid.

From there, Whistler, British Columbia will play host to the world championships. The weekend of Feb. 20 and 21 sees athletes visit the newly built Chinese track near Beijing – the site of the 2022 Olympics – followed by the season finale on the 2018 Olympic track in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I really think it’s going to come down to just creating a safe environment, having people be comfortable and taking the right safety precautions,” said Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer, the longtime USA Luge slider and the athletes’ representative on the FIL Executive Board. “It’s not going to be an easy task … but it’s kind of the reality that we’re facing right now.”

Travel restrictions are likely going to be in place, and the FIL is weighing many options to protect athletes – including, Leahy said, the possibility of having races without fans. It’s all with the primary goal, he said, of getting through all 10 race weeks safely.

“Next season is important because it’s the start of Olympic qualification for a number of teams,” Leahy said.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is also working through several different scenarios for next season, one that has Lake Placid set to host the world championships over the first two weeks of February. For now, the IBSF schedule remains unchanged with nine events still set to take place in six different countries – including China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated.

In January, plans to have athletes from all three sliding sports visit the new track at Yanging, China in March for the facility’s homologation – a certification process that must take place before a new track can play host to races – were canceled, and that was when the virus was being blamed for only about 170 deaths. The virus has now been the cause of more than 484,000 deaths globally, according to data collected by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The homologation has since been rescheduled for this fall, though it remains uncertain which athletes will take part. Typically, such a process involves athletes from virtually every country that has sliding federations taking test runs to confirm a track’s safety.

Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

Leave a comment

Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

“Every match is a great win,” said Gauff, the youngest player in either singles draw. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think maybe winning Slams, matches at Slams is something I’m used to. Especially, this is my first main draw Roland Garros. When I’m on the court. I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

“I’m pretty sure this is my first ever pro tournament, maybe even tournament in general, playing in weather like this,” said Gauff, noting she warmed up for 20 minutes before going on court so she could walk in with a sweat.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round after playing a match in leggings for the first time in about six years.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

Leave a comment

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes