Alpine skiers to start World Cup season unlike any other

Ted Ligety
Getty Images

The Alpine skiing World Cup is set for its usual start in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday, but it will be far from a traditional fall and winter for the world’s best racers aiming to bounce around Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Markus Waldner, the International Ski Federation’s men’s World Cup director, said the season schedule is a matter of survival and hanging by a thread, according to Austrian media this week.

“The chance is high that we cancel some events this season,” Waldner told officials, according to The Associated Press on Oct. 1.

Races through March in 13 different countries, including world championships in Italy and 2022 Olympic test events in China in February, may be pending a host area’s rules on gatherings and quarantines. Then there are the potential travel restrictions for individual skiers’ home nations and training bases.

“The only safe thing you can do is travel as little as possible, stay put, do your racing and keep it simple,” NBC Sports Alpine skiing analyst Steve Porino said.

After the first two stops in Austria, the men and women have scheduled races in France in December, with the men then heading to four different venues in Italy before the New Year. France and Italy are among the European nations to reimpose restrictions amid a recent surge in cases.

In January between both tours, races are scheduled in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland.

There will be no races in North America due to pandemic-related travel concerns. In past seasons, the men’s and women’s tours combined to visit Vermont, Colorado and Alberta in late November and early December.

At least seven of the top 10 ski racing nations must be allowed to enter athletes five weeks before a race for it to count as a World Cup, barring exceptions.

There will not be the typical masses of fans at the opening races on the Rettenbach glacier on Saturday (women’s giant slalom) and Sunday (men’s giant slalom).

U.S. skiers took detours en route to Soelden. U.S. women’s head coach Paul Kristofic said they can usually start offseason training in April or May, but the pandemic pushed it to June and kept it domestic to Copper Mountain, Colo., and Mount Hood, Ore., rather than a normal trip to South America. They flew to Europe earlier than usual and spent the last six weeks on the glaciers.

Kristofic said that, since Sept. 1, it has been “a level playing field” for training versus the top European nations. Pandemic protocols this fall have been complicated, down to the amount of time a group can spend in a meeting to which people can load into certain cars.

At what confidence the season can be completed in full, or close to it, is a shared consideration inside the circuit.

“The challenge is the numbers are going the wrong way in Europe right now,” Kristofic said. “I think it’ll sort of be a week-by-week thing [for races happening] where it’s difficult to say which way it could go.”

Two-time Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin announced last week that she will miss Soelden after tweaking her back in training. Shiffrin planned to return to the U.S., according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard last week.

Another double Olympic gold medalist, Ted Ligety, is slated to start Sunday. He plans to fly back and forth between the U.S., where his wife and three young boys will stay, and Europe for giant slalom races this season, according to Ligety, a 36-year-old bidding for a fifth and final Olympics in 2022, pared his racing schedule in recent years to focus on his trademark discipline.

The first Americans to race Saturday will be Nina O’BrienPaula Moltzan, Keely Cashman and AJ Hurt.

“The target out of the four girls is to get two in the second run [top 30] and solid performances out of AJ Hurt and Keely Cashman, who haven’t had quite as much training as the others,” Kristofic said.

American technical-event skiers will fly back to the U.S. between Soelden and the next stop, four weeks later in Austria, Kristofic said.

The European skiers who are focused on a World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing for accumulating points in all races, can’t look at this weekend as a soft opening.

“Dosing your effort is probably a bad idea because we could be pulling the pin early on the season,” Porino said. “Soelden matters more than it has ever mattered.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein

Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah

British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!