As Alpine skiing World Cup starts, the men’s spotlight is shared

Henrik Kristoffersen, Alexis Pinturault
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Three men go into the World Cup Alpine skiing season with legitimate claims to alpha status, a little more than one year after the longtime dominant Marcel Hirscher retired.

Norwegians Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Henrik Kristoffersen and Frenchman Alexis Pinturault are all on the start list for Sunday’s giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, the first of a scheduled 38 individual races through March. The coronavirus pandemic, plus the usual weather variables, will determine how many of those 38 races happen.

Kilde, the latest of Norway’s Attacking Vikings, won last season’s overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, in anticlimactic fashion. The last seven races were canceled at the start of the pandemic. Kilde earned the crystal globe by a slim 54 points over Pinturault, who was a significant favorite after winning the Soelden opener last year.

Had the virus not wiped out the last two weekends, and Kilde and Pinturault repeated their average results per discipline, Kilde would have prevailed by just 28 points.

Kilde’s previous best overall finish was seventh in the era of Hirscher’s record eight straight overall titles. The 28-year-old from the same hometown as Magnus Carlsen owns zero senior world championships medals and won a single race in the 2019-20 season.

He eked by Pinturault with his consistency. The Frenchman won six races but had five fewer top-10s than Kilde.

But both Pinturault and, perhaps even more, Kristoffersen are targeted this season.

Kilde excels in the speed events of downhill and super-G. This year’s schedule includes a greater percentage than last year of the technical events of slalom and giant slalom — specialties for Pinturault and Kristoffersen.

If all three men repeat their average results per discipline from last season, Kristoffersen will win the overall by 124 points over Kilde.

“Henrik is the great favorite this year with this calendar,” Pinturault told French TV, according to Olympic Channel. “He’s a great slalomer, and slalom is the discipline with most races this year.”

Kristoffersen was ticketed as Hirscher’s successor in early 2014 — when he became, at 19, the youngest World Cup male race winner in 32 years and the youngest Olympic male Alpine skiing medalist in history. Kristoffersen, like Hirscher, is coached by his dad. He finished second or third in the overall each of the last five seasons.

Then there’s Pinturault, the most accomplished of the trio across disciplines with wins in super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined. The 29-year-old led last season’s overall going into what turned out to be the last race, a downhill where Kilde finished second to move ahead.

Pinturault’s Norwegian mother, Hege, taught him to ski from age 2. He went from failing to finish or qualify for the second run in his first 14 World Cup starts to becoming France’s career wins leader and a triple Olympic medalist.

He had a volatile 2019-20. Pinturault won three giant slaloms, but finished no better than eighth in the other four. Pinturault earned his first slalom win in nearly six years, but he failed to finish four other slaloms.

“Pinturault still has yet to show that he can be consistent from the beginning of the year to the end,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said. “Kristoffersen has marginally done so more to where he is more of a favorite for the overall, particularly because it’s tech heavy.”

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

Olympic Council of Asia
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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”