Special events mark 60th anniversary of 1961 U.S. figure skating world team plane crash

"RISE" New York Premiere
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On Feb. 15, 1961, the 18 members of the 1961 U.S. figure skating world team, and 16 coaches, officials and family members, gathered at Idlewild Airport in Queens, New York, to board Sabena Flight 548 en route to Brussels, Belgium, a stopover on the way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Spirits were high. Several of the athletes, including U.S. women’s champion Laurence Owen, had medal hopes. All were excited, if a bit apprehensive, about competing for the U.S. behind what was then thought of as the “Iron Curtain” of Eastern Europe.

It was not to be. The Boeing 707-329 aircraft crashed on approach to Zaventem Airport, killing all 72 people on board and one person on the ground. The precise cause of the crash has never been firmly established.

Tonight (Feb. 11) the documentary “RISE,” created by U.S. Figure Skating to honor the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, will be broadcast at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton and Michelle Kwan serve as storytellers for “RISE,” with reactions from other American figure skating legends.

All proceeds from the movie have gone to the Memorial Fund, a living legacy to the lives lost on that fateful day which helps current skaters reach their skating and academic goals.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Skating Club of Boston, home to several members of the 1961 world team, will host an online panel discussion to commemorate the lives lost and the rebuilding of the U.S. figure skating program. Participants include 1956 Olympic champion Dr. Tenley Albright; revered coach Frank Carroll, whose own mentor, Maribel Vinson Owen, was lost in the crash; 1960 Olympic bronze medalist Barbara Roles; 1968 Olympian Albertina Noyes; and others, including current competitors Audrey Lu, Misha Mitrofanov and Maxim Naumov. The event will be streamed online beginning 4 p.m. ET. Register online at SCBoston.org/events.

U.S. Figure Skating is also commemorating the anniversary through its Get Up campaign. Skaters and fans are encouraged to participate in the Get Up Virtual 5K throughout the month of February, be it by skating, running, walking or other means. Participants can register here and will receive a 1961 race bib, with all proceeds going to the Memorial Fund.

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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