Key athletes, storylines one year out from Winter Paralympics

Paralympic hockey
NBC Sports

Five storylines for the 2022 Winter Paralympics, one year out from the Opening Ceremony …

U.S.-Canada Hockey Rivalry
The U.S. hockey team eyes a fourth consecutive Paralympic title, which would match the hockey record for the Olympics or Paralympics. If the most recent Paralympics and world championship are any indication, it will be thrilling.

In the 2018 final, Declan Farmer scored a last-minute tying goal and then a golden goal to beat Canada. In the 2019 Worlds final, Brody Roybal, the PyeongChang tournament MVP, scored the golden goal in overtime, also against Canada.

Both Farmer and Roybal, plus stalwart goalie Steve Cash, are in the mix for the roster for Beijing.

Dual Summer/Winter Paralympians
The U.S. has a recent history of Paralympians doubling up, including Alana Nichols in wheelchair basketball, Alpine skiing and canoe; Tatyana McFadden in track and field and cross-country skiing; Oksana Masters in rowing, biathlon, cross-country skiing and cycling and Aaron Pike in track and field, biathlon and cross-country skiing.

More athletes are bidding to join that list with ambitious plans to compete in the Tokyo Games in August and September and the Beijing Games in March. Notably, hockey gold medalist Josh Sweeney and cross-country skiing gold medalist Kendall Gretsch, who are each triathlon hopefuls for Tokyo.

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Snowboarding Shift
The U.S.’ most successful sport by total medals in 2018 was easily snowboarding — 13 of its 36 medals and five of its 13 golds. But there will be fewer medal chances in Beijing. The women’s program was reduced from two classes per discipline to one class each for banked slalom and snowboard cross. The men still have three classes for each event.

Brenna Huckaby won banked slalom and snowboard cross in her Paralympic debut in 2018. Huckaby’s classification in 2018 was the one cut from the Paralympic program for 2022, but she said this week that she plans to race in Beijing under the revised, one-classification program.

Huckaby competed in PyeongChang 20 months after having daughter Lilah. She had second daughter Sloan in January 2020.

Brittani Coury, a banked slalom silver medalist in PyeongChang, is expected to return for Beijing after spending the pandemic in her other line of work — nursing.

Medal Standings
In 2018, the U.S. topped the overall- and gold-medal standings for the first time at a Winter Games since Albertville 1992. Russia, the top medal nation in 2006, 2010 and 2014, had a smaller athlete delegation that competed as neutrals due to the nation’s doping penalties.

The Russian Paralympic Committee was reinstated by the International Paralympic Committee in 2019, but the number of Russian athletes could again be limited in Beijing given the nation’s additional recent sanctions in international sport.

Host China dominated the last four Summer Paralympics, but it had zero Winter Games medals before taking wheelchair curling gold in 2018.

Legend’s Farewell
Canadian Brian McKeever is expected to compete at his sixth and final Winter Games in Beijing. McKeever, a 41-year-old cross-country skier, already has 17 medals, including 13 golds. If he repeats his haul from PyeongChang (three golds, one bronze), he will tie retired German Alpine skier Gerd Schoenfelder‘s male record for career Winter Paralympic titles. It would take five total medals to tie Schoenfelder’s male record for medals of any color.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships results

Mikaela Shiffrin World Championships

Top 10 and notable results from the 2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Meribel and Courchevel, France …

Women’s Combined
Gold: Federica Brignone (ITA) — 1:57.47
Silver: Wendy Holdener (SUI) — +1.62
Bronze: Ricarda Haaser (AUT) — +2.26
4. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) — +2.48
5. Franziska Gritsch (AUT) — +2.71
6. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +3.43
7. Laura Gauche (FRA) — +3.71
8. Emma Aicher (GER) — +3.78
9. Elena Curtoni (ITA) — +4.05
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) — +4.91
13. Bella Wright (USA) — +6.21
DQ (slalom). Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)
DNS (slalom). Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI)
DNS (slalom). Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR)
DNS (slalom). Sofia Goggia (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Marta Bassino (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Breezy Johnson (USA)
DNF (super-G). Tricia Mangan (USA)

Men’s Combined (Feb. 7)
Women’s Super-G (Feb. 8)
Men’s Super-G (Feb. 9)
Women’s Downhill (Feb. 11)
Men’s Downhill (Feb. 12)
Team Parallel (Feb. 14)
Men’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 16)
Men’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 17)
Women’s Slalom (Feb. 18)
Men’s Slalom (Feb. 19)

ALPINE WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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