Vincent Kriechmayr wins Wengen Lauberhorn downhill; American qualifies for Olympics


WENGEN, Switzerland — It is never easy for Switzerland to watch an Austrian downhiller win its signature ski race that is part of the Alpine nation’s culture.

It was even harder to take Saturday as Vincent Kriechmayr won the classic Lauberhorn race that Swiss team officials said this week he should not have been allowed to start.

Kriechmayr’s victory in a sun-splashed World Cup downhill beside the Eiger mountain came despite missing midweek training runs that are typically mandatory in skiing’s marquee event. He had been kept in quarantine in Austria after testing positive for COVID-19.

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He had arrived in Wengen late Wednesday, after the two training runs, but was cleared by race officials who insisted Kriechmayr — the reigning world champion in downhill — had not been given special treatment under International Ski Federation (FIS) rules.

“For me, it’s not important what the Swiss team is saying. For me, it’s important what the athletes are saying,” said Kriechmayr, who asked his biggest rivals for approval, including Beat Feuz and Marco Odermatt of Switzerland.

“They think it’s a good decision for the athletes. That’s the only important thing for me,” he told The Associated Press.

In a further twist, Kriechmayr’s winning run denied Swiss favorite Feuz a record fourth win in the storied race that has been a World Cup fixture since the circuit started 55 years ago. The Lauberhorn race was first run in 1930.

The Austrian winner finished 0.34 seconds ahead of runner-up Feuz in the longest race on the World Cup circuit he also won three years ago. The key to victory this time was Kriechmayr’s flawless run through the slower, twisting middle section of the tiring 2 2/3-mile course.

Kriechmayr’s winning time at just over 2 minutes, 26 seconds was 0.44 faster than third-placed Dominik Paris of Italy, who now leads the season-long downhill standings.

The process to qualify Kriechmayr included staging an unusual “training run” on Friday morning, one day after he had competed in a World Cup super-G race on a lower section of the hill. The brief incident saw him push out of the official downhill start then stop within 10 meters.

The symbolic training start enabled Kriechmayr to race in the Friday downhill, where he placed 12th, and again on Saturday though provoked criticism of FIS.

“In these complicated times due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” skiing’s governing body said in a statement, “it is important to find solutions to allow our athletes to compete as long as they can provide the necessary requirements according to the FIS COVID guidelines.”

Though agreeing with the FIS aim to let racers race, Italian veteran Christof Innerhofer told the AP that “it is more easy when you have a big name” like Kriechmayr.

Before the race, display jets from the Swiss air force performed their traditional show of stunts in formation over the course circled by the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains.

A crowd of almost 19,500 spectators was more than 12,000 fewer than attended two years ago when the race was last staged before the pandemic.

They saw Switzerland’s emerging ski star Odermatt place fourth, trailing by 0.46. Fifth-place Matthias Mayer clocked the fastest speed at almost 150 kph (93 mph) when he was the first starter on snow that got softer on a warm day.

Swiss fans also said farewell to Carlo Janka, the 2010 overall World Cup winner who ended his racing career. Janka did not complete the race that he won in 2010.

Odermatt extended his lead in the overall World Cup standings to a big 390-point margin from Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who was 0.98 back in seventh. Kilde had won on Friday ahead of Odermatt on a shorter Lauberhorn course.

Paris earned 60 points Saturday to take the lead Kilde had held in the season-long downhill standings. In a tight contest, Odermatt in sixth place is just 40 points back going into two editions next weekend of Austria’s classic downhill, the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbühel.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished 15th and became the third U.S. male Alpine skier to clinch an Olympic spot.

Cochran-Siegle, ranked 12th in the world in downhill and 11th in super-G, is one of three American men with top-five finishes on the World Cup this season. The others, fellow speed racers Travis Ganong and Bryce Bennett, previously clinched Olympic spots.

Cochran-Siegle, 29, raced four events in his Olympic debut in 2018 with a best finish of 11th in the giant slalom.

The U.S. currently has six men’s Olympic quota spots, but could get more. If no American finishes in the top 10 in Sunday’s slalom in Wengen, then River Radamus and Luke Winters will be the fourth and fifth U.S. men to clinch Olympic spots.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

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Chloe Kim, Elana Meyers Taylor among Olympians to join presidential sports council

Elana Meyers Taylor, President Joe Biden

Chloe Kim and Elana Meyers Taylor are among the Olympic and Paralympic medalists set to join the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

President Joe Biden intends to appoint the snowboarder Kim, bobsledder Meyers Taylor, retired Olympic medalists Chaunté Lowe (track and field) and Tamika Catchings (basketball) and Paralympic medalist Melissa Stockwell (triathlon) to the council, among other athletes and people in the health and fitness fields, it was announced Friday.

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are also on the list.

The council “aims to promote healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans, regardless of background or ability.”

Last year, Biden appointed basketball gold medalist Elena Delle Donne a co-chair of the council.

Kim, the two-time reigning Olympic halfpipe champion, sat out this past season but is expected to return to competition for a third Olympic run in 2026.

Meyers Taylor, the most decorated U.S. Olympic bobsledder in history with medals in all five of her Olympic events, sat out this past season due to pregnancy. She took her first bobsled run in 13 months this past week in Lake Placid, New York.

There is a long history of Olympians and Paralympians serving on the council, which was created in 1956.

In 2017, Barack Obama appointed medalists including gymnast Gabby Douglas, soccer player Carli Lloyd and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Others to previously be on the council include sprinter Allyson Felix, figure skater Michelle Kwan and swimmer and triathlete Brad Snyder.

Members serve for two years and can be reappointed.

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Kaori Sakamoto wins figure skating worlds; top American places fourth


Kaori Sakamoto overcame a late error in her free skate to become the first Japanese figure skater to win back-to-back world titles and the oldest women’s world champion since 2014.

Sakamoto, 22, totaled 224.61 points on home ice in Saitama to prevail by 3.67 over Lee Hae-In of South Korea in the closest women’s finish at worlds since 2011.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx took bronze, edging 16-year-old American Isabeau Levito for a medal by 2.77 points.

Sakamoto is the oldest women’s singles world champion since Mao Asada (2014), who is now the only Japanese skater with more world titles than Sakamoto.

She appeared en route to an easier victory until singling a planned triple flip late in her free skate, which put the gold in doubt. She can be thankful for pulling off the second jump of that planned combination — a triple toe loop — and her 5.62-point lead from Wednesday’s short program.

“I feel so pathetic and thought, what was all that hard work I put into my training?” Sakamoto said of her mistake, according to the International Skating Union (ISU). “But I was able to refocus and do my best till the end.

“Because I have this feeling of regret at the biggest event of the season, I want to make sure I don’t have this feeling next season. So I want to practice even harder, and I want to make sure to do clean, perfect performances at every competition.”

Lee, who had the top free skate, became the second South Korean to win a world medal in any discipline after six-time medalist Yuna Kim.

Hendrickx followed her silver from last year, when she became the first Belgian women’s singles skater to win a world medal.

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Levito, last year’s world junior champion, had a chance to become the youngest senior world medalist since 2014.

After a solid short program, she fell on her opening triple Lutz in the free skate and left points on the table by performing two jump combinations rather than three. The Lutz was planned to be the first half of a combination with a triple loop.

“I am severely disappointed because I’ve been nailing my Lutz-loop for a really long time, and this is the first time I’ve messed it up in a while, and of course it had to be when it actually counted,” Levito said, according to the ISU. “But I’m pretty happy with myself for just trying to move past it and focusing on making the most out of the rest of the program.”

Levito entered worlds ranked fourth in the field by best score this season. She matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics and worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds. Sasha Cohen, to whom Levito is often compared, also placed fourth in her Olympic and world debuts in 2002.

“I feel very proud for myself and grateful for my coaching team for helping me get this far so far in my skating career, and I’m just very proud to be where I am,” Levito said on USA Network.

American Amber Glenn was 12th in her world debut. Two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell was 15th. They had been 10th and eighth, respectively, in the short program.

The U.S. qualified two women’s spots for next year’s worlds rather than the maximum three because the top two Americans’ results added up to more than 13 (Levito’s fourth plus Glenn’s 12th equaled 16). The U.S. was in position to qualify three spots after the short program.

Glenn said after the short program that she had a very difficult two weeks before worlds, including “out-of-nowhere accidents and coincidences that could have prevented me from being here,” and boot problems that affected her triple Axel. She attempted a triple Axel in the free skate, spinning out of an under-rotated, two-footed landing.

Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022, had several jumping errors in the free skate.

“This season has been like one thing after another,” said the 25-year-old Tennell, who plans to compete through the 2026 Winter Games. “I’m really excited to get back and work on some stuff for the new season.”

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance, starting their bid for a first world title in their 12th season together and after three prior world silver or bronze medals.

“We skated as best we possibly could today,” Bates said, according to the ISU, after they tallied the world’s top score this season.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the lone U.S. ice dancers to win a world title, doing so in 2011 and 2013.

Worlds continue Friday night (U.S. time) with the free dance, followed Saturday morning with the men’s free skate, live on Peacock and USA Network.

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