Vincent Kriechmayr wins Wengen Lauberhorn downhill; American qualifies for Olympics

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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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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

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Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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