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Super-G course ‘looked fiercer than it was’

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After eight of the first 11 skiers and 18 of 49 total skied off course while two of his own athletes landed on the podium, Austrian speed coach Florian Winkler was forced to defend his course-setting for the women’s super-G after the race Saturday at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The high attrition rate, coupled with the race being won by 24-year-old Austrian Anna Fenninger with Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch taking silver and another Austrian, Nicole Hosp, securing bronze, had some questioning whether the course was set to favor Austrian skiers.

Winkler denied the allegations.

“It’s a fair course,” Winkler told AFP. “It looked fiercer than it was.”

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Course setters at the Olympics are determined by weighted lottery with each nation getting as many Ping-Pong balls as they have skiers in the Top 15 in the world.

Winkler, who won the super-G lottery, said that his goal was to shape a layout that would challenge skiers by forcing them to blend all-out speed skiing with a cerebral approach to linking the sections together. The number of athletes unable to do that came as a shock, particularly after watching six skiers in a row ski out at the start.

“It was our goal for the course,” Winkler told AFP. “Still fair, but you have to think a bit more. I was surprised by the number of girls who skied out. It was a day of mistakes for many. I think the best handled it really well, they showed how it’s done.”

Winkler added that if the Austrians had any advantage it was in that as high-ranked super-G performers on the World Cup, they drew later starting bibs and benefited from course reports.

This isn’t the first time that the Austrian coaches have been accused of bias when setting courses at the Games.

RELATED: Anna Fenninger attacks course for SG gold

For years ago, American Lindsey Vonn went into the Vancouver Olympics as the World Cup leader in the super-G standings and as a heavy gold medal favorite. But the American star could manage just a bronze while unheralded Austrian, Andrea Fischbacher, was the surprise gold medalist.

After the competition, Vonn’s then-husband/coach Thomas Vonn, who finished ninth in the men’s super-G at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, accused Austrian coach Juergen Kriechbaum, who set the gates, of “Lindsey-proofing” the course. Kriechbaum, of course, vehemently denied the charge.

“You don’t make a course against one person,” he told AP at the time. “This is stupid. She’s good, but not so good that anyone would set it just to stop her.”

Fenninger brushed off any notion that she benefited from favoritism.

“It makes for a great story, but it’s the same for everyone,” she said.

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Hosp, who won her second medal of the Games, added that there was “no accidental winner,” and that the podium was occupied by the women, “skied well and raced tactically.”

Olympic downhill gold medalist Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, one of the 18 who did not finish the super-G, echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t think it’s possible (to favor an athlete),” she said to AFP. “Anna is a truly overall skier, she has beautiful technique. It didn’t matter what course she was put on.”

Outpouring of support for Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun in wake of photo scandal

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A Lebanese minister’s desire to investigate a year-old risque photo shoot featuring the country’s lone female Olympic Alpine skier has generated global support for her ahead of her competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Over the last week, 22-year-old Jackie Chamoun, a two-time Olympian, has come under the scrutiny of Faisal Karameh, Lebanon’s Sports and Youth Minister, who ordered an investigation into topless photos disseminated in the country without her intent. Karameh declared that he wanted, “all measures taken to protect the reputation of Lebanon.”

Youssef Chamel Khalil, the administrator of Lebanon’s Olympic Alpine team, said Chamoun will face no repercussions for the photos and would be allowed to compete in Sochi.

RELATED: Minister calls for probe into Chamoun photos

“It’s OK,” he told AP. “In Lebanon, there is a little bit another way to think. Lebanon is a country of so many cultures.”

That statement has sparked outrage among free speech and women’s rights supporters across the world, as well as many who criticized the Lebanese government for having skewed priorities.

“Some women are beaten or killed, others are raped, and the media shifts their attention to a confident talented beautiful woman who represents her country at the Olympic games,” Cynthia-Maria Aramouni wrote on Facebook, referring to schoolteacher Manal al-Assi, who was allegedly beaten to death last week by her husband.

Aramouni helped launch a Facebook campaign called “I’m Not Naked,” in which Chamoun supporters posed semi-nude using the hashtag #StripForJackie. Tha same hashtag is being used similarly by protesters of Chamoun’s condemnation on Twitter.

Additionally, a handful of companies have taken to social media in support of Chamoun.

Almaza, the national beer of Lebanon, has begun an ad campaign featuring a beer bottle, with only a collar label, positioned in the snow next to a pair of skis, in support of Chamoun. Almaza posted a copy of the ad to its Twitter account:

Absolut has an ad in Lebanon featuring one of its vodka bottles without a label and the #StripForJackie hashtag:

Here is a photo shared on Twitter of Chamoun checking the #StripForJackie hashtag from Sochi:

In 2013, Chamoun and her Vancouver Olympic teammate Chirine Njiem posed for an Austrian ski-tourism calendar featuring professional skiers and models posing topless at various ski resorts around the world.

The portraits of Chamoun and Njiem were taken in Faraya, Lebanon’s most popular ski resort located about an hour northwest of Beirut, and the slope where both women trained for the Olympics.

The photos, which were taken by Hubertus von Hohenlohe, the German-born Mexican prince who will compete at the Games for the sixth time next week, and used in the calendar depicted no explicit nudity.

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In an interview with NBC Olympics in January, Chamoun spoke about the sensitivity the photos might have had if taken elsewhere in Lebanon, a traditionally conservative Middle Eastern country.

“If we were somewhere else in Lebanon, in a public place, maybe they would have shooted us,” Chamoun said. “But we were on the slope in Faraya and it is an open space. The people who go there are people from Beirut who are open-minded, more international in their thinking, so it wasn’t a problem.”

A behind-the-scenes video from that photo shoot that left little to the imagination was broadcast on Lebanese television and racier images screen-grabbed from that video have been publicly circulated.

Hohenlohe told NBC Olympics he had nothing to do with the video’s release, and was incredulous about the backlash Chamoun has received.

“I don’t believe it,” Hohenlohe wrote in an email. “It seems like we are in the ’50s or even the ’40s. I am proud of the pics and don’t think there is really anything bad.”

Chamoun does not blame Hohenlohe for the controversy. “He’s a really good friend. It’s not his fault,” she told AP.

The backlash from these photos prompted Chamoun to take to her Facebook page to apologize to anyone who might have been offended and to plead for people to stop sharing the pirated images.

“All I can ask to each of you who saw this, is to stop spreading it,” she wrote. “It will really help me focusing on what is really important now: my trainings and race.”

Chamoun will compete in the women’s slalom on Feb. 21.

Bode Miller vs. Ted Ligety — the tale of the tape

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source: Getty Images
source: Getty Images

Bode Miller and Ted Ligety are perhaps two of the most innovative Alpine skiers that the United States has ever sent to the Olympics.

Since his debut on the World Cup circuit, Miller has carved a place in history as one of the most aggressive ski racers ever. Since day one, he has been the guy cutting turns a little tighter and holding top-speed a little longer than rivals. That willingness to ride the edge between danger and disaster has enabled him to do things on the slope unlike any other before him or since.

“I’ve always tried to live my life in a way that I won’t regret later,” Miller said. “It’s one of my favorite qualities about myself, that I didn’t choose — kind of been that way since I was young. I do everything as hard as I can and I don’t leave a lot out there.”

But that unconventional style can often be maddening for fans and media as his risks have reaped as many spectacular rewards as failures. Many have wondered how many more victories and medals he could have on his resume had he been more fixated on results as opposed to the ethereal quality of his performances. Not that he hasn’t been successful. His five Olympic medals and 33 World Cup victories make him the winningest American male ski racer in history.

Hoping to close the gap on his childhood idol is Ligety, who, too, approaches skiing in an unconventional manner. He has earned the reputation for being perhaps the most technically-proficient skiers of all time through a seeming obsession with mastering ski technology, and the science of angles and turn radius. He has made it his mission to get more out of his equipment than his competitors, and has come up with a unique style for carving gates. His rounder approach forces him to begin the next turn while finishing the one before, an approach that has garnered him the nickname “Shred.”

Like Miller, Ligety’s strengths have produced results. He has won 21 times on the World Cup circuit, 20 of those in the giant slalom, the third most in the history of the discipline. He has also won four World Cup giant slalom globes and in 2013 he won gold in the giant slalom, slalom and super-combined at the World Championships, becoming the first man since Jean-Claude Killy of France in 196 to win three titles.

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“Ted’s focused on what he needs to do to not lose,” U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick said. “He’s amazing that way. “He’s so professional in everything he does, in terms of getting up in the morning, warming up, making sure his service guys have the perfect setup, training his butt off, coming off the hill and talking to the service guys — ‘OK, this is what we have to adjust’ — getting in on the bike to recover, eating the right foods. He does all those things in such a professional way.”

While similarly groundbreaking on skis, the pair present themselves as polar opposites off the slope. Miller is often seen as the brash one, always outspoken and blunt with the media, while Ligety is more soft-spoken and out of the public eye. But they are always complimentary of each other in the press.

Ligety, who finished 15th and 11th in the last two downhill training runs, said of his preparation that it was, “encouraging to have improvement.” He added that his teammate’s medal prospects, on paper, would seem better than Julia Mancuso’s were before her bronze-winning effort.

“Bode has a chance always,” Ligety told AP. “His slalom can be really good sometimes. … If he has a really good downhill run he’s in a good position because he won’t feel like he has to take any risk. Bode is historically a far better slalom skier than Julia was. And he still has a lot of speed in it and he still actually trains it a fair amount. It’s all a matter of consistency for him.”

Miller agreed with Ligety’s assessment.

“I don’t have the same time into slalom this year as the slalom guys,” he said. “That’s the real disadvantage. Those guys they train a ton of slalom, they know their set-ups they are able to come straight onto a pretty-aggressive, gnarly hill with marginal conditions and ski 100 percent. I don’t know that I am confident enough to do that, but I am going to pretty much have to, I think.”

These two stars of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, one a speed demon, the other a technical wizard, both so different and yet so similar, will collide in the men’s super-combined on Friday. The downhill run begins at 1 am ET with the slalom run following at 6:30 am ET. Here is a closer look at the American gold-medal hopefuls:

Bode Miller Name Ted Ligety
Easton, N.H. Birthplace Salt Lake City, UT
36 Age 29
6′ 2” Height 5′ 11”
196 lbs. Weight 190 lbs.
5 Olympic appearances 3
Gold, 2010 Vancouver
super-combined
Best Olympic finish
Gold, 2006 Torino
Combined
5 Olympic medal won
1
1997 World Cup debut season 2003
3 2013-14 World Cup podiums 6
0 2013-14 World Cup victories 4
78 Career World Cup podiums 26
33 Career World Cup victories 21
13 Career World Cup Combined/Super-combined Podiums 2
6 Career World Cup Combined/Super-combined Victories 1
2 World Cup overall titles 0
4 World Championships won 4
“There’s no questioning Ted’s ability or his brain. He’s smart and he’s unique in that he takes responsibility for his situation. That’s what has allowed him to be successful. He has no one to blame for his success except himself.” Key quotes
“Bode was one of my heroes growing up. It’s kind of fun to be on the U.S. Ski Team with him, going back and forth with him, for sure. He has me in the speed events and I have him more so in the tech events. The super-combined is kind of where our two skill sets converge.”