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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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Sandro Viletta, Olympic super combined champion, retires

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Sandro Viletta, the surprise 2014 Olympic super combined champion, retired from Alpine skiing at age 32 after major injuries, according to the Swiss Ski Federation.

Viletta, who did not defend his Olympic title in PyeongChang, has not raced on the World Cup since tearing a knee ligament in a December 2016 super-G crash. He hasn’t raced anywhere since another knee ligament tear in a lower-level race in March.

Viletta took gold in Sochi despite having one World Cup podium to his name (from more than two years earlier). Viletta was 14th in the downhill part of the Olympic combined, then had the second-fastest slalom to win by. 34 over Croatian Ivica Kostelic.

“I did not think this was possible; I did not expect to win, even after I had the lead today,” Viletta told reporters after the race. “But on one day, I had the perfect day.”

Viletta was the lowest-ranked racer in the downhill to come back to win the Olympic combined since the format changed from two slalom runs to one in 2010. He is Switzerland’s lone Olympic men’s Alpine champion from the last two Winter Games.

The combined’s place at the Olympics and world championships and on the World Cup is in peril as the International Ski Federation has incorporated more parallel slalom and giant slalom races in recent years.

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Ilka Stuhec, downhill world champ, gets first win since ACL tear

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — It was just about a year ago when Ilka Stuhec gave up on competing at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Coming off a career season that included a downhill world title and the season-long World Cup downhill title, Stuhec rushed back on snow two months after knee surgery.

“I said I really want to ski in 2017, so I went Dec. 31,” Stuhec said. “Because there was still some part of me that believed I could make the Olympics. But I would just go there without confidence, without training, not really trusting the knee. So I let that one go really soon.

“It hurt a lot,” Stuhec added of her New Year’s Eve return to snow.

The Slovenian skier quickly switched her focus to this season. Her patience paid off when she won a World Cup downhill on Tuesday for the first victory of her comeback.

Stuhec finished .14 of a second ahead of Nicol Delago, who grew up alongside the Saslong course in the Italian Dolomites. Ramona Siebenhofer of Austria came third, 0.51 behind. Full results are here.

“It’s really emotional because it’s been a very, very long time since I won,” Stuhec said. “And over the last year a lot of things were very different than I was planning.”

Stuhec missed all of last season tearing her left ACL in an October 2017 preseason training crash in Pitztal, Austria.

She watched the Olympics in February from home — “I was the crazy fan waking up at three in the morning” — and wasn’t quite satisfied with her initial results this season, cracking the top 10 once in her opening four races.

“I had very high goals when I started racing again,” she said. “But that also meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself, which didn’t come out that well, and I thought, ‘OK, this not going to go so well.’ So I just need to focus on the moment, ski the way I know and have fun and not think about how fast it’s going to be.”

While Stuhec wasn’t perfect Tuesday, she was unbeatable on the Saslong course, which is hosting women’s World Cup races for the first time — despite being a classic stop on the men’s circuit for a half-century.

The course was shortened for the women, and many of the technical sections were left out, including the camel bump jumps — prompting some racers to complain that it wasn’t challenging enough.

“I liked it a lot from the first (training) run,” Stuhec said. “In the end it’s still downhill, which is never easy, even if it maybe looks like that sometimes.”

A super-G is scheduled for Wednesday on the Saslong.

The races were originally scheduled for Val d’Isere, France, over the weekend but were moved to Val Gardena because of a lack of snow in the French resort.

Nicole Schmidhofer, the Austrian who won the opening two downhills of the season, finished 10th. She still leads the downhill standings by 68 points ahead of Stuhec.

Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka, fastest in the second training run, finished 29th following a series of errors.

Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is sitting out the races to rest up for a big block of upcoming technical events — her specialty — beginning Friday and Saturday in Courchevel, France.

Also missing are Lindsey Vonn and Olympic downhill gold medalist Sofia Goggia, who are out injured until at least January.

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