David Chodounsky

David Chodounsky

U.S. skiers pay tribute to pair killed in avalanche

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U.S. Olympic Alpine skiers Ted Ligety and David Chodounsky were among the competitors in a World Cup race Tuesday who honored the memories of two U.S. development-level skiers who died in an avalanche Monday.

Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, were killed while freeskiing in Soelden, Austria.

Ligety and Chodounsky skied with Berlack and Astle’s initials on their helmets in a World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia. All seven U.S. skiers in the field were to wear black armbands.

“It’s super sad losing Ronnie and Bryce, those are two young, promising guys on our team,” Ligety told media in Zagreb. “A lot of us are definitely a little beat up about it.”

Ligety, a two-time Olympic champion, and Chodounsky, a Sochi Olympian, are the top two U.S. slalom skiers. Ligety said there was no thought about not competing Tuesday.

“They’re racers, they wanted to be out there skiing,” Ligety said. “They lost their lives skiing, so I think they would have wanted us to go on.”

Chodounsky was in third place after the first of two runs but skied out in his second run while attempting to make his first career World Cup podium. Ligety also failed to finish his second run. Austrian Marcel Hirscher won.

A moment of silence was held before racing started Tuesday afternoon in Croatia. The American flag at the finish was reported to fly at half-staff.

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France’s Alexis Pinturault rallies to win World Cup slalom in Wengen

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It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.

That was certainly the story of the day in Wengen, Switzerland where France’s Alexis Pinturault used a spectacular second run to overtake first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win his first World Cup men’s slalom victory of the season on Sunday.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who was bidding to join his father Christian (1973-74) as a winner of this race, finished second while Hirscher slid into third but maintained his hold on the season standings lead in the discipline.

It was a rough day for the American tech team as rising slalom specialist David Chodounsky had a gate crash down on his skis, causing his tips to cross and him to fall.. He had finished eighth in the last World Cup slalom in Adelboden on Jan 12, and had finishes of 15th in Bormio on Jan. 6 and seventh in Val d’Isere on Dec. 15.

Ted Ligety, who won the super-combined in Wengen on Friday, lost his race line and needed to hike back up the hill to avoid missing a gate and being disqualified. The lost time plummeted him to 35th place, which did not qualify him for a second run. The day’s results saw Ligety overtaken by Pinturault for third place in the World Cup slalom standings.

“There wasn’t much I could do there,” Ligety told the Associated Press. “I got a little stuck on my skis.”

The top American in the race was old-faithful himself, 36-year-old Bode Miller who finished the first run in 21st place, 2.62 seconds behind Hirscher, and placed 26th overall, earning his first World Cup points in the discipline since 2011. His performance also gave the U.S. another quota spot in the discipline for Olympic selection.

There were positives to be taken from that performance as it relates to the super-combined, an event Miller will defend his gold medal in at the Sochi Olympics. The hill got the better of him in Friday’s super-combined slalom run, but difficult gate placement in this race served as an excellent opportunity for Miller to hone his slalom and he got in two solid runs.

With just one World Cup slalom race scheduled before the start of the Olympics, Pinturault could not have picked a better time to breakout of a season-long slump that has seen him crash out of races in Levi and Val d’Isere, get disqualified for straddling a gate in Bormio and then finishing 23rd in Adelboden. Pinturault’s last slalom victory came on Dec. 8, 2012 in Val d’Isere.

“It was especially a reward and satisfaction after a difficult time that I’ve had at the beginning of the season,” Pinturault told AP. “That can happen to anyone. I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could go faster.”

Some mistakes in the first run left him in seventh place, .92 seconds behind Hirscher, who somehow managed to pick up speed where his competitors bled time in deteriorating conditions on the lower portion of the course.

The same course conditions manifested themselves in Run 2, but Pinturault threw down a flawless run, managing to stay on top of his skis with his knees driving forward despite all of the ruts in the soft snow. When the 22-year-old crossed with a .76 second advantage and pumped his fists in the air, it sent a clear message to the remaining skiers: come get me.

Manfred Moelgg of Italy, Fritz Dopfer of Germany, Mario Matt of Austria, Neureuther, and Andre Myhrer of Sweden were unable to usurp the lead from the Frenchman.

That left Hirscher, who was on course to take his 14th career slalom victory, which would have tied an Austrian record. But the 24-year-old made a huge mistake on the last pitch. In taking a too-ambitious approach coming onto the roll, he lost his line and threw away victory within sight of the finish.

“It was a stupid mistake,” Hirscher told AP.

World Cup racing will move to Kitzbuehel, Austria with a super-combined on Friday, the Hahnenkamm classic downhill on Saturday, and a slalom on Sunday.

Wengen Men’s Slalom

1. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 1:42.87

2. Felix Neureuther (GER) 1:43.21

3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:43.50

4. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:43.62

5. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:43.63

6. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:43.68

7. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 1:43.71

8. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:43.80

9. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:44.00

10. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:44.01

26. Bode Miller (USA) 1:45.85

DNQ Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ Will Brandenburg (USA)

DNF David Chodounsky (USA)

DNF Tim Kelly (USA)

Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill

Austria’s Marcel Hirscher wins Adelboden slalom, takes World Cup points lead

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With the clock ticking down to the start of the Olympics, every race is becomes more critical for fine-tuning things before heading to Sochi.

One skier who seems to be well dialed in is Austria’s Marcel Hirscher, who fought through the soft snow and rapidly deteriorating course conditions to win the World Cup slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland.

Hirscher, the two-time defending World Cup overall champion, lost some most of his first-run advantage at the top of the second run but was masterful carving through the gates on the steep final pitch to finish in front of Sweden’s Andre Myhrer, by 0.29 seconds. The runner-up effort was the best of the season for Myhrer and the 16th slalom podium of his career.

“It is really tough,” Hirscher said. “But I am not sure which was tougher, to ski it or prepare the course with weather at 10-plus degrees (Celsius). But it’s kind of a special race and it’s working pretty well for me.”

Teenager Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway was third, 0.66 behind Hirscher. It matched the best finish of his young career, another third-place performance in Levi, Finland on Nov. 17, and came one day after he almost collided with a television production worker who strayed on the course during Saturday’s giant slalom.

“I skied over the back of his skis,” Kristoffersen told AP. “I was definitely touching him a little bit there. (It) happens. We’re only humans.”

The victory earned Hirscher his 25th career podium placement in the discipline, making him the 12th skier in history to score as many Top 3 finishes. At 24 years and 316 days old, he is also the third youngest ever to accomplish the feat behind Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden (21 years, 270 days) and Gustav Thoeni of Italy (23 years, 336 days).

With 100 race points for victory, Hirscher now leads Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway by 23 points in the overall standings. Svindal skips slalom races.

American David Chodounsky had a strong showing, toughing out the second run to finish eighth, the second-best slalom result of his career behind Dec. 15’s seventh-place showing in Val d’Isere, France. With just two more slalom races before the Games, the 29-year-old is pleased with his progression.

“It’s a really tough sport, especially on days like today,” Chodounsky said. “It was fast and it’s the steepest pitch on the tour but for me it was solid. This year, the snow is not great and it’s very warm. The course gets rutty. In the second run it starts to get dark as the sun goes down. It’s got all sorts of tricks to throw at you. I had a couple of mistakes but if I can clean that up, it will be really good. I am happy with where I am.”

Adelboden wasn’t as kind to American stars Ted Ligety and Bode Miller.

Ligety, who caught an unlucky bump and straddled a gate during the second run of giant slalom on Saturday, skied off course again in the second run of slalom. Miller, a winner on this course in slalom in 2002, skied out in Saturday’s first run of giant slalom and then lost his race line and speed at the top of the final pitch in this race and finished 43rd, not good enough to make the Top 30 and earn a second run.

Fellow American teammates Colby Granstrom and Nolan Kasper finished 39th and 44th respectively, and did not qualify for a second run.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who won the Bormio slalom last Monday and was a surprise and historic winner in Saturday’s giant slalom, had his dream bid for an unprecedented technical sweep in Adelboden dashed when he straddled a gate and skied off course late in the second run. No German man has won back-to-back World Cup slalom races since Armin Bittner in 1988-89. Neureuther’s father, Christian, also won consecutive slaloms in January 1973 and January 1974.

Adelboden Men’s Slalom

1. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:49.75

2. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:50.04

3. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) 1:50.41

4. Mattias Hargin (SWE) 1:50.55

5. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:50.75

6. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:50.97

7. Markus Larsson (SWE) 1:51.06

8. David Chodounsky (USA) 1:51.45

9. Stefano Gross (ITA) 1:51.49

10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 1:51.59

DNF. Ted Ligety (USA)

DNQ. Bode Miller (USA)

DNQ. Nolan Kasper (USA)

DNQ. Colby Granstrom (USA)

Canada’s Marie-Michele Gagnon gets 1st World Cup victory in Altenmarkt super-combined