AP

Men’s Alpine skiing World Cup opener canceled due to weather

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — The season-opening men’s World Cup giant slalom that was canceled due to bad weather at the Rettenbach glacier on Sunday will be rescheduled for another resort in Europe.

The men’s race director of governing body FIS, Markus Waldner, said the race will be held before the Christmas break, and that organizers were expected to announce the new date and venue on Monday.

Excessive snowfall and strong winds forced the cancellation of Sunday’s race.

Organizers initially delayed the start of the giant slalom by an hour, but called off the event soon after as no improvement of the weather was forecast.

“It is no longer possible to clean the course from the 50 cm of overnight snowfall and ensure a safe race,” FIS said, adding that high winds were blowing fresh snow onto the course as well.

It’s the second straight year that the traditional season-opener on the Austrian glacier had to be cancelled, after gusts made the race impossible in 2017.

Under old FIS regulations, the opening race of a season could not be moved or rescheduled, but that rule has changed this season.

The first race of the women’s World Cup on the same course Saturday took place in tough conditions with low clouds and snowfall.

World champion Tessa Worley of France won the race, ahead of Italy’s Federica Brignone and Olympic GS champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States.

The next World Cup events are slaloms in Levi, Finland, with the women racing on Nov. 17 and the men the following day.

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MORE: Svindal ’50-50′ on return

Mikaela Shiffrin makes podium in World Cup season opener

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Mikaela Shiffrin and Tessa Worley vacationed together in Martinique in the offseason. They shared the podium — Worley first, Shiffrin third — in far less inviting weather in the first race of the World Cup season, a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Saturday.

Shiffrin, the Olympic GS champion, finished .94 behind the Frenchwoman and .59 behind Italian runner-up Federica Brignone. She was disappointed with her first run on a course set by her coach, which put her in fourth place and six tenths back going into the afternoon finale.

“I wasn’t really fighting hard enough,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “For sure [my second run] was better. It was not like pretty skiing but I was fighting harder. I had fun out there but I also had some turns that were not fun at all.”

The start was moved down before the first run due to poor visibility, compounded by windy snowfall and bumpy terrain on the Rettenbach glacier.

“It was a fight,” Worley said.

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Shiffrin made the podium in Soelden for the fourth time in five years. She’s favored this season to join Lindsey Vonn as the only women to win three straight World Cup overall titles in the last 25 years.

Shiffrin gained points Saturday on her top rivals from recent seasons. Swiss Wendy Holdener, last season’s overall runner-up, was seventh. Another Swiss, Lara Gut, the 2016 World Cup overall champ, was 14th.

“I was able to start the season with a podium and it’s a great thing,” Shiffrin said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “It’s not enough, but it’s OK for now and it’s a good place to start.”

Worley, who relegated Shiffrin to GS silver at the 2017 Worlds, became the first Frenchwoman to win in Soelden. It’s her 13th World Cup win, all in giant slalom. She was a disappointing seventh in the PyeongChang Olympic GS.

The World Cup season continues with the opening men’s giant slalom in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold). Double Olympic champion Ted Ligety has won four times on the Rettenbach glacier.

Shiffrin is expected to headline the next women’s World Cup race, a slalom in Levi, Finland in three weeks. Vonn plans her season debut in her farewell year for the first speed events at Lake Louise, Alberta, in five weeks.

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MORE: Vonn explains why it’s her final season

Aksel Lund Svindal ’50-50′ on Alpine skiing return

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Aksel Lund Svindal’s chronically injured knee felt so terrible after last season that retirement seemed his only option.

But the Olympic downhill champion refused to give in.

Although he didn’t join his Norwegian teammates for summer training, he’s now giving himself “a 50-50 chance” of hitting the slopes again in the new season, which starts Sunday.

“The weeks after (the World Cup Finals in) Are, I decided that I cannot make a decision because that had to be a negative decision,” said the 35-year-old Svindal, a winner of two Olympic and five world titles as well as two overall World Cup championships.

His right knee suffered permanent damage in January 2016, tearing the ACL and meniscus in a spectacular crash in Kitzbuehel. Svindal returned the following season but had to quit it prematurely, having also missed the previous season after tearing an Achilles tendon while playing soccer.

In March 2018, after he completed a full season for the first time in three years and just weeks after racing to gold at the PyeongChang Olympics, his knee looked and felt like it just came out of surgery.

And it didn’t get better for the next two months.

“I could walk, but the knee always hurt,” Svindal said. “I thought, you cannot do summer training and have to take pain killers every day.”

But in June, he was able to start doing some strength training.

“It was pretty stable, and there were days the knee was quite OK,” he said.

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With his career future in serious doubt, Svindal still got the support of his equipment supplier, Head, and the Norwegian ski federation. He wasn’t going to join the likes of Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde for the usual preparation period, but would work on his own on a reduced schedule.

Otherwise his knee wouldn’t hold up, but there’s also a mental side to it.

“When you train with a group of healthy athletes, you get reminded every single day that you are injured,” Svindal said. “Doing that for the third year in a row, it gets mentally draining.”

If he returns, he will only compete in downhill and super-G races as time is lacking to put in enough giant slalom practice. He plans to compete in all speed races, including at the world championships in Are, Sweden, in February.

“That is Plan A. But there is also a Plan B. And a Plan C,” he said. “Last year I went to the limit, maybe over it. With the Olympics, you want to push a bit more, but I can’t push that much every year. I have to be a bit more careful.”

Svindal’s training usually contains of two or three days of skiing before taking a few days of rest to let the knee recover. But last week, on the Saas-Fee glacier in Switzerland, Svindal stood on skis for seven straight days, something he hadn’t been able doing for the past three years.

“It was quite positive. And if that continues into (next month’s training in) Colorado, chances are good that I can come to Lake Louise like normal,” he said, referring to the first speeds races on Nov. 24-25. “To come there and try to win, that’s where I want to be.”

His belief that he can still win races is what prevented Svindal from calling it a career.

“When you are at the start, and you know Jansrud and (Matthias) Mayer had good runs, but you also know: I am just as good and I can win,” Svindal said, “that adrenalin is still a lot of fun.”

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