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Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Canadian ski cross racer dies after mountain bike accident

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SQUAMISH, British Columbia (AP) — Canadian ski cross racer Mikayla Martin died Tuesday after a mountain bike accident in her hometown of Squamish.

The 22-year-old Martin, the winner of a world junior championship last year in Cardrona, New Zealand, was biking with a male friend on the Slhaney Trail system behind Stawamus Chief Provincial Park when she was injured, the Squamish RCMP, Squamish Search and Rescue and the B.C. Coroners Service said Wednesday in a joint statement. Martin was airlifted to a hospital.

“Mikayla embodied a love of skiing and passion for ski cross that were boundless and words can’t express how sorely she’ll be missed,” Alpine Canada President Vania Grandi said Wednesday in a statement. “We wish to express our most sincere condolences to Christine and James, Mikayla’s parents, as well as her entire family and circle of friends.”

Squamish RCMP and the coroner are continuing to investigate the incident.

“The death of Mikayla is a huge loss for the community of Squamish and an immense loss for her family and friends and our thoughts are with them,” Sgt. Sascha Banks said in the statement. “It can’t be stressed more that adventuring in Squamish comes with inherent risks.”

Martin was a promising alpine ski racer out of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club who switched to ski cross in 2017. She raced on the World Cup circuit last winter, finishing a career-best sixth in Innichen, Switzerland.

Kelsey Serwa, Olympic ski cross champion after 3 knee surgeries, retires

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Kelsey Serwa, the Canadian who overcame Olympic heartbreak and three season-ending knee surgeries to earn ski cross gold at the PyeongChang Winter Games, has retired at age 29.

“I love racing. I love that feeling. But now for sure I’m like ‘OK, my time has come, and I’m ready for the next stages of my life,'” Serwa said, according to the Canadian Press.

Those next stages include completing her undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, marrying former teammate Stan Rey in the fall and getting her Masters in physiotherapy.

Serwa’s career began before ski cross debuted at the Olympics in 2010. The Alpine skiing convert earned her first X Games medal (bronze) a month before the Vancouver Games, making her a medal threat in her native British Columbia at age 20.

But Serwa was passed down the stretch in her semifinal in her Olympic debut, just missing the medal final. She ended up fifth. Serwa’s next Olympic cycle proved her most challenging. After winning X Games and the world championships in 2011, she tore her left ACL in back-to-back seasons.

Serwa made it back for the Sochi Olympics, taking silver behind countrywoman Marielle Thompson. She considered retiring a year before the PyeongChang Winter Games after requiring a third knee surgery but pressed on.

Serwa entered her third Olympics an underdog, ranking sixth in the World Cup standings with one podium (a third place) in nearly two years. But Serwa led nearly from start to finish in the final and went one-two with her often-time roommate for international competitions, countrywoman Brittany Phelan.

“Finishing second in Sochi, that was kind of my decision-maker to go one more Olympics,” Serwa said, according to the Canadian Press. “Looking back, it kind of perfectly jumped from one to the other. The Olympic gold medal is just the cherry on top of it all.”

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