With the countdown to the Sochi Games under one year, the U.S. alpine team isn't hurting for new stars to take over the spotlight from Bode Miller and Lindsay Vonn. With his astounding recent performance at the recent World Alpine Championships in Schladming, Austria, Ted Ligety has established himself as a prospective face of the U.S. team and possibly the entire Winter Olympics. Ligety, 28, was simply stellar in Austria, winning golds in the giant slalom, Super-G and combined events. Granted, other skiers have won three titles before at a single championship and even at a single Olympics, but the sport is trending to specialization -- more so than in the era of multiple winners Toni Sailer and Jean-Claude Killy. Ligety's resume in the giant slalom speaks for itself. He has 15 victories in World Cup races. And he won a gold in the combined in Turin in 2006.
Yet Ligety opened the championships with gold medals in races he had never won on the world cup circuit and sounded as stunned as his foes afterwards, saying, "The GS was the one I really wanted. Those first two kind of added some pressure [to the giant slalom race]." Ligety's trump card is a rubber-band flexibility that enables him to take extreme time-cutting angles into turns. Earlier this season, Ligety was critical of a safety decision by the International Ski Federation (FIS) to require skis this season to be longer and straighter -- Croatian Ivica Kostelic referred to them as "planks" -- and therefore more physically demanding on skiers who tend to like the flex and form of previous designs. The FIS initiated the changes to keep skiers from popping their knees while fighting the torque of high-speed turns, but Ligety was among those who felt that measure added unwanted parity to the races by penalizing those with the form and guts to take risks. He has thrived anyway.
LAYDEN: Ted Ligety's mastery of new giant slalom skis leads to a world title
So has Mikaela Shiffrin, the 17-year old from Vail, Colorado who won the world slalom title in Austria, nipping hometown favorite Michaela Kirchgasser by two-tenths of a second.
Shiffrin's rise has been superb over the past two seasons and her gold gave the U.S. four for the championships, two more than any other nation. (U.S. veteran Julia Mancuso also took bronze in the Super-G.) The powerful Austrians led all nations with eight medals, including two golds, leading Austrian ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel to insist later, "we are number one." However, the Swiss, Swedes and Italians came away with no medals. With Vonn down after crashing out of her first race at worlds and her life playing out in tabloids for reasons other than skiing, Shiffrin is poised to become the women's team's torchbearer for the next decade.
The emergence is even more significant because teams that have been traditionally strong for the U.S., such as the figure skating squad, may not be as good at the next Olympics. Short track speedskater Apolo Ohno has amassed eight medals over the past three Olympics, but he has not confirmed his return to the sport, which would be a tall order for him anyway. The U.S. figures it could earn some medals in newer X Games-type sports, but the medals could be harder to come by across the board -- especially in Russia, where the hosts will have the impetus, funding and training time at familiar venues to acclimate themselves before the Games. With Bode Miller out for the season as he recovers from knee surgery, Ligety's performance is enough to re-energize the men's team at a much-needed time.
After a flurry of bad news that includes the sport's possible exclusion from the Olympic Games, USA Wrestling landed the 2015 World Championships, which will take place in Las Vegas a year before the Rio Games, the last Olympics certain to include wrestling. Sochi, Panama City, New Delhi and Tehran were the other bidding cities. The U.S. last hosted the wrestling worlds in 2001, when they were held in New York's Madison Square Garden.
In the meantime, as fallout from wrestling's possible ouster from the Games, Raphael Martinetti, the Swiss head of the sport's international governing body, resigned during the FILA committee's recent meeting in Phuket, Thailand. Serbia Nenad Lalovic replaced Martinetti on an interim basis and immediately called a special committee to win the IOC's vote in September to add a 26th sport to the Olympic program. Lalovic already has powerful support for his working group from Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting that the sport that wasn't good at playing political games has gotten the message.
CAZENEUVE: Will politics and a lack of modernization lead to Olympic wrestling's departure?
Political posturing is still keeping NHL hockey players waiting for word as to whether they will be allowed to break from their pro seasons to compete at the Sochi Olympics next February. At issue is a sort of breakthrough request from the NHL that in return for allowing its players to participate in the Games, the NHL would like to have ancillary rights (website, broadcast, video) that traditionally rest exclusively with the IOC and its international governing bodies, such as the International Ice Hockey Federation. Still, there is renewed urgency as time before the Games is running short. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in particular, has said he wants to have a working game schedule set for next season as soon as possible, and that would need to accommodate a break for the Olympics if NHL players are there. Given the likelihood that the All-Star Game would be put off for a season, organizers in Columbus, who already lost the game during the lockout this season, would also be affected.
Even without Michael Phelps as his pupil, Bob Bowman is still an ace coach. USA Swimming announced on Feb. 20 that Bowman would lead the U.S. men's team at the world championships this summer in Barcelona, the city where in 2003 Phelps first put the world on notice that he would be a dominant Olympic presence. Dave Salo, head coach of the USC swim team and the Trojan Swim Club, was named head coach of the U.S. women's team and Catherine Vogt, an assistant coach at USC, was named the team's coach for open-water races.
USA Triathlon announced a class of three additions to its Hall of Fame this week, a class headed by Julie Moss who became famous for collapsing 15 meters short of the finish line at the 1982 Ironman World Championships. She ran the race as an experiment for her exercise physiology thesis, and led until being passed by Kathleen McCartney in the closing strides. Jim MacLaren, a forefather of paratriathlon sports, and Missy LeStrange, a top senior competitor, were also chosen.