World Cup skiing finals in Cortina, Italy canceled over coronavirus concerns
Three-time World Cup overall winner Shiffrin is returning to racing after a month-long absence, but shot at a title narrowing
VAIL — The International Ski Federation announced Friday that it is officially canceling the World Cup finals set for March 18-22 in Cortina, Italy, due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
Mikaela Shiffrin announced on Thursday that she was returning to the circuit in Europe after a month-long absence following the death of her father, but now she has only one set of races left in Åre, Sweden — if she enters — to try to erase her 153-point deficit to Italian rival Federica Brignone.
Considering the virus, the Italian Winter Sports Federation was hoping to host the finals, scheduled for March 18-22 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, without fans. But during an emergency International Ski Federation board meeting on Friday, every nation besides Italy voted to cancel the event, the Italian federation said.
“It’s with great disappointment that I accept this decision,” Italian federation president Flavio Roda said. “Every member of the board made their decision based on limitations that their respective governments have imposed in relation to the virus.”
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World Cup rules prevent the finals from being moved to another location.
Nearly 150 people have died in Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for the virus. Many nations have imposed travel restrictions to Italy.
A total of nine events were scheduled for Cortina: four men’s races, four women’s races and a team parallel event.
The cancellation leaves only two weekends of racing left for the men, with Alexis Pinturault leading the overall standings, 26 points ahead of Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and 107 points ahead of Henrik Kristoffersen.
Marcel Hirscher, who won the overall title the last eight years, retired before this season.
The men’s title will be decided by speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, this weekend, and tech races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, next weekend.
Welcome back to Åre
Shiffrin announced in a video on Thursday morning across her social-media platforms that she was returning to racing. At the time, she said, “I have no promises that I will actually be able to race.”
Presumably, that had a two-fold meaning — whether the Åre events were, in fact, happening and/or whether she’ll be up to it on the race days. The women are competing in parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom.
Shiffrin added that she has no goals for her return, except “to make a few good turns.”
However Shiffrin is feeling on a particular day or regardless of her goals, Åre is a comfortable place for her to return. It was the site of the 2019 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships when she won super-G and slalom gold as well as bronze in the GS.
What’s more, Shiffrin has made 12 additional World Cup starts at the venue, dating back to March 9, 2013, when she was 17. She has four career wins in Are, her last coming at the 2018 World Cup finals slalom.
While everyone would like to see the Hollywood ending with Shiffrin racing to victory in these upcoming races, dialing down expectations is probably best. One never underestimates what Shiffrin can do on skis, but she admitted in her video that while she has been able to train a bit she understandably has had trouble maintaining her focus as well as she has in the past.
If she is mentally, emotionally and physically up to it, it probably would be a good experience returning to a World Cup, racing, getting back into a semblance of what she and her family are calling “a new reality,” and letting the results fall where they may.
Previously on the World Cup …
With the caveat that Shiffrin may or may not be results-driven, while she has been away, the World Cup points lists have shifted. With Cortina’s cancellation, Switzerland’s Corinne Sutter has clinched the downhill and super-G season titles.
Shiffrin will actually finish fifth in the points in downhill and seventh in super-G.
Italy’s Federica Brignone previously had clinched the combined and has all but locked up the giant slalom. The Italian leads Shiffrin, 407-333 with one race remaining. For Shiffrin to retain her GS globe, she would need to win and Brignone, who has finished no worse than eighth in the discipline this season, take 11th or worse.
Brignone is also attempting to become the first Italian woman to win the World Cup in the 53 years of the circuit. (For the trivia buffs in the audience, Gustav Thoeni won it four times during the 1970s, while Alberto Tomba took it home after the 1994-95 season.)
Brignone leads Shiffrin, the three-time defending champion, 1,378-1,225, with three races remaining. Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova is third with 1,189 points.
Speaking of Vlhova, the Slovakian leads Shiffrin in a tight slalom race, 460-440, with two races remaining.
Held annually since 1993 — and twice in Vail (1994 and 1997), as well as 2017 in Aspen — the World Cup finals have never been scrubbed in their entirety. However, weather conditions — too much snow or not enough — have canceled races affecting the World Cup championship and assorted discipline globes.
Most notably in American ski-racing minds is the 2010-11 women’s World Cup campaign as Lindsey Vonn and Germany’s Maria Riesch (now known as Hofl-Riesch) were engaged in a season-long battle for the overall title.
Entering the finals, Vonn finished fourth in the downhill in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, to take the lead from Riesch. After the super-G was rained out, Riesch retook the lead, taking fourth in the slalom as Vonn ended up 13th.
The Swiss piste was a mess by the end of the finals and FIS called the season-ending giant slalom, leaving Riesch with a 1,728-1,725 lead over Vonn and the World Cup championship.
Traditionally, in the year before a site hosts the world championships, it holds the World Cup finals as a preview for the racers and a run-through for organizers. Cortina is still scheduled to host worlds Feb 8-21, 2021.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.
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