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Top skiers are crashing at an alarming rate on the World Cup circuit

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Top skiers are crashing at an alarming rate on the World Cup circuit
January 27, 2024
ANDREW DAMPF - AP

CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, Petra Vlhova, Alexis Pinturault, Corinne Suter.

All five former overall World Cup ski champions or Olympic gold medalists have been involved in severe crashes during races over the past 15 days.

And they’re not the only ones.

Marco Schwarz, a former world champion who was leading the overall standings, didn’t even make it to January. He injured his knee on the dark and bumpy Bormio downhill in late December.

In a season without a Winter Olympics or a world championships, the ski circuit is hurting.

Why? Many skiers are pointing to an overloaded schedule in January after many races were canceled at the start of the season.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) scheduled two downhills for the men at Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbühel, Austria, and also two in Cortina for the women. Add in multiple training sessions at each of those venues and there’s high-speed, on-the-edge skiing going on virtually all week.

“If the strongest skiers are going down, it’s got to make you wonder,” leading downhiller Sofia Goggia said.

Shiffrin, who has a record 95 World Cup wins, crashed into the safety net at high speed during Friday’s downhill in Cortina on the course to be used for the 2026 Olympics. She avoided a serious leg injury and wrote on Instagram she was thankful it wasn’t worse. It's unclear when Shiffrin will return.

Suter pulled up midway on her run, clutching her left knee. She tore her ACL, damaged her meniscus and is out for the season. Shiffrin and Suter were airlifted down the mountain.

The weekend before, Vlhova's season ended after tearing ligaments in her right knee in a giant slalom in front of her home fans in Slovakia. That came after Pinturault and Kilde had season-ending crashes at Wengen.

“Races, travel, training sessions, pressure, stress,” said Federica Brignone, another former overall champion who crashed on Friday — although without getting hurt. “It’s time to reflect about the overloaded schedule.”

There were more crashes on Saturday in Cortina, where American racer Bella Wright sustained bruises and a cut on her chin.

“It hurt, but I knew right away my legs were OK,” Wright said. “They’re bruised and they’re definitely going to be more and more sore as time goes on. I was also spitting up blood and I wasn’t sure what that was from. And then they told me I have a laceration on my chin."

Racing was suspended several times for long periods due to strong winds.

Czech skier and snowboarder Ester Ledecka was the first racer on the course and she pulled up shortly into her run after losing control.

Germany’s Kira Weidle and Switzerland’s Joana Haehlen also fell, and Haehlen was carried away from the finish area with her entire leg bandaged. She tore her right ACL.

The race was eventually stopped with two skiers still to start after Ania Monica Caill of Romania went cartwheeling into the safety nets.

“Talking only about the number of races is pointless,” said Lara Gut-Behrami, the Olympic super-G champion and a former overall winner. “There’s a ton of reasons that affect performance. True, the schedule is very full, but it’s been that way for years. Even when there are no races all the athletes go train.

“There’s more stress because of everything else surrounding the sport,” Gut-Behrami added. "Whereas before it was only about skiing, now an athlete has to multitask and worry about curating their image and marketing themselves. But the days still last 24 hours.”

The men will have a break, though, with FIS announcing that two upcoming downhills scheduled for Chamonix, France, have been canceled due to poor snow conditions.

CUT-PROOF UNDERWEAR

Considering all of the recent crashes, some skiers are suggesting cut-proof underwear should become mandatory in more races.

Already required in parallel events, the cut-proof underwear could prevent racers from being injured by their super-sharp ski edges during crashes. But downhillers don’t wear it because it slows them down.

“This should be a safe improvement for all of us,” Goggia said. “It should be mandatory.”

Kilde had to have urgent surgery to repair a severe cut and nerve damage in his right calf, plus two torn ligaments in his right shoulder.

Cut-proof underwear, made of resistant polyethylene substances that are said to be stronger than steel or Kevlar on a per-weight basis, might have prevented Kilde’s injury. Just as inflatable airbags that skiers wear under their racing suits can provide protection.

“It’s a no brainer,” U.S. women’s coach Paul Kristofic said. “But there’s always people that push against these things for various reasons. There wasn’t unanimous support for the airbag either.”

___

AP skiing: https://apnews.com/hub/skiing

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