Most of the winter Olympic sports were in action over the weekend. From Shani Davis' speed skating success in Salt Lake City to the dominant Alpine performance by France and Austria, here's a full recap.
Women's Alpine skiing
After a month of training and competition in North America, the U.S. women's tech team traveled to Are, Sweden, for giant slalom and slalom events at the site of the 2007 World Championships. However, the team was not quite in championship form, posting two eighth-place finishes as their best results. Read more.
Saturday's giant slalom went to Tessa Worley, whose only previous World Cup win came at Aspen in 2008. The French skier with an Australian father and French mother took a commanding lead in Run 1, before holding off traditionally strong giant slalom skiers Tina Maze of Slovenia and Kathrin Zettel of Austria for top honors. The top U.S. finisher, in a bit of a surprise, was Sarah Schleper. The three-time Olympian continued her return to form after a two-year hiatus - due to injury and childbirth - with an impressive eighth-place finish. Julia Mancuso was next in line among the Americans, in 16th. Top U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn demonstrated her troubles in GS once again when she fell in Run 1.
Vonn stayed on her skis for both runs of Sunday's slalom event, but was only able to post an eighth-place finish, over two seconds behind France's Sandrine Aubert. Aubert made up a 0.60-second deficit in Run 2 to pass Germany's Maria Riesch for her second slalom win in Are during the 2009 calendar year. Third place went to Riesch's younger sister Susanna, who achieved her first podium in her career.
With the weekend's results, Vonn lost her lead in the overall World Cup standings to the elder Riesch. The Vail, Colo. skier could make up the 20-point deficit in Val d'Isere, France next weekend, as the 2009 World Championship venue will host super-combined, super-G and downhill races, her strongest events.
Men's Alpine skiing
While the French ruled the slopes of Are, it was the Austrians who ruled the slopes of Val d'Isere. Long-time Alpine stars Benjamin Raich and Michael Walchhofer were joined by first-time winner Marcel Hirscher on top of the podium during the three-race weekend. Read more.
In Friday's super-combined, which incorporated one run each of super-G and slalom, Raich combined the fourth-best time in the speed event with a crushing slalom run to outpace the runner-up, his countryman Hirscher, by almost one second. For the Americans, Bode Miller had his best result of the weekend, with a fifth place, although his individual run times barely squeaked into the top-ten.
In Saturday's super-G, Ted Ligety proved his diversity by posting his first podium in the speed event. His second-place finish - only 0.28 behind Walchhofer - on the steep and windy course came despite several mistakes and a near wipe-out. Head U.S. Alpine coach Sasha Rearick heaped praise on the Park City, Utah skier. "He's a phenomenal technical skier, and he brought it out today in a very tough race, one of the toughest races I've ever seen." Miller joined Ligety in the top ten, finished ninth.
Hirscher completed the Austrian weekend sweep by winning Sunday's giant slalom. The 20-year-old from Salzburg demonstrated great nerve by holding onto his Run 1 lead for his first World Cup victory in his career. Ligety was the top U.S. finisher in tenth. The 2008 giant slalom World Cup globe winner had the fastest Run 2 time, but moved up only five places. The other U.S. finishers were Jake Zamansky of Aspen, Colo. (27th) and Tim Jitloff of Reno, Nev. (28th) Miller did not start, due to an ankle injury sustained while playing volleyball the previous day.
The men continue to Italy to compete in giant slalom and slalom in Alta Badia next weekend.
New York biathlete Tim Burke was not able to match the previous weekend's fireworks of two podium finishes, but he did pace the U.S. in both the World Cup 10km sprint and 12.5km pursuit events held in Hochfilzen, Austria. Read more.
In the sprint, two missed targets in the standing shoot let Burke down. Burke finished 20th, one minute behind Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who captured his record 91st World Cup victory. Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Alaska, was the only other American to make the 60-man cut-off for the pursuit, by finishing 38th.
In the pursuit, Burke climbed ten positions despite only making up five seconds of time to the winner. Bjoerndalen's teammate, Emil Hegle Svendsen, won his second event of the season and kept the yellow jersey as the tour leader.
Two seventh-place results were the top performances for the U.S. cross-country skiing team, competing at the World Cup stop at Davos, Switzerland over the weekend. Read more.
In the men's 15km freestyle, Kris Freeman set himself up well for the Vancouver Olympics with a career-best seventh place in the interval start event. The skier who traditionally favors the classical technique did well to keep pace, finishing only 37 seconds behind the winner, Finland's Matti Heikkinen.
While he was not able to reach his first-ever World Cup podium, a confident Freeman summed up his performance with a hint of things to come. "I went out the first lap and tried to keep it really controlled. I just need to get a little bit more before the Olympics, but I've got time."
Kikkan Randall of Anchorage, Alaska led the way for the U.S. women, just missing the final and finishing seventh in the women's individual sprint. The competition, held in the freestyle technique (unlike the Olympics), gave Randall hope for the rest of the season. "It gives me confidence that I'm on track and that training is going well. The next race will be a classic sprint and I look forward to another shot."
Slovenia's sprint star, Petra Majdic, won the race.
The men's and women's tour continues to Rogla, Slovenia for an individual sprint in classical technique and the first mass start distance race of the World Cup season.
All was golden for USA-1's "Night Train" in Winterberg, Germany on Sunday as driver Steve Holcomb bested the top three German sleds to earn his third consecutive four-man gold. Compatriot John Napier also continued his rise on the World Cup track with two top 10 finishes, however Holcomb's performance in the two-man event yielded a lackluster seventh, for competition belonged to the Swiss, with Beat Hefti taking first, and current World Cup leader Ivo Rueegg placing third.
In the women's event, Germany's Cathleen Martini and defending Olympic gold medalist Sandra Kiriasis continued their 1-2 lead as American Erin Pac won her second bronze this season, edging out Cesana champion Shauna Rohbock by 0.03 seconds. USA-3's Bree Schaaf rounded out the U.S. women with 10th. Read more.
Reigning World Cup moguls champion Hannah Kearney of the U.S. won her first World Cup event of the season on Saturday in Finland, defeating Canada's Kristi Richards and 2006 Olympic champion Jennifer Heil, who finished third. Kearney also placed third in a World Cup event on Friday, with Richards placing first.
Though it was a strong weekend for Kearney and Richards, the biggest freestyle star of the weekend was Sweden's Jesper Bjornlund, who won both of the men's moguls events contested in Finland, an outstanding start to the 2009-10 campaign for the 24-year-old who placed 13th in last season's World Cup standings.
Also performing well for the U.S. in Finland were Bryon Wilson, who placed second on both Friday and Saturday, and 2005 world champion Nate Roberts, whose third-place result on Saturday represents his best World Cup finish since March 2008. Read more.
One week after clinching an Olympic berth, Erin Hamlin won her first-ever World Cup medal in Lillehammer, Norway on Sunday. The 23-year-old Remsen, N.Y. native earned bronze upon finishing 0.037 seconds behind Germany's Tatjana Huefner, becoming the first American female to land on the World Cup podium since Ashley Walden's bronze-medal win in Winterberg, Germany four years ago.
Despite struggling to finish in the top five during the 2009-10 season because of a nagging back injury, two-time Olympian Tony Benshoof is also Vancouver-bound, as is doubles pair Christian Niccum and Dan Joye. The duo slid to a season-best fourth behind Italy's Gerhard Plankensteiner and Oswald Haselrieder to finalize their spot on the U.S. roster. It will be the second Olympic appearance for both athletes, but their first as a team. The remaining U.S. Olympic luge lineup will be announced Friday, Dec. 18 in New York City. Read more.
Latvia's Martins Dukurs continued his World Cup dominance in Winterberg, Germany on Friday, earning a second gold in the fourth race of the 2009-10 World Cup campaign. Germany's Frank Rommel reached the top three a second time this tour for silver, while Alexander Tretiakov of Russia claimed his first competition victory with bronze.
Three-time world bronze medalist Kerstin Szymkowiak held off series leader, Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth, for half a second to take top honors on her home track. Eric Bernotas and Noelle Pikus-Pace were the top Americans with seventh and eighth, respectively. Read more.
Reigning Olympic halfpipe champion Shaun White and 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark won the men's and women's events at the opening stop of the U.S. Grand Prix circuit in Copper Mountain, Colo.
Though neither White nor Clark officially clinched an Olympic berth with the victories, both riders put themselves in excellent positions to earn a spot on the U.S. team for Vancouver. After the conclusion of the fifth and final Grand Prix event in Park City, the top three men and top three women in the standings earn spots based on the average of their two best results in the series.
At the final World Cup meet before the Vancouver Games, American Shani Davis firmly established himself as the gold-medal favorite in the 1000m and 1500m. On Friday, Davis smashed his own world record in the 1500m in winning the event by more than a second. American Chad Hedrick, who beat Davis in the 1500m at last week's World Cup in Calgary, took silver. Also Friday, German Jenny Wolf broke her own world record in the 500m. Read more.
Two Americans earned bronze on Saturday: Tucker Fredricksin the 500m and Jennifer Rodriguez in the 1500m. Fredricks is fourth overall in the World Cup standings, and should contend for a medal in Vancouver. The bronze for Rodriguez, who retired after Torino but decided to make a comeback in 2008, was her first medal since her return to the sport. Lee Kyou-Hyuk of South Korea won the 500m, and Christine Nesbitt of Canada won the 1500m Read more.
Davis' second gold came on the final day of competition when he won the 1000m. He is now four-for-four in that race this season, and four-for-five in the 1500m. Nesbitt won her second gold of the meet on Sunday as well, taking the 1000m. Read more.
The Canadian curling trials concluded this weekend, the culmination of qualification process that spanned three seasons. On the women's side, an unheralded rink from Calgary, despite lacking a major title -- their best result was runner-up at Canadian Nationals 13 years ago-- won an Olympic berth. Cheryl Bernard's rink bested Shannon Kleibrink 7-6 in a game that came down to the final rock. On the men's side, Kevin Martin defeated longtime rival Glenn Howard for the men's spot. Martin last represted Canada in the Olympics in the 2002 Salt Lake Games, where his rink won the silver medal. Read more.