This weekend on the road to the Olympics: Downhill races, X Games highlight winter sports schedule | WNYT.com

This weekend on the road to the Olympics: Downhill races, X Games highlight winter sports schedule

NBC Olympics
Updated: January 20, 2022 07:45 PM

An iconic venue in Austria hosts men's downhill races, Breezy Johnson looks to continue her breakout season in Italy, and several of the top snowboarders and freeskiers are in Aspen, Colorado, for the Winter X Games. Here's a rundown of what's going on in the winter sports world this weekend (January 21-23) and how to watch the action.

Alpine Skiing

The final weekend of racing ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics brings the Men's Alpine World Cup to the iconic Hahnenkamm mountain in Kitzbuehel, Austria, site of the most famous downhill course in the world. "Streif" is a two-minute, two-mile run that descends more than 3000 feet at an average of 65 miles per hour. The course features the scariest and most famous jump in Alpine skiing called "Mausefalle" (mousetrap) and unpredictable weather adds even further challenge. Crashes are common and a helicopter is kept on hand to airlift injured skiers to the nearest hospital.

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Downhill races are scheduled for Friday and Sunday, with slalom on the equally challenging "Ganslernhang" course on Saturday. Aleksander Aamondt Kilde, Matthias Mayer and Dominik Paris are among the favorites.

Meanwhile, the women's World Cup circuit gets a taste of a future Winter Olympics venue this weekend at Cortina d'Ampezzo, which will cohost the 2026 Games with nearby Milan. For the second consecutive weekend, Mikaela Shiffrin will sit out Saturday's downhill and Sunday's super-G to focus on her Olympic training. However, fellow American Breezy Johnson will make her return following a scraped knee that kept her out of action last weekend. Johnson is in the thick of a breakout season, making the podium in every downhill race she's entered this season. She sits second behind only Sofia Goggia, who will be skiing on home snow.

World Cup: Kitzbuehel (Men), Cortina (Women)
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Fri, Jan 21 Men's Downhill 5:30 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 22 Men's Slalom Run 1 4:15 a.m., Peacock
Women's Downhill 5:30 a.m., Peacock
Men's Slalom Run 2 7:45 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 23 Women's Super-G 5:45 a.m., Peacock
Men's Downhill 7:30 a.m., Peacock

Snowboarding

The Winter X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, for a 21st consecutive year, less than two weeks before the start of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

In snowboarding, defending slopestyle and big air champion Jamie Anderson of the U.S. will take on three formidable opponents in both events: 2019 slopestyle winner Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand; 2017 slopestyle and 2018 big air champion Anna Gasser of Austria; and current World Cup park and pipe overall leader Kokomo Murase of Japan. Anderson beat Sadowski-Synnott and Murase in slopestyle earlier this month at the Mammoth Grand Prix. Gasser has placed second at her three most recent competitions.

Elsewhere, Japan's Ayumu Hirano and Australia's Scotty James — respectively two- and three-time X Games champions — face off in a men's halfpipe field that includes five Americans and another Aussie; Red Gerard of the U.S. seeks his first X Games slopestyle title; American Maddie Mastro drops into the pipe for her first major competition since crashing at Dew Tour in December; and Team USA's Dusty Henricksen attempts to defend his title in the knuckle huck, a non-Olympic event.

All snowboard competitions will take place on Friday and Saturday, and coverage will air on ESPN and ABC both days.

Freeskiing

In freeskiing events at X Games, the women's competition is wide open with triple Olympic gold medal threat Eileen Gu of China missing from the field — she won both halfpipe and slopestyle and took third in big air at last year's X Games. Among those to surely take advantage of Gu's absence: Estonian Kelly Sildaru, a four-time slopestyle champion and 2020's halfpipe winner; Tess Ledeux of France, who's won the big air title twice and owns three World Cup podiums this season; and American Hanna Faulhaber in halfpipe. Team USA's Brita Sigourney and Maggie Voisin are also competing.

Meanwhile, the men's side features some of the best fields assembled all season. Americans David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck — the collective winners in seven of the last 10 halfpipe events — square off against defending champion Nico Porteous, the New Zealander who snapped a four-year U.S. title streak, as well as Gus Kenworthy. Over in slopestyle, another elite American trio of four-time champion Nick Goepper, 2019 winner Alex Hall and 2020 champion Colby Stevenson battle it out in perhaps a preview of how the Olympic final will play out. Hall and Stevenson are also set to compete in big air and knuckle huck.

Freeski competitions will take place Friday through Sunday, and coverage will air on ESPN and ABC throughout the weekend.

Figure Skating

This month's U.S. Figure Skating Championships helped determine which Americans would punch their tickets to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Russians topped the European Figure Skating Championships, solidifying quota spots for some of the stars we'll see at the upcoming Games. This week marks the 2022 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, which theoretically features skaters from Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas (North and South), though no African or South American skaters will compete. Because China withdrew as this year's host in September, the tournament was moved to Tallinn, Estonia – which, just last week, held the 2022 European Championships.

The United States already leads the pack, with pairs duo Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov topping the short program and ice dancers Caroline Green/Michael Parsons winning the rhythm dance. However, none of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team will make an appearance. (It should be noted that Lu/Mitrofanov and Green/Parsons skated – and even took third and fourth place, respectively – at this year's U.S. Nationals. Neither pair made the Olympic team, but they were named alternates.)

While the 2022 Four Continents Championships will preview routines from some of the world's best skaters, the competition also features up-and-coming athletes who may dazzle at future Games.

Defending men's singles champion and reigning two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan will not participate at this year's Championships.

Four Continents Championships: Tallinn, Estonia
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Fri, Jan 21 Men's Short 5:20 a.m., Peacock
1:00 p.m., E!
Free Dance 11:20 a.m., Peacock
3:00 p.m., E!
Sat, Jan 22 Women's Free 5:30 a.m., Peacock
1:00 p.m., E!
Pairs Free 11:30 a.m., Peacock
11:30 a.m., E!
Sun, Jan 23 Men's Free 4:45 a.m., Peacock
6:00 a.m., E!

Biathlon

Rasen-Antholz, Italy's iconic South Tyrol Arena – and future home of 2026 Milano Cortina Olympic biathlon competition – hosts the seventh Biathlon World Cup stage of the season and the final one before the 2022 Games. There are six events taking place: men's and women's 20km/15km individuals, 15km/12.5km mass starts and 4x7.5km/4x6km relays.

France has decided to keep its biathletes on the circuit along with the Norwegian men, while women's overall World Cup leader Marte Olsbu Roeiseland of Norway and a few notable Swedes have elected to skip. American Paul Schommer placed ninth in Thursday's individual, a career-best finish and the first U.S. men's top-10 result since Leif Nordgren placed eighth at the 2020 World Championships. Schommer, Susan Dunklee, Clare Egan and other Americans are entered to compete in the week's remaining races, and the U.S. has a team seeded in each relay.

World Cup: Antholz-Anterselva, Italy
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Fri, Jan 21 Women's 15km Indiv. 8:15 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 22 Men's 15km Mass 6:50 a.m., Peacock
Women's 4x6km Relay 9:00 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 23 Men's 4x7.5km Relay 6:15 a.m., Peacock
Women's 12.5km Mass 9:15 a.m., Peacock

Ski Jumping

The penultimate weekend of competition ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics has the men's Ski Jumping World Cup in southern Germany. What had looked for most of the season like a two-man race between Japan's Ryoyu Kobayashi and Germany's Karl Geiger got some company last weekend, as Norway's Marius Lindvik notched his second straight win to pull within striking distance of the leaders.

World Cup: Titisee-Neustadt, Germany
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Fri, Jan 21 Qualifying 9:45 a.m., Peacock
Sat, Jan 22 Men 9:55 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 23 Men 9:40 a.m., Peacock

Ski Cross

Sweden's Idre Fjall ski resort hosts a pair of men's and women's ski cross World Cup competitions Saturday and Sunday on its unique, long finishing-straight course for the discipline's final races before the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Host nation superstar Sandra Naeslund has been nearly perfect this season, taking the victory in seven of the eight individual World Cup big finals. Switzerland's Fanny Smith, who finished runner-up in six of those eight races, will not be competing in Idre after crashing last weekend in Nakiska, Canada. While the men's side is much more uncertain, Naeslund's fellow Swede David Mobaerg is the only skier among the field to win multiple World Cup big finals this season – Arosa in December and Nakiska last weekend – so he, too, will look for inspiration at home to notch another first-place finish.

World Cup: Idre, Sweden
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Sat, Jan 22 M/W Ski Cross 5:15 a.m., Peacock
Sun, Jan 23 M/W Ski Cross 7:00 a.m., Peacock

Luge

It's the ninth and final stop for the 2021-22 Luge World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland this weekend. Some lugers are so far ahead in the multi-race series, they've already solidified a first-place finish: German singles champion Johannes Ludwig has left compatriot Felix Loch (and three-time Olympic gold medalist) to fight for second against Austria's Wolfgang Kindl on Saturday.

While Germany looks like it could sweep the Olympic competitions (men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, and team relay), keep an eye out for potential spoilers. Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics, who together have won doubles silver at Vancouver 2010 and doubles/mixed team bronze at Sochi 2014, lead in the sprint. However, they trail Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken by just 17 points in the longer doubles race – the competition these pairs will face at the Olympics. Similarly, Madeleine Egle could overtake Germany's Julia Taubitz in some World Cup standings on Sunday.

World Cup: St. Moritz, Switzerland
Day Event Time (ET), Platform
Sat, Jan 22 Doubles Run 1 2:25 a.m., Olympics.com
Doubles Run 2 3:50 a.m., Olympics.com
Men's Run 1 5:30 a.m., Olympics.com
Men's Run 2 7:13 a.m., Olympics.com
Sun, Jan 23 Women's Run 1 3:25 a.m., Olympics.com
Women's Run 2 4:55 a.m., Olympics.com
Team Relay 6:45 a.m., Olympics.com

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