Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. skier Shiffrin, 17, makes history in World Cup race

Leave a comment

Ever heard of Mikaela Shiffrin?

If you don’t closely follow Alpine ski racing, your answer is probably a no. But now is the time to start reading up on this 17-year-old Alpine skiing phenom.

At 17 years, 9 months and 7 days, Shiffrin became the third youngest American to ever win an Alpine World Cup race on Thursday after claiming victory in a slalom race in Are, Sweden.

Shiffrin is from Vail, Colo., and attends Burke Mountain Academy, a private school in East Burke, Vt. that teaches both academics and ski racing. Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in March 2011. Later that year she raced in another World Cup event and finished eighth in the slalom. A year ago, Shiffrin placed third in a slalom race at Lienz, Austria. Last March, she won the slalom at the U.S. National Championships – after doing the same at the 2011 Nationals.

So yeah, it’s probably time to start paying attention to this talented teenager.

When asked about her victory, Shiffrin had this to say (courtesy of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association): “I was just trying to fly. I couldn’t imagine what winning [a World Cup race] would feel like. I only knew the feeling of knowing you’ve skied your best.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. Lindsey Vonn has the speed events covered for the U.S. women, the downhill and the super-G. You can throw Julia Mancuso into that mix as well. Mancuso and Shiffrin are solid in the giant slalom. In the slalom there’s really only one American we need to know about: Shiffrin. Her victory yesterday catapulted her to the top of the World Cup slalom standings.

So will we see Shiffrin on more podiums in the near future? And what about the Sochi Olympics, which are just over a year away?

“I met Mikaela last summer and she is indeed a great kid with a wonderful ski future in front of her,” said Kiki Cutter, the youngest American to win a World Cup race (slalom in 1968 at 16 years, 7 months, 1 day). “I am sure that we are going to see many more victories from Mikaela.”

Cutler was also the first American in history to win a World Cup race, so you can’t get much more of an expert opinion than hers. And if she’s right, Mikaela, we’ll see you on the slopes in Sochi.

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened