Olympia

Sochi 2014 names first torchbearer for Olympic torch relay

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The first Sochi Olympic torchbearer will be an Alpine skier.

As is custom, a Greek athlete has the honors. Ioannis Antoniou, 18, will carry the torch in Olympia, Greece, on Sept. 29, the International Olympic Committee announced Friday.

The flame will reach Russia on Oct. 7, four months before the opening ceremony, and travel about 40,000 miles, the longest relay in Winter Olympic history. It will run through more than 2,900 towns and settlements (and go into space Nov. 7) via more than 14,000 torch bearers in car, plane, train and reindeer sleigh.

Here’s more detail on what will happen in Olympia on Sept. 29, via Olympic.org:

The ceremony will see several ‘priestesses’ perform a traditional celebration at the Temple of Hera in which the torch will be kindled by the light of the sun using a parabolic mirror.

Antoniou, the son of two physical education teachers, has been skiing since age 4. He finished 75th in the giant slalom at the 2013 World Championships (Greece is not an Alpine ski power).

Greece has sent at least one Alpine skier to every Olympics beginning with 1964, its best finish a 23rd by Vassilis Dimitriadis in the men’s slalom in 2006, according to sports-reference.com. Dimitriadis was the first torchbearer for the 2010 Olympic torch relay. Greece has never won a medal at the Winter Games.

“The Olympic torch relay is one of the most important and magical Olympic occasions,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, President and CEO of Sochi 2014, on Olympic.org. “It continues the build-up of excitement ahead of the Games and, as well as spreading the Olympic values to the whole country. We will be creating, as a nation, an important part of Russian history.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin wrestles with doubt in seconds before World Cup downhill debut

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, skis during the third training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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After a momentary panic in the start house, Mikaela Shiffrin raced to a tie for 18th in the first downhill of her World Cup career in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion who has also won a World Cup giant slalom, has been slowly adding the speed events of super-G and downhill to her repertoire the last two seasons.

“It wasn’t bad,” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com. “I certainly didn’t risk anything crazy.”

Her result Friday, 1.99 seconds behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec, came after Shiffrin was 18th, 24th and 30th fastest in downhill training runs the previous three days. Shiffrin also had to wait several minutes in the start house as the racer before her crashed (video here).

“That was just a bummer,” Shiffrin said, according to the Denver Post. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it affect you,’ but being up there for 10 minutes, like, ‘What happened? What’s taking them so long? What’s going on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubting myself, like my technique going off the jumps, which is actually pretty good. I was going back and forth between, ‘Should I even be doing this? Maybe I just should pull out because I don’t want to kill myself.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re absolutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a single time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.'”

“To be fast in speed there certainly needs to be a certain level of risk, and I know that, but now, if [giant slalom] and slalom are my main priority this season, I don’t need to be going crazy in a downhill with flat light and after I got iced [waiting so long],” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com.

Stuhec won Friday’s race by .22 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia. Swede Kajsa Kling was third.

A race replay can be seen here. Full results are here.

Lindsey Vonn, owner of a record 18 wins at Lake Louise, is missing the annual World Cup stop in Alberta due to a broken arm from a November crash. Vonn had raced at Lake Louise each of the previous 15 seasons.

Last season, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in the super-G at Lake Louise and finished 15th.

The women have another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday in Lake Louise, both streaming live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (schedule here).

MORE: Vonn eyes January return from her most painful injury

High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise (video)

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Swiss Joana Haehlen crashed into netting at high speed during a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Haehlen, 24, lost her right ski after landing from a jump and sped uncontrollably off course. She braced for impact, slammed into red netting and was turned around before landing with neither of her skis still attached.

She lay on the snow while being attended to and eventually skied down the mountain on her own.

It caused a 10-minute delay before the next skier, American Mikaela Shiffrin, could take her run.

VIDEO: Vonn details the most painful injury of her career