Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin 6th in season opener; Lara Gut wins (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin posted a career-best World Cup giant slalom finish in the season opener in Soelden, Austria, taking sixth behind winner Lara Gut of Switzerland on Saturday.

Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze, who made the podium in every giant slalom last season, had her worst GS finish in more than two years — 18th.

Gut, a three-time World Championships silver medalist, won her first World Cup giant slalom in 2 minutes, 25.16 seconds, well in front of Austrian Kathrin Zettel (2:26.00) and German Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg (2:26.44).

“For me it was a big fight,” Gut, who led by .77 after the opening run, said of her second run on Eurosport.

Shiffrin, 18, matched her sixth-place result from the World Championships in March. She was fifth after the first of two runs and clocked 2:26.78 overall.

“Having good results always helps your confidence,” Shiffrin said. “It’s reassurance that you belong here. That’s how it always is for me. Every race last year, I’d come down and get a top 10, and I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, I still deserve to be here.’ It’s just another one of those days.”

Shiffrin beats male teammates

Shiffrin is known for her slalom prowess (2013 World and World Cup champion) but spent the offseason working on improving her giant slalom and becoming a multiple-medal threat in Sochi.

It paid off. Her best World Cup GS result last year was eighth, and she will probably keep rising with experience this season.

“I just feel like the sky’s the limit,” she said. “My biggest goal this year is to keep my slalom, hopefully, but improve that GS so that it can hopefully match my slalom.”

Maze, sixth after the first of two runs, clocked a 2:28.21 total after winning in Soelden last year.

Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic giant slalom champion, was 27th in 2:28.85. She’s better in the speed events now, so expect her to be a podium contender in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Thanksgiving weekend.

Lindsey Vonn had been training in Austria but opted not to race Soelden, setting her comeback from major knee surgery for Beaver Creek.

Universal Sports will have coverage of the Soelden men’s giant slalom Sunday.

The women’s World Cup season continues with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16, where the winners will receive a rather unusual prize.

Soelden Giant Slalom
1. Lara Gut (SUI) 2:25.16
2. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 2:26.00
3. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) 2:26.44
4. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 2:26.57
5. Tina Weirather (LIE) 2:26.74
6. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 2:26.78
7. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 2:27.07
8. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (SWE) 2:27.33
9. Dominique Gisin (SUI) 2:27.37
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 2:27.40
18. Tina Maze (SLO) 2:28.21
27. Julia Mancuso (USA) 2:28.85

Maze wins skier of the year award

Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 gold medals in PyeongChang

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Mark McMorris of Canada waits for his score after his second run during the Snowboard Men's Slopestyle Final during day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Mark McMorris remembers the day in July 2011 when he found out he could one day be an Olympian.

The Saskatchewan native was at a Canadian steakhouse watching TSN. A report said slopestyle snowboarding had been added to the Olympics for the next Winter Games in Sochi in three years.

Holy s***,” McMorris, in a phone interview last week, remembered thinking to himself. “I have a really good chance at going because I won this event so many times.”

McMorris was only 17 years old then, but he had already won a World Cup slopestyle contest in January 2010, a month after turning 16. Plus, he took silver at his Aspen Winter X Games debut in January 2011.

McMorris won the X Games in 2012 and 2013, then broke a rib at the 2014 X Games, 12 days before his Olympic debut. He still made it to Sochi, but the overwhelming favorite tag was gone. McMorris took bronze behind surprise American Sage Kotsenburg.

Since then, two days greatly impacted McMorris’ snowboarding. He will never forget one of them. He doesn’t remember the other.

On June 8, 2015, the International Olympic Committee added snowboard big air for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. McMorris, who had won big air at X Games five months earlier, instantly became a favorite for two medals in South Korea. Perhaps two gold medals.

Unlike slopestyle, McMorris doesn’t remember how he heard about big air’s Olympic inclusion. He believes his medal chances in PyeongChang are equal in both events.

“Some people might say slope, because I win more slope contests,” said McMorris, who starred in a reality TV show with big brother Craig, “McMorris & McMorris,” and has his own video game. “But I also win the big air contests when I land. Usually, I go all in rather than get second or third. I try my harder stuff.”

McMorris swept big air and slopestyle at the 2015 X Games and nearly did it again in 2016, edged by countryman Max Parrot in big air by two points. Parrot also beat McMorris in slopestyle at the Laax Open in Switzerland last week. He is clearly the biggest rival heading to PyeongChang.

McMorris plans to compete in both big air and slopestyle at Aspen this week, and could win both. This is remarkable given what happened Feb. 21, 2016.

McMorris broke his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles (video here). His rehab has been extensively documented by Canadian media.

McMorris returned to competition in November and quickly returned to winning. He captured a big air test event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

“For sure, I was nervous and stressed, but I put so much time into my rehabilitation and made sure I was super strong,” McMorris said of trying high-risk tricks again, like the frontside triple cork 1440 he attempted at Air and Style. “You can work as hard as you can to feel like you were at one point. I did that, and it ended up working out super well.”

McMorris said he falls every day in training, testing his surgically repaired right leg with a titanium rod the length of his femur.

“Not concern, but for sure I feel my leg somedays,” he said. “Big impact [fall], I’ll feel it in my groin. I’ll get some metallic feeling in the back of my knee, sort of where the femur meets the knee. I deal with my leg most days when I wake up. It just takes me a little bit longer to warm up. It still works pretty good.”

McMorris is credited as the first rider to land a backside triple cork 1440 in 2011. He’s working on more difficult tricks.

“Trying to perfect the switch backside triple cork 1620, which is kind of a new one in our industry,” he said. “I’ve never been able to do it in a slopestyle run. I’ve done it one time in a big air event at X Games last year. I’d love to do that in slopestyle, trying to link three triple corks together, which would set me up to be in a pretty good place.”

At this time four years ago, a McMorris-Shaun White rivalry was being hyped for the first Olympic slopestyle event. White had won his last X Games slopestyle start in 2009 and started training the event again for a Sochi slopestyle-halfpipe double.

McMorris dominated the 2013 Winter X Games with the two highest scores, while White was fifth. White ended up dropping out of slopestyle on the eve of the Winter Olympics, drawing criticism from Canadian riders, but notably not McMorris.

The McMorris-White relationship took a twist last February when McMorris suffered his broken femur at White’s Air and Style event. McMorris said he got hurt because of an uneven landing area, according to CBC.

In July, a video of White and McMorris skateboarding together in New York City was published on White’s social media accounts. McMorris said last week he might compete in Air and Style next month, though he didn’t want to answer White-related questions.

White said earlier this month he has dropped slopestyle altogether. It’s unknown if or when Kotsenburg will return to competition. He wasn’t invited to X Games.

McMorris can’t speak to the Americans, but he can say he’s feeling more confident going into the Olympic year than four years ago.

“Because I’ve been through the ringer once of the Olympics,” he said. “I know what’s coming. I know what I need to do, and I understand what it takes to perform under pressure. Hopefully, this time, I don’t have a broken rib. I’m pretty aware what the level’s going to be like in a year’s time. But you never know, it’s a judged sport as well.”

VIDEO: NBC’s lookahead to PyeongChang

European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

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NBC Sports will air live coverage of the European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, this week.

The competition includes reigning world champions Javier Fernandez of Spain, Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

NBCSN will provide live coverage that will also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Andrea Joyce and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley will call the action on NBCSN, while 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Ben Agosto will join the team for ice dance coverage.

Skaters are preparing for the world championships in Helsinki in two months.

MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Wednesday Noon Women’s Short NBCSN
Wednesday 2 p.m. Pairs Short (LIVE) NBCSN
Thursday Noon Short Dance NBCSN
Thursday 2 p.m. Pairs Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Friday Noon Men’s Short NBCSN
Friday 2 p.m. Women’s Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 9 a.m. Free Dance (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 6 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN
Saturday, Feb. 4 3 p.m. Women’s/Men’s Free NBC