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

Justin Gatlin, alter ego trailed by film crew for documentary

Justin Gatlin
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Justin Gatlin swears he’s not as bad as he’s made out to be.

He calls his alter ego “J Gat.” And that’s someone you don’t want to mess with.

Before a race, the mild-mannered American sprinter says he transforms himself into the feisty guy named “J Gat,” a nickname he’s given to a version of himself that wants to take over the world from archrival Usain Bolt. Their rivalry heading into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics has sometimes been portrayed as “Good vs. Evil” given Gatlin’s doping history.

“I don’t accept myself being the bad guy,” Gatlin said. “I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. I’m a brave person. I’m a good person. I know this about myself and I have to act like that.”

“J Gat” to the rescue. He runs with fury and looks “mean and intimidating” when caught on camera after races.

That’s not the real Justin Gatlin.

“Justin has only gotten as far as starting line. After the gun goes off, it’s never Justin. It’s always as ‘J Gat,'” Gatlin said. “I’m a whole different person away from track.”

To illustrate that, Gatlin is making a documentary. The 34-year-old will have a film crew trailing him around at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore., to record his every move.

One caveat: Stay out of the way of “J Gat.” You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. (Case in point: gesturing toward a heckler who was bothering his mother in the stands during the awards ceremony at Worlds last summer).

“A lot of athletes get consumed by the Hollywood lights,” said Gatlin, who will face a 100m field at Pre that includes Americans Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, along with Asafa Powell of Jamaica. “I’m like, ‘We can make this story, but I have to still do my job. We have to coexist together. I can’t give you my undivided attention and go off and start losing races.'”

There’s no working title yet for the film or date when it will air. And no subject is out of bounds, including his doping past. The 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, was reinstated from his ban on July 24, 2010, and returned to capture bronze at the London Games two years later.

He’s been one of Bolt’s biggest threats ever since.

“The theme of (the movie) is basically my journey,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin recently showed the roughly 90-second trailer to his 6-year-old son, whose first words were: “Play it again, dad.”

“That was the cutest thing ever,” Gatlin said. “He’s like, ‘I have to be faster than a cheetah to keep up with you, dad.’ That makes me proud.”

The trailer shows flashes of Gatlin stretching, lifting weights and sprinting. In one scene, he said: “If I could do this forever, I would. I love the pain I get from training. I know that it’s a pain of growth. Inside, I’m infinity.”

Gatlin said he’ll race at least through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics so his son could be there.

“I’d like to give that to him as a gift,” Gatlin said. “Even if I don’t win in 2020, just to be able to be on the team.”

Gatlin’s times in the 100 have been slower this season, running 9.94 seconds so far compared with 9.74 this time a year ago.

All by design.

He’s treating the early season races more like rounds so he can work on his form. Gatlin believes he has the speed to keep up with Bolt, but needs to execute his style of race.

That didn’t happen in Beijing at the World Championships last summer. Gatlin was a slight favorite in the 100m given that Bolt wasn’t exactly race sharp. Gatlin was neck-and-neck with the Jamaican, but over-strided with about 15 meters left. Gatlin went into his lean too early, paving the way for Bolt to capture gold yet again.

“It’s all a process,” Gatlin said. “Sometimes, processes are rewarding and sometimes processes are painful.”

Before a 100m showdown with Bolt can occur in Rio de Janeiro, Gatlin has to make Team USA at the Olympic Trials in July. It’s not an easy task with sprinters such as Gay, Rodgers, Trayvon Bromell and Gatlin contending for three spots. Gatlin also will try to earn a place in the 200m.

To assist him, he will summon “J Gat.”

“Very rarely will you find an athlete that calls me Justin,” Gatlin said. “It’s always ‘J Gat.’ Justin has never run a race.”

MORE: Five events to watch at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule

Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas headline Secret Classic; Maggie Nichols out

Maggie Nichols
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World all-around champion Simone Biles and Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas are expected to compete at the Secret U.S. Classic on June 4, while World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols remains out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery several weeks ago.

USA Gymnastics announced the field Thursday for the tune-up meet for the P&G Championships later in June and U.S. Olympic Trials in July.

Nichols is the only member of the seven-woman World Championships team who isn’t scheduled to compete at the Secret Classic in Hartford, Conn.

She is expected to be ready for the P&G Championships in St. Louis from June 23-26, an official from her gym and USA Gymnastics said Thursday.

In early April, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Nichols was expected to be out four to six weeks, putting her in line to be ready in late May. Participation in the Secret Classic is not mandatory to be eligible for the Olympic team.

Nichols suffered the injury, a meniscus tear, on an Amanar vault landing in training, according to multiple reports.

The five-woman U.S. Olympic team will be named after the trials from July 8-10. The all-around champion at trials will clinch one of those five berths.

Nichols, an 18-year-old from Little Canada, Minn., is a favorite to make the Olympic team if healthy.

She was the only U.S. gymnast who competed in all four events in the World Championships team final Oct. 27. She earned a floor exercise bronze medal five days later.

Nichols opened her Olympic year by finishing second in the AT&T American Cup all-around behind Gabby Douglas on March 5.

Nichols was on the roster to compete at the Pacific Rim Championships from April 8-10 but was removed before the meet due to a slight knee injury, USA Gymnastics said.

She previously dislocated her left kneecap in summer 2014.

The men’s P&G Championships will also be held in Hartford, Conn., next week, with every major U.S. Olympic hopeful in the expected field. That includes London Olympians Danell LeyvaJohn OrozcoSam Mikulak and Jacob Dalton.

MORE: Gabby Douglas, mom had concerns before agreeing to TV series