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

Marc Leishman will miss Olympics due to wife’s health, Zika

Marc Leishman
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Australian golfer Marc Leishman will miss the Rio Olympics due to his wife’s health.

“Many of you may know that last April my children and I almost lost my wife, Audrey, to toxic shock syndrome,” Leishman said in a statement. “Since then Audrey has been prone to infection and is far removed from 100 percent recovery of her immune system.

“We have consulted with Audrey’s physician and due to her ongoing recovery from toxic shock and potential risks associated with the transmission of the Zika virus, it was a difficult yet easy decision not to participate.

“I missed playing in the 2015 Masters tournament to be at her side when she was originally stricken and I cannot risk placing her health in jeopardy.

“The Masters and the Olympics are the two biggest tournaments to which a golfer can be invited; however, my family will always come before golf.”

Leishman, 32 with one PGA Tour win, joined the projected Olympic field when countryman Adam Scott said last month that he would skip Rio.

World No. 1 Jason Day is assured one of two Olympic spots for Australian men when the 60-man field is determined based on July 11 world rankings.

With No. 7 Scott and No. 35 Leishman out, the next-best Aussie is No. 63 Marcus Fraser.

Three more major champions — Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel — also said in April they would not compete in Rio.

Golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

MORE: Australia Olympic legend blasts Adam Scott

Rory McIlroy worried Olympic golf may be done after 2020

Rory McIlroy
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Rory McIlroy believes golf may not remain in the Olympics after 2020 following a string of major champions announcing they will skip the sport’s return at the Rio Games.

“Because of how [Olympic golf is] being approached in golf circles … I’m not sure if we’re going to have another opportunity to win a gold medal after [Tokyo 2020],” McIlroy said ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday.

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee voted to re-add golf and rugby to the Olympic program for the 2016 Olympics, with a review in 2017 if they would remain for the 2020 Olympics.

In 2013, Tokyo was elected host city for the 2020 Olympics with a plan that includes golf.

Beyond 2020, golf does not yet have a place in the Olympics. Its chances for the 2024 Olympics could come into focus when that host city is chosen in September 2017.

McIlroy, ranked No. 3 in the world, has repeated he will play for Ireland in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 in Rio in August.

Fellow major champions Adam ScottLouis OosthuizenCharl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh said last month they will not play in the Rio Olympics.

MORE: Golf Channel’s Olympic broadcast schedule