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

WATCH LIVE: Possible Olympic final preview in FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

Alison, Bruno
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The World champions will play beach volleyball’s hottest team Sunday in an intriguing FIVB Word Tour Finals championship match and possible Olympic final preview, live on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Brazilians Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt established themselves as beach volleyball’s best team by winning every international tournament they entered this July and August, including the World Championship.

But the U.S. pair of Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena has been the talk of the sport since partnering in July for the first time since separating in 2005. The duo has only entered five FIVB World Tour events this year, but they have made four finals.

“We don’t consider them to be a new team,” Bruno said. “They already play together so well.”

WATCH LIVE: FIVB World Tour Finals — 2:30 p.m. ET

There are many similarities between the pairs.

Alison and Dalhausser are both intimidating blockers. Dalhausser has been named the FIVB World Tour’s best blocker six times, while Alison was recognized in 2011.

In fact, Lucena called Alison “a thicker version of Phil.” Alison, who is known as “Mammoth,” has 35 pounds on Dalhausser, the “Thin Beast.”

Bruno and Lucena are speedy defensive specialists. Dalhausser called Bruno, nephew of Olympic basketball’s all-time leading scorer Oscar Schmidt, the world’s best defender.

“Bruno might be better than me,” Lucena said, laughing, “but I am taller.”

Both Bruno and Lucena are listed at 6-foot-1.

Dalhausser also compared to Lucena to Todd Rogers, his 2008 Olympic gold medal partner. Dalhausser described Lucena as “more explosive” than Rogers, who was named the FIVB World Tour’s best defensive player three times.

“Todd was super competitive, and Nick is the same way,” Dalhausser said.

Alison and Bruno and Dalhausser and Lucena split their first two meetings (not counting a recent exhibition on a helipad). They’ve played 209 points. Alison and Bruno have won 104. Dalhausser and Lucena have won 105.

Alison and Bruno won the first clash, 21–16, 20–22, 15–13 in the World Series of Beach Volleyball final in Long Beach, Calif., on Aug. 23.

Then Dalhausser and Lucena won Wednesday, 18-21, 21-16, 15-11 in a pool-play match that Lucena called “the most competitive match we’ve played.”

Dalhausser and Lucena, who are both from Florida, are counting on the heat to be a third teammate in Fort Lauderdale.

“We have to wear out the big guy,” Dalhausser said, referring to Alison. “We hope it’s 150 degrees, and we will serve him every time.”

The winning team will receive $100,000. It is the biggest international first-place monetary prize ever.

“They are the best team in the world,” Lucena said. “We want to change that and show what we can do.”

On the women’s side, Brazilians Larissa and Talita and Germans Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst advanced to Sunday’s final. Larissa and Talita have won 10 of the 15 international events they’ve played since debuting in July 2014.

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings missed the World Tour Finals due to season-ending right shoulder surgery. Her partner, Olympic silver medalist April Ross, teamed with Lauren Fendrick this past week, and they lost in the quarterfinals.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: ‘Mammoth,’ ‘Magician,’ bring Brazil back atop beach volleyball

Usain Bolt returns to Oktoberfest, with Olympic Alpine skier

Usain Bolt
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Usain Bolt drank, danced and sang at Oktoberfest on Saturday, partying at the Munich festival for (at least) a third straight year.

This time, Bolt brought Germany’s best Alpine skier with him — World Championships slalom medalist Felix Neureuther. Bolt also brought Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the man who has helped the six-time Olympic champion sprinter get over recent injuries.

Here’s video of Bolt and Neureuther sharing a microphone to join in on a group song.

Here are Bolt’s highlights from past Oktoberfests: 2014 | 2013.

Bolt has been enjoying his offseason, having also partied with Lil Wayne in south Florida the previous weekend.

MORE USAIN BOLT: Watch Bolt lose at the Athens 2004 Olympics