Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin wins slalom, reindeer in Levi (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won the first World Cup slalom of the season and its unusual prize in Levi, Finland, on Saturday.

The prodigious U.S. teen clocked 1 minute, 55.07 seconds over two runs, beating reigning Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by a comfortable 1.06. World Cup overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia was third in 1:56.68.

Shiffrin’s spoils include a 6-month-old reindeer that she gets to name (update: the name is Rudolph) and visit every year she comes back to Levi. Remember, Lindsey Vonn was offered prize money or a cow when she won in Val d’Isere, France, in 2005, and chose the cow that she named Olympe.

“I just wanted to take the second run as its own race and really hammer it,” Shiffrin told Eurosport. “It’s nice to know that one of my goals is to keep my slalom standings. At least I’m not that far off.”

“I scared him off a bit when I jumped off the podium to meet him, but I think we will be getting along,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “I hope that when he gets older and trained I can go for a ride on a sledge with him.”

Shiffrin, 18, led Maze by .52 of a second after the first run Saturday morning, despite a mistake in windy conditions north of the Arctic Circle.

She’s now won five World Cup slaloms, all in the last 11 months, and is coming off her best career World Cup giant slalom finish (sixth) in the Soelden, Austria, season opener on Oct. 26.

This comes after taking the World Cup and World Championships slalom titles last season.

“She’s an amazing skier,” Hoefl-Riesch said of Shiffrin, according to The Associated Press. “We already knew that from last year, she is such a talented girl and strong in her head and we will have lots of fun with her the next 10 years I guess.”

One Olympic medal contender did not fare as well.

Austrian Marlies Schild, in her first World Cup since a December 2012 knee injury, missed a gate in the first run. Schild topped the World Cup slalom standings in 2011 and 2012 and was one of Shiffrin’s idols growing up.

The next World Cup stop is Beaver Creek, Colo., where Shiffrin may enter the second of her two disciplines, giant slalom, Dec. 1. The next World Cup slalom is Dec. 17 in Courchevel, France.

Ted Ligety leads the U.S. men in the Levi slalom Sunday. Ligety, the triple 2013 world gold medalist, has never won a World Cup slalom and has not made a podium since 2008 but worked extra on the technical discipline during the offseason.

Levi Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:55.07
2. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:56.13
3. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:56.68
4. Christina Ager (AUT) 1:56.73
5. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 1:56.80
6. Christina Geiger (GER) 1:56.86
7. Nina Loeseth (NOR) 1:56.95
8. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:56.97
9. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:57.14
10. Denise Feierabend (SUI) 1:57.22

Marcel Hirscher compares pressure to crazy dogs who want to eat him

What to watch at Drake Relays, Penn Relays

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Olympic gold medalists ramp up their track and field seasons at the Penn Relays and Drake Relays, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Athletes are working toward the U.S. Championships in June and the world championships in August.

First, the historic Penn Relays will air on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Friday (5:30-6:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday (12:30-3 p.m. ET).

USA vs. The World in men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint medley relays will air live on Saturday from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. A full schedule is here.

The U.S. teams are led by Olympic relay champions English Gardner and Natasha Hastings. The full roster is here.

Rio Olympic rematches highlight the individual-event fields at the Drake Relays in Des Moines on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold from 3-5 p.m ET on Saturday. A full schedule is here.

Perhaps no field is deeper than the 100m hurdles. World-record holder Keni Harrison takes on Rio silver and bronze medalists Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali, plus 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson.

The 110m hurdles contingent is strong as well. It features the last two Olympic champions, Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt, plus 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt, who earned silver and bronze in Rio, go head-to-head again in the 400m at Drake.

The men’s 1500m is headlined by Rio Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy and London Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano.

Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson races individually for the first time this year in the women’s 1500m.

That field also includes New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, who gained fame of her own in Rio. Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino fell in an Olympic 5000m heat and helped each other make it to the finish line. Both were praised for their sportsmanship.

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IOC president unsure whether esports should be considered sport

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Esports are gaining momentum in the international sports movement, but they are not close to becoming an Olympic sport.

“We are not yet 100 percent clear whether esports is really sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday, according to insidethegames. “We do not see an organization or a structure that will give us confidence, or guarantee, that in this area the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place, and that the implementation of these rules are monitored and secured.”

The first clear step (of many) to become an Olympic sport is for the IOC to recognize the sport’s international governing body.

Esports will be added as a medal sport to the Asian Games in 2022, and has been praised by LA 2024 Olympic bid chairman Casey Wasserman, but it is not yet IOC recognized.

“We are watching it, we see the differences, we see the lack of organisation,” Bach said, according to the report. “But we also see the high engagement of youth in esports. Therefore, we have to carefully consider how this could be consolidated.”

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