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

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

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order