Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin says ‘next Lindsey Vonn’ talk unfair to Vonn

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Showers of praise keep raining on U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, but perhaps comparisons to Lindsey Vonn are not the way to go.

“When they say I’m the next Lindsey Vonn, they are shooing her out the door, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Shiffrin told TODAY.com. “Imagine being her, reading that someone is the next Lindsey Vonn — it’s like saying, ‘Get out of the way, there’s no room for two Lindsey Vonns.’”

Shiffrin, of Vail, Colo., made her first World Cup giant slalom podium in nearby Beaver Creek on Sunday. She’s just starting to get her feet wet in the giant slalom after ascending to the top in slalom last year. Shiffrin won the World Championship in the slalom and led the World Cup standings in the event.

Shiffrin has said she wants to be an all-around skier contending for the overall World Cup title, which Vonn has won four times. It’s well known that Shiffrin and Vonn are different types of skiers — Shiffrin competing in (for now) only technical events, Vonn focusing on speed races.

Vonn is expected to train in Lake Louise, Alberta, this week ahead of World Cup speed races there beginning Friday. The Olympic downhill champion has said she hopes to race at a course nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” for her overwhelming success there over the years.

Shiffrin’s next race is expected to be a giant slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 15, if she sticks with her plan of racing only giant slalom and slalom this season.

“[Vonn has] been one of my greatest idols for really long time, and it’s even cooler that she’s one of my teammates,” Shffrin told TODAY.com. “I appreciate who she is and what she’s done for the sport. But she’s not done — she’s not even really close to done. Let her have her success and let me have my own — just call me Mikaela Shiffrin.”

Shiffrin’s admiration of Vonn included getting tongue-tied when Vonn introduced herself at a training session a few days before a race at Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, in March 2011.

“I was awkward and she must have felt like, ‘Who the heck is this girl?,”‘ Shiffrin told the Denver Post. “But it was really cool. I was like, ‘I just met my hero, oh, my gosh.’

“She said: ‘You can ask me whatever you need. I remember my first time in a World Cup, it was pretty dumbfounding, so if you have any questions, ask me.’ Of course I didn’t. I didn’t want to get in her way, but just the gesture — it sounded like she genuinely meant it.”

Vonn, who is 11 years older than Shiffrin, has said they’ve painted their nails together.

In January 2012, Vonn praised Shiffrin in a blog for the Denver Post.

“She’s a huge talent and she’s got a good head on her shoulders,” Vonn wrote. “To have success at that age, you need the right people around you when you’re growing up, you have to have talent and you need everything to fall into place at the right time.”

Lindsey Vonn delays surgery in hopes of skiing at Sochi Olympics

Female runners with high testosterone face new restriction

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Female runners with high testosterone must reduce those levels or will not be allowed in international races between 400m and the mile, according to an IAAF rule starting Nov. 1.

Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, who was gender tested in 2009, is expected to be affected, according to South Africa’s Olympic Committee.

“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes,” IAAF president Seb Coe said in a press release. “The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [difference of sexual development] has cheated, they are about leveling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition.”

The IAAF, after funding a study along with the World Anti-Doping Agency, said research showed the following natural testosterone levels:

Most women: .12-1.79 nanomoles per liter in blood
Normal men after puberty: 7.7-29.4 nmol/L

The IAAF rule forces all women who race the 400m through mile and who are androgen-sensitive to restrict their ratio to below five. It said women who have “a difference of sexual development” can have natural testosterone levels beyond the normal male range.

The IAAF and WADA-funded study found that women with high testosterone have up to a 4.5 percent advantage over their competition on the track.

Research showed 7.1 of every 1,000 elite female track and field athletes have elevated testosterone, most of which were runners in events between 400m and the mile.

“The treatment to reduce testosterone levels is a hormone supplement similar to the contraceptive pill taken by millions of women around the world,” an IAAF doctor said in the release. “No athlete will be forced to undergo surgery.”

The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone. Under that rule, female athletes with a ratio of 10 nmol/L or higher could only compete against women if they had an operation or took hormones to reduce their testosterone level.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory.

The gender-testing issue was raised in 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18. Word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing.

Semenya was not cleared to run for 11 months and came back to earn silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics, while the testosterone-limiting rule was in effect, behind Russian Maria Savinova, who has since been stripped of her golds for doping.

Semenya then had a lull in performance after the London Games while the testosterone-limiting rule was still in effect. After CAS suspended the rule in 2015, Semenya peaked again in 2016, going undefeated in 800m races, twice breaking the national record and comfortably winning Olympic gold.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

An image with the sentence, “How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged,” was posted on Semenya’s social media Wednesday after reports were first published about the new rule.

Her default position is generally to talk only about her running, but she spoke out against her critics in a speech after accepting South Africa’s Sportswoman of the Year in November 2016.

“They say she talks like a man, she walks like a man, she runs like a man,” Semenya said, before finishing off the series with an Afrikaans word that loosely translates to “Get lost.”

South Africa’s Olympic Committee president Gideon Sam said Thursday his organization was “disappointed by the IAAF ruling.”

“Especially given that Caster’s name is again being dragged through the publicity mill,” he said in a press release. “We are concerned that the decisions have been approved without taking into account all factors into consideration, as these factors have not been properly nor fully ventilated. We wish to place on record that Caster Semenya has never engaged in any performance-enhancing activities and any enhanced testosterone levels are due solely to her genetic make-up.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Olympic pairs champions take indefinite break

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Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs champion with Bruno Massot, said they are taking an indefinite break from competition, according to German press agency DPA.

Savchenko and Massot will perform in ice shows next fall and winter, which could preclude them from competing in major events like the Grand Prix season (late October to early December) and the European Championships in January.

The German pair followed their title in PyeongChang with a world title last month, breaking a four-year-old world-record score and winning by the largest margin (20.31 points) in pairs at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was replaced 14 years ago.

Savchenko, 34 and a five-time Olympian, became the oldest Olympic pairs gold medalist. She then claimed her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

The French-born Massot, 29, competed in his first Olympics in PyeongChang and earned his first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

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