Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin struggles in Courchevel slalom; Marlies Schild wins

Leave a comment

Mikaela Shiffrin has strong competition in the slalom after all.

The American teen posted her lowest World Cup slalom finish in 10 races, while one of her idols won for the first time since returning from major injury in Courchevel, France, on Tuesday.

Shiffrin, 18 and the reigning world and World Cup champion in the event, finished 12th in a two-run time of 1 minute, 47.28 seconds.

“Mikaela wasn’t able to get the battery charged and that happens,” U.S. coach Roland Pfeifer said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “She really had a bad day today and that’s probably not the last time that’s going to happen. We just need to accept that the other athletes were skiing better today.”

Shiffrin was coming off skiing out of a giant slalom Sunday. On Tuesday, her first of two runs put her in seventh place, .90 of a second behind. That made it unlikely Shiffrin could win her third straight World Cup slalom dating to last season.

“Not my best run,” Shiffrin said of her first run, according to The Associated Press. “I didn’t have a great feeling. I was just a bit nervous … Sometimes I don’t get that great feeling I want in the morning. I thought I had that today but it didn’t go how I want.”

Marlies Schild, who was the world’s best slalom skier before tearing right knee ligaments on Dec. 20, 2012, made her first World Cup podium since returning from the injury. The Austrian dominated like the Schild of old, coming from third place after the first run to win by .33 over Swede Frida Hansdotter.

“I never expected it before the race because I had no rhythm, no race rhythm,” said Schild, who at 32 became the oldest World Cup slalom winner ever, according to Infostrada. “My last race [win] was a long time ago [Feb. 11, 2012], over one year. It’s amazing.”

Schild’s younger sister, Bernadette, was third, her second career World Cup podium. It’s the first time sisters have been on the same World Cup podium since Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Susanne Riesch on Dec. 13, 2009, according to Infostrada.

“I’m so happy for her,” Marlies Schild said of Bernadette, who is nine years younger. “Of course I’m happy that I’m in front of her.”

Schild matched Swiss legend Vreni Schneider for the most career World Cup slalom victories with her 34th. She won Olympic silver in 2010, World Championships gold in 2011 and four of six World Cup titles from 2007 through 2012.

She came back from her knee injury for the World Championships in February and finished ninth behind Shiffrin. Schild won her first World Cup slalom on Shiffrin’s 9th birthday, March 13, 2004.

When Shiffrin made her first World Cup podium in Lienz, Austria, on Dec. 29, 2011, she blurted out to the winner Schild.

“Oh my gosh, I’m such a big fan,” Shiffrin said, according to The New York Times. “Well, I’m also on the podium with you. But I’m still a big fan.”

Shiffrin’s medal chances in her secondary event, the giant slalom, nonetheless improved, but not for the reason she would have liked.

Reigning world champion Tessa Worley suffered a torn ACL in a crash in the first run. She was taken down the slope on a stretcher and to a hospital.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup continues with a downhill and a giant slalom in Val d’Isere, France, on Saturday and Sunday.

Lindsey Vonn is expected to enter the downhill, her fourth event since returning from a major knee injury, and possibly her final race before the Olympics.

Courchevel Slalom
1. Marlies Schild (AUT) 1:45.17
2. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:45.50
3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:46.39
4. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 1:46.60
5. Michaela Kirchgasser (AUT) 1:46.73
6. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) 1:46.81
7. Carmen Thalmann (AUT) 1:46.89
8. Nina Loeseth (NOR) 1:46.95
9. Wendy Holdener (SUI) 1:47.05
10. Nathalie Eklund (SWE) 1:47.20
12. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:47.28
21. Resi Stiegler (USA) 1:48.81

Camel carries Olympic flame during Sochi torch relay

USA Gymnastics faces change, golden glow gone amid scandal

AP
Leave a comment

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — On the floor of the Honda Center, the P&G Gymnastics Championships are imbued with a sense of normalcy and routine. Of tumbling runs and coaching tweaks. Of blaring music and chalk dust. Of leaps and leotards. Of the search for who’s next.

There is no sign of an organization in crisis trying to finds its way following a stormy year that’s seen one of the U.S. Olympic movement’s marquee brands shaken from the head of its national office in Indianapolis down to the smallest of its 3,546 member clubs.

To find the fallout from allegations of sexual abuse against a longtime former national team doctor and a subsequent independent review that called for significant changes in the manner in which USA Gymnastics protects its athletes, you need to pull back.

While the women’s field went through final preparations Thursday for Friday night’s opening round of competition (TV schedule here), in a hotel conference room across the street 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher and fellow retired gymnast Rachael Denhollander called for several members of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors to resign, insisting the organization needs to make a clean break from its past before it can begin moving forward.

“A complete change in USAG leadership is needed starting at the top,” said Dantzscher, part of a bronze-medal-winning team from Sydney.

In a convention center a few miles away, hundreds of gym operators and coaches tried to figure out how to best implement the guidelines outlined by Deborah Daniels, a former federal prosecutor who made 70 recommendations in June — all immediately adopted — designed to provide athletes, their parents and coaches better safeguards and greater recourse against accused abusers.

In Michigan, Larry Nassar — who spent nearly 30 years working as an osteopath for USA Gymnastics’ elite athletes — sat in prison after pleading guilty to three child pornography charges. Nassar is still awaiting trial on nearly two dozen other charges while also facing more than 100 civil lawsuits claiming he abused female athletes during his tenure at both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. Many are in mediation and four cases in California are tied up in the courts.

The golden glow from the Final Five’s medal-hogging performance in Rio faded quickly. While Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez spent the last 12 months enjoying celebrity, USA Gymnastics played defense, figuring out where to go after being named as a co-defendant in civil cases filed against Nassar.

Longtime women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi — who along with husband Bela was named a co-defendant in some of the lawsuits — retired shortly after Rio. The organization recently pulled out of a deal to purchase the Karolyi Ranch, which has served as the de facto home of the women’s program for nearly two decades.

Steve Penny was forced out as president and chief executive officer in March for mishandling a number of abuse cases. A replacement for Penny will likely be named by September, while Valeri Liukin took over for Karolyi last fall, tasked with both continuing the women’s programs dominance while also creating a more transparent culture.

“It adds a lot of stress, but guess what, we have a lot of great people in the country, a lot of great people,” Liukin said. “Having one bad person doesn’t mean that it’s going to affect the program. We are more careful right now. We take steps to make prevent [abuse] from happening.”

Less than two months removed from Daniels’ report, there are signs of progress. National team members who fly into Houston for training camps must be escorted to the camp with at least two other people along for the ride to avoid any one-on-one interaction. Underage female gymnasts with male coaches who are picked to compete internationally must now travel with a credentialed female chaperone. One-on-one visits to cabins the athletes use during overnight stays by medical staff is now prohibited.

“They need to know that their safety is our utmost priority,” said Rhonda Faehn, the senior vice president of the women’s program. “We need to make sure that they know that and that they feel it.”

That’s at the national level. Policing at a local level is another matter entirely. Denhollander came forward as part of an investigation by The Indianapolis Star that discovered USA Gymnastics collected complaints of improper conduct by over 50 coaches between 1996 and 2006 and regularly declined to forward them on to the authorities unless expressly asked to do so.

The new guidelines require member gyms to go to authorities immediately. Daniels suggested USA Gymnastics consider withholding membership from clubs that decline to do so. The organization also named Toby Stark, a child welfare advocate, as its director of SafeSport. Part of Stark’s mandate is educating members on rules, educational programs, reporting and adjudication services.

Many member clubs have already adopted some of the recommended policies on their own.

Tony Retrosi, owner and coach at Atlantic Gymnastics Training Center in New Hampshire, has long prevented his staff members from having one-on-one electronic media exchanges with underage athletes. It falls in line with best practices put forward by USA Gymnastics in 2015.

There is much to be done. Dantzscher and Denhollander don’t believe real progress is possible until board chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder and treasurer Bitsy Kelley are removed. All three signed a letter supporting Penny in March after the United States Olympic Committee called for his ouster.

“It is clear that the board intends to conduct business as usual,” Dantzscher said.

Parilla said in June he had no plans to step down, and late Thursday other members of the board of directors issued a statement saying they are “confident our Board officers will continue to lead us through the coming months.”

Yet for all its issues at the top, impact on the sport at the grassroots level has been minimal. USA Gymnastics membership rose by nearly 3 percent from Aug. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017, to a record high of 198,636, showing that among members belief in the organization’s purpose remains strong.

At some point the smoke will clear. At some point the attention will turn back to what’s happening on the competition floor. Dantzscher’s goal — beyond giving the board of directors a makeover — is her sport embracing the painful but necessary steps required to create true change from “mommy and me” intro classes to the Olympic stage.

Asked if she believes such a change is possible, Dantzscher paused before answering.

“I hope so.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: For Gabby Douglas, this break from gymnastics is different

Ragan Smith, Ashton Locklear lead U.S. gymnastics’ new wave

Leave a comment

ANAHEIM, California (AP) — Technically, Ragan Smith never stepped foot on the floor as a competitor at the Rio Olympics as the star-studded U.S. women’s gymnastics team beat a steady and relentless path to the podium on its way to medal after medal after medal.

Not that it mattered to Smith. Technically the 17-year-old was a “replacement athlete,” a fancy description for “alternate.” Funny, she didn’t feel like one as she trained up to and through the games just in case.

“If you ask her, she says she’s an Olympian,” coach Kim Zmeskal Burdette said.

And now she’s the center of attention.

As the “Final Five” take a break and weigh their future Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian are being inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame on Saturday — the 17-year-old Smith finds herself as the face of the program as the P&G Championships begin Friday night.

This weekend marks the first time since 2005 that no one on the previous Olympic team returned to compete the following year, leaving the stage to Smith and the next wave in a program that plans to keep on rolling with Valeri Liukin taking over for retired national coordinator Martha Karolyi.

“The expectations are the same,” said Rhonda Faehn, senior vice president of the women’s program.

P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
TV Schedule | Final Five Updates

No big deal or anything. All Smith and company have to do is follow in the footsteps of the most decorated team of all time. That’s fine with Smith and her coach, who won Olympic bronze at age 16 in 1992.

“People ask about pressure and adding pressure and it’s doesn’t if that’s what you were striving for in the first place,” Zmeskal Burdette said. “If you want to be the one people are talking to, it gives you more confidence.”

Something Smith is not lacking. She made a splash in 2016 in her first year as a senior, her tiny size and infectious floor exercise — set to theme from “The Addams Family” — making her instantly recognizable. She’s ditched it for something a little more grown up this year, by design.

“It’s sassy instead of very cute,” Zmeskal-Burdette said. “That’s the character she feels very good with. She is sassy. So be it.”

And a pretty good gymnast in her own right. While she’s talked openly about trying to extend her elite career through the Tokyo Games, Smith is trying to focus on the now.

“I don’t think, ‘Oh the 2020 Olympics,’ I don’t think about that ever really,” she said. “I just have it in the back of my mind as a goal.”

One that remains far off. Biles did the near impossible when she won three consecutive world all-around titles before winning a record-tying five medals in Rio. At this point, Smith would settle for a solid weekend at the Honda Center and a spot as one of four U.S. women at October’s world championships in Montreal.

So far, so good. Smith won the AT&T American Cup in March and seems at ease with being one of the favorites, though not the only one.

Ashton Locklear served as an Olympic alternate along with Smith and is eager to prove she’s more than just a wonder on uneven bars. Riley McCusker shook off a shaky performance at the American Cup — including a frightening dismount on balance beam — to bounce back and win the all-around and the beam at an international meet in Italy a few weeks later.

“That’s the gymnast she is,” coach Maggie Haney said.

One who is hardly afraid of the standards set by those who came before.

“It’s definitely cool being the next generation,” McCusker said. “I think we can prove ourselves and be the same or even better than the last generation.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: For Gabby Douglas, this break from gymnastics is different