Austria Alpine Skiing World Cup

Mikaela Shiffrin lands on Lienz GS podium, Olympic team

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In landing on another podium, Mikaela Shiffrin made sure she also landed a spot in Sochi in a second event.

The American teen finished third behind Austrian Anna Fenninger and Swede Jessica Lindell-Vikarby in a World Cup giant slalom Saturday in Lienz, Austria, the final Olympic qualifying event in the discipline.

With the next World Cup giant slalom race not scheduled until Feb. 1 in Maribor, Slovenia, and the U.S. selecting its Olympic Team on Jan. 26, this was the final opportunity for American skiers to earn points toward Sochi qualification in the discipline.

Shiffrin had already locked up her spot on the Olympic team with her slalom victory in Levi, Finland on Nov. 16, and her runner-up finish in the giant slalom at Beaver Creek on Dec. 1 also virtually assured her an Olympic GS start. Athletes with World Cup podium finishes are nominated for inclusion in the Games. Scoring a second podium finish only served to cement her candidacy.

Based on criteria, three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso would appear to be the next U.S. choice. She could have made that decision a no-brainer with a Top 10 finish – her best GS finish this season was a 12th in St. Moritz on Dec. 15 – but she continued her season-long struggles and wound up finishing 29th. Megan McJames, the only other American on the startlist, did not help her chances of making the Sochi roster when she hooked a tip a few gates before the finish of the first run and skied out.

Although slalom is clearly Shiffrin’s best event – she is the reigning world champion and has reached eight podiums in 22 World Cup starts with five victories – she is steadily entering the conversation of serious medal contenders in giant slalom as well.

Shiffrin has four Top 10 finishes in five starts in the discipline this season, the only blemish a DNF in St. Moritz on Dec. 15. Prior to this race, she opened with a sixth-place effort in Soelden on Oct. 26, finished second in Beaver Creek, and finished eighth in Val d’Isere on Dec. 22.

After one run, Shiffrin found herself in fourth place, .35 seconds behind the pace set by Lindell-Vikarby, who managed difficult conditions on the Hochstein course to open scant leads on Austrians Fenninger and Kathrin Zettel, who came in .02 seconds and .04 seconds behind.

“I’m normally pretty comfortable within half a second on a first run,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always better to come down and feel like you separated yourself from everybody, but I’m not quite there in GS. As long as I am in this position where I can really attack I’m psyched with that.”

Unlike her first run, where she dumped a few fractions of a second in the middle of the course, Shiffrin gained speed through that portion of her second run and carried a .68 second lead to the finish. Zettel followed, but lost most of her first-run advantage by the first time interval and wound up finishing fourth.

Fenninger absolutely pinned the top half of her second run and saw her .33 second advantage on Shiffrin at the start almost double by the first interval. She maintained that speed through the middle and lower sections and crossed with a half-second lead on Shiffrin. Lindell-Vikarby was unable to match that performance, assuring Fenninger of her third straight victory in World Cup races held on Dec. 28. Fenninger, who won this race in 2011, is the first woman to win the Lienz giant slalom twice.

“My preparation was good but I didn’t believe I could win today,” Fenninger told the Associated Press. “It’s funny that I’ve done it again on the 28th. I came here full of good memories and I tried to build on that feeling. I’ve learned a lot in recent years. I used to get distracted easily at races in Austria but now I use the home support as positive energy.”

All five World Cup giant slalom races this season have been won by different women.

It was not a good day for reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia and 2010 Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany, who each found themselves than two seconds off the lead pace set by Lindell-Vikarby during Run 1. Maze wound up finishing 14th while Rebensburg was 24th.

American Lindsey Vonn is sitting out this weekend to rest her re-injured right knee ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

Lindell-Vikarby added 80 points to her season total and continues to lead the World Cup season standings in giant slalom 332 points. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, who finished 17th, remains the overall points leader with 609, 12 points ahead of Fenninger.

“The overall World Cup is not really an issue now, although people keep asking me about it,” Fenninger told AP.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup continues in Lienz tomorrow with the women’s slalom. The first run begins at 4:30 a.m. ET and second run at 7:30 a.m. ET. Shiffrin and Austria’s Marlies Schild figure to be among the top contenders.

“Last time I was in Lienz, I didn’t have a great GS race but I had a pretty good slalom race, so I’m really excited for tomorrow,” said Shiffrin, who earned her first World Cup slalom podium as a 16-year-old on this course. “I’m just thinking day-by-day and trying to put my best skiing out there. I feel like I always leave something on the hill, and I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Lienz Giant Slalom

1. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 2:17.00

2. Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (SWE) 2:17.50

3. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 2:17.51

4. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 2:17.96

5. Nadia Fanchini (ITA) 2:18.19

6. Federica Brignone (ITA) 2:18.30

7. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 2:19.21

8. Anemone Marmottan (FRA) 2:19.33

9. Nina Loeseth (NOR) 2:19.48

10. Denise Karbon (ITA) 2:19.54

29. Julia Mancuso (USA)

DNF Megan McJames (USA)

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)
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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