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)

USA Gymnastics settles sex abuse lawsuit

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — USA Gymnastics has reached a confidential settlement in a Georgia lawsuit that spurred a newspaper investigation into the organization’s practices for reporting child abuse.

A former gymnast filed the lawsuit against USA Gymnastics in 2013, alleging that the organization that trains Olympians received at least four warnings about coach William McCabe, who videotaped her in various states of undress.

The lawsuit revealed that USA Gymnastics wouldn’t forward child sex abuse allegations to authorities unless they were in writing and signed by a victim or a victim’s parent.

A judge in Effingham County, Georgia, dismissed the lawsuit on April 12, according to court records. USA Gymnastics admits no wrongdoing or liability in the settlement, said W. Brian Cornwell of Cornwell & Stevens LLP, the gymnast’s lawyer.

Both parties have declined to comment on the settlement.

“We want to make it clear that the settlement does not prevent the former gymnast from speaking publicly about her experiences,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement Thursday.

McCabe pleaded guilty in Georgia in 2006 to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements. He’s serving a 30-year prison sentence.

The suit sparked The Indianapolis Star’s investigation of USA Gymnastics, which exposed abuse by Larry Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor, and spurred the resignations of the organization’s president and board.

Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty to molesting patients and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced this year to prison terms that will keep him locked up for life after roughly 200 women gave statements against him in two courtrooms over 10 days.

USA Gymnastics faces additional lawsuits from women who say Nassar sexually abused them. The suits allege the organization was negligent, fraudulent and intentionally inflicted emotional distress by failing to warn or protect athletes from Nassar’s abuse. The organization has denied the allegations and wants the lawsuits dismissed.

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Max Aaron retires from figure skating

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Max Aaron, a national champion and Skate America winner, has retired from competitive figure skating.

Aaron, 26, ends his career as the only Skate America men’s winner not to compete in an Olympics. He is one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to compete in an Olympics, along with Ryan Bradley and Rudy Galindo.

“Of course, becoming an Olympian, or having an Olympic medal would have been great to say, ride off on my white horse, but having the ability to say that I have no regrets in my entire career of figure skating, for me that is my gold medal,” Aaron said Thursday night.

Aaron, a former top USA Hockey developmental player, also figure skated growing up to help with his skating skills as one of the smaller players on his team.

He stopped playing hockey at 16 due to a broken vertebra but continued full-time with figure skating. By 2012, Aaron considered quitting figure skating after placing eighth at nationals (one year after being U.S. junior champion) and being told he wasn’t artistic enough.

But Aaron kept with it and completed a remarkable bounce back the next year, winning the U.S. title and setting himself up as a favorite to make the 2014 Olympic team.

But Aaron ended up third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. The two Sochi Olympic spots went to Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Aaron continued, becoming the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years in 2015 and topping the short program at the 2016 U.S. Championships before ultimately finishing second to Adam Rippon.

Aaron plummeted to ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships, coming back from offseason hernia surgery, but returned to the Olympic team radar last fall with a personal-best free skate at Cup of China, including three landed quadruple jumps. He went into the 2018 U.S. Championships ranking third among American men for the season.

But Aaron was again ninth at nationals, missing the Olympic team. He was called on to compete at last month’s world championships as the third alternate after Rippon, Ross Miner and Brown all passed.

Aaron had stopped skating and instead was training for a triathlon. He went to worlds in Milan on two weeks of training and finished 11th, a result that helped the U.S. keep three men’s spots for 2019 Worlds. Nathan Chen won the world title, but Vincent Zhou was 14th. The U.S. needed its second man to be 12th or better to go along with Chen’s first place to ensure three spots next year. Aaron reportedly said at worlds that it may have been his last competition.

Aaron said he’s started a job with Merrill Lynch.

“It’s really been a great ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “That’s one thing that I always told myself, in sport, in life, I want to have no regrets, and I can honestly say, with the help from my coaches and friends, that I have no regrets in the sport.”

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