Mikaela Shiffrin tumbles to seventh in final World Cup slalom before Olympics

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Mikaela Shiffrin will head to the Sochi Olympics wondering what might have been.

The 18-year-old American phenom had a fourth World Cup slalom victory and an outside chance at wrapping up the season title within reach but after leading the first run, she was thrown off early in the second run and slipped down to seventh place Sunday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

The Golden Fox race was won by Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, who after eight career runner-up finishes earned her first triumph on the World Cup circuit. Austrian sisters Marlies Schild and Bernadette Schild finished second and third, respectively.

“This is for sure a dream come true,” Hansdotter said after the race. “It’s amazing to ski well, especially when it is hard and difficult conditions like we had today. I usually don’t ski well when the snow is soft like this so I am very satisfied with my run. I think the key was just to go for it and ski clean.”

Shiffrin had an opportunity to lock up her second straight World Cup globe in the slalom, becoming the first American to do so, by extending her 144-point lead coming into the race to more than 200 points with just two World Cup slalom races to contest after the Olympics. A victory coupled with Hansdotter finishing sixth or below and Schild fourth or below would have done the trick.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

With Hansdotter and Schild watching from the finish area, Shiffrin exploded out of the gate. Not long thereafter, her ski caught a hole in the deteriorated course and nearly knocked her over. She managed to save the run, but the awkward recovery cost her almost all of her speed. Another mistake in the middle of the section prevented her from making up time.

With two days of persistent snow and rain softening the course and making for poor course conditions, Shiffrin had taken advantage of her early bib draw (she started third) to open up a 0.31 second lead over Hansdotter in the first run. She made just one mistake on the steep in the middle section but recovered to keep the green light on her way to the finish.

“It was not great conditions but it was better conditions for me than for the girls coming down later,” Shiffrin said.

World Cup overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who finished 23rd, questioned the decision to start this race in the first place but said it was inevitable given the tight calendar post-Sochi.

“I saw already at inspection this morning that the course is very bad,” Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Olympic slalom champion, told AP after the first run. “We knew they would push through this race today at all costs, which is questionable for me so shortly before the Olympics. The snow broke and with my start No. 7 there were already some big holes.”

Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze, who has struggled all season, was hoping to use a strong performance at home as a positive springboard to Sochi but was disqualified for straddling a gate in the second run.

The women’s slalom is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Sochi. Following the Olympics, the final World Cup slaloms will be contested in Are, Sweden on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.

Kranjska Gora Women’s Slalom

1. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:50.17

2. Marlies Schild (AUT) 1:50.22

3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:50.32

4. Nastasia Noens (FRA) 1:50.41

5. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:50.46

6. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:50.80

7. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:50.89

8. Chiara Costazza (ITA) 1:50.93

T9. Wendy Holdener (SUI) 1:50.97

T9. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 1:50.97

Olympic gold medal contender Takanashi wins ski jumping in Hinzenbach

US women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

AP
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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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Russian pairs skater slices leg in worlds practice, needs 10 stitches (video)

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Russian pairs skater Yevgenia Tarasova needed 10 stitches after her partner’s skate sliced her leg in practice Wednesday.

Hours later, Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated to third place in the short program at the world championships in Helsinki.

“We were thinking about withdrawing because after this incident we left the ice immediately, there was a long break off the ice, we didn’t know how I would feel in skates,” Tarasova said afterward. “But when I was asked, ‘Will you skate?’ I said, ‘I will!’ And I wasn’t thinking about the pain during our performance.”

Morozov called her “a hero.”

In Thursday’s free skate, Tarasova and Morozov will be largely tasked with keeping Russia from going three straight years without world championships pairs medalists, which would be the longest drought for Soviet and Russian pairs since their dominance began in the 1960s.

Tarasova and Morozov trail Chinese leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 1.86 points and second-place Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany by .47.

Another Russian pair is in fifth place going into the free skate (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Full worlds short program results are here.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition