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

Carolina Kostner tops Alina Zagitova in world champs short program

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Italian Carolina Kostner is the surprise leader after the short program at figure skating worlds, topping a woman half her age, Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, by .76 of a point in Milan on Wednesday.

Kostner, 31, tallied a personal-best 80.27 as she eyes a second world title to join her 2012 crown. Kostner earned the 2014 Olympic bronze medal and was fifth in PyeongChang as the oldest woman in the field by more than six years.

She can become the oldest women’s world champion by more than four years if she hangs on in Friday’s free skate, according to reports when Maria Butyrskaya won at age 26 in 1999.

“If I think back 15 years ago, when I started skating internationally, nobody in Italy followed figure skating,” said Kostner, who could retire after worlds. “Now, there’s a venue full of people sharing this passion with me.”

Zagitova, 15 and trying to become the youngest world champion since Tara Lipinski in 1997, struggled on the back end of her triple-triple jump combination. Her score of 79.51 was 3.41 points fewer than her world record at the Olympics.

“I felt, somehow, tight in my body,” Zagitova said through a translator. “I think it was nerves, but I don’t know why.

“I was more nervous here than at the Olympic Games.”

Zagitova, undefeated in her first senior international season, entered as the clear favorite with Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrawing from the event due to a right foot injury.

Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond are in third and fourth, reversing their final placements from the Olympics. The U.S. women are in seventh (Bradie Tennell), ninth (Mirai Nagasu) and 17th place (Mariah Bell).

Full results are here.

The top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example), or they will be dropped to two spots at the 2019 World Championships. The last time the U.S. had fewer than the maximum three spots at an Olympics or worlds was 2013.

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Tennell, the 20-year-old U.S. champion who led the Americans at the Olympics in ninth, swung her fist after a clean short that scored 68.76 points. She was .18 off her personal best from the Olympic team event.

Nagasu, who was 10th at the Olympics, performed a double Axel rather than the triple she landed in the Olympic team event. She also had her triple-triple combination downgraded to a triple-double.

Bell, the second alternate who made the team after Olympian Karen Chen withdrew and Ashley Wagner passed, struggled on her opening combination, only able to tack on a single jump.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Friday ET)
Mariah Bell (USA) — 2:32 p.m.
Bradie Tennell (USA) — 4:05 p.m.
Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 4:12 p.m.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 4:36 p.m.
Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 5 p.m.
Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 5:08 p.m.
Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 5:16 p.m.

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South Korea women’s hockey team ‘misses’ playing with North Koreans

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Something is missing as the South Korean women’s hockey team prepares for its lower-level world championship tournament next month.

North Koreans.

“Right now, we have some injured players, and having the North players would definitely help our roster have more numbers,” Sarah Murray, the Minnesota native who coaches the South Korean team and coached the unified Korean Olympic team, said Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “But we just miss practicing with them. They brought a different level of intensity to practice and it was just fun to have them around.”

South Korea plays at the third-tier worlds in Italy in two weeks in a six-team group with China, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Poland.

It earned a spot in that tournament by topping its group in the fourth tier last year, including a 3-0 win over North Korea at a PyeongChang Olympic venue.

If South Korea tops its group this year, it moves to the second-tier worlds in 2019, one level below the ultimate tournament with the likes of the U.S. and Canada.

Murray initially had mixed feelings about North Koreans joining her team for the Olympics. The joint Korean team went winless in five games, giving up 28 goals and scoring two.

“We have really enjoyed working with the North’s players and coaches, and we really do want to help them in the future,” Murray said after their last game in Gangneung, according to The Associated Press, adding that a possible “exchange game” was discussed to maintain the connection. “They want to get better, they want to keep learning from us and we want to help them. And there are things that we can learn from them, too.”

North Korea’s team is scheduled to play in the fourth-tier worlds that start next week in Slovenia. A joint North-South team could return for the 2022 Olympics.

“I think that would be good to do it in 2022, to go to the Beijing Olympics, to keep the North and South Korean team,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said at the Olympics, according to the AP. “It is a message of peace, and we hope to continue that. We will try.”

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