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

Oldest Olympic high jump champion retires

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Spain’s Ruth Beitia, who in Rio became the oldest Olympic high jump champion by six years, announced her retirement at age 38 on Wednesday.

Beitia was pending medical results for possible arthritis, according to Marca.

She followed her Olympic title with silver at the European Indoor Championships in March but didn’t crack the top three at any 2017 Diamond League meet and was 12th at the world championships in August, her final meet.

Beitia capped a decorated career in Rio with her first Olympic medal. She did so against a field that did not include the reigning Olympic or world champions from Russia.

Beitia cleared 1.97 meters to win in Rio, the shortest gold-medal height since 1980, to become the oldest Olympic gold medalist in any jumping event. German long jumper Heike Drechsler previously held the age record.

Two women in the Rio heptathlon — gold medalist Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium and Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson — cleared 1.98 meters in that competition.

Beitia previously retired after finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympics, then came back to win her first World Outdoor Championships medal, a bronze, in 2013.

“A medal in Rio would be the last dream I have left to accomplish in this sport,” she said before the Olympics.

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Nate Holland still motivated by repeated Olympic heartbreak

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At 38 years old, Nate Holland knows PyeongChang would likely be his last chance to add an Olympic medal to a trophy case already blinding with seven X Games snowboard cross gold medals.

“I’m not there to get top 10 and go check out a hockey game,” Holland said last month. “I’ve had three Olympics that I’ve done that.”

Holland entered all three Olympics since snowboard cross debuted as the reigning X Games champion. A medal contender, if not the favorite.

He washed out each time. In the quarterfinals in Torino. In the four-man final in Vancouver. In the first elimination round in Sochi.

“There’s something about these five rings that give me a lot of drive, ambition and joy,” Holland said on NBC after his 2014 disappointment, “but they do cause a lot of heartbreak.”

Some snowboarders are ambivalent about the Olympics. Not Holland.

He remembers watching the 1988 Calgary Winter Games growing up in Idaho, a decade before snowboarders were let in. After snowboard cross was added in 2003, a motivated Holland made the subsequent World Cup team and reached the podium.

Holland chalked up a 14th-place finish in Torino in 2006 to being “young and reckless.” The miss that sticks with him to this day is Vancouver 2010, when he was the only finalist not to earn a medal.

“That’s probably the No. 1 memory of racing is that feeling of failure when I got to the bottom,” he said. “Out of a four-man heat, they’re ushering me off, pushing me out of the finish corral.

“Dude, you gotta leave. What are you doing here still? We’ve got to do a podium ceremony.”

“I’m still out of breath. My heart rate’s at 180 still.”

“What’s going on? No, dude, you need to leave. Thanks for coming, goodbye.”

“Those are motivating factors in the gym when all I want to do is go home and go change some diapers,” Holland said.

Holland and wife Christen (who commissioned that trophy case as a Christmas gift) welcomed daughter Lux on Nov. 1, 2015. Lux is already riding on her own three-foot Burton board. In Uggs.

“Thank God for FaceTime,” Holland said. “I’m able to call every day when I’m in Europe and have breakfast with my daughter.”

Her dad is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic snowboarder in the sport’s two-decade history and the oldest medalist from any country.

“Some say I’m too old,” Holland says. “I say BS.”

Holland is realistic, though. The man who used to ride by the motto “wreck or win” has become more calculated and listens to his body. The Advil doses are more frequent. He enjoys the spa.

“I come back every year and there’s definitely some question in my mind whether I’m fast,” said Holland, whose detailed injury history included coming back from a December 2013 broken clavicle to win X Games and make the Olympic team. “Every year, I give myself a little pat on the back. I’m like, all right, I’m still in that group. I’m not sitting three seconds out.”

Holland was the fastest at the PyeongChang venue on Feb. 27, 2016, winning the Olympic test event.

He may have picked up nuances on the new Olympic course that the riders half his age have not, but Holland also hasn’t made a World Cup podium since. Snowboard cross was cut from the X Games after 2016.

If Holland can’t crack the top three at any of the four Olympic selection events in December and January, he might be left off the U.S. team.

Holland said he won’t work any harder this winter than he did in 2006, 2010 or 2014. Each time, he felt satisfied with what he put in. What he left the Olympics with — Team USA clothes, maybe some hockey ticket stubs — is what’s unfulfilling.

“You want something that you can’t have,” he said. “I don’t have an Olympic medal, and I’m really passionate about it.”

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