Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin captures slalom title, inspired by girl with leukemia (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin had not only the World Cup slalom season title on her mind Saturday, but also a girl with leukemia whom she met more than one year ago.

The Olympic slalom champion continued her dominance, winning her fourth World Cup slalom in seven races this season and clinching the season title in the event for the second straight year in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, 18, has now won four World Cup slaloms each of the last two seasons and is the first woman to win eight World Cup slaloms before age 19, according to Infostrada.

Shiffrin prevailed in blizzard-like conditions in Are in a two-run time of 1 minute, 50.66 seconds. Swedes went two-three-four, led by Maria Pietilae Holmner, who was .6 behind Shiffrin. Anna Swenn-Larsson was third, her first career World Cup podium.

Shiffrin’s win came at the same venue as her first career World Cup victory on Dec. 20, 2012. That day was fresh in Shiffrin’s mind after winning Saturday, especially a meeting with a young girl who wanted a picture with her. Here’s what Shiffrin said in 2012:

And on Saturday:

“I just keep thinking about [Emma],” Shiffrin said in a press conference. “She was a little lucky charm for me. … It put everything in perspective. Since then, I’ve carried that same motto that I can win, whatever, Olympics, it is all great, but it could be a lot worse, so I have to be grateful for everything that I have.”

Shiffrin’s ascent is clear from her World Cup standings results the last three years, the best indicator of skiing talent as they take into account finishes from throughout the season.

She’s gone from 17th to first to first in the slalom and 49th to 19th to sixth in the giant slalom. She won the slalom title by 33 points last year and leads this year’s standings by 130 points with just the World Cup Finals left next weekend.

Shiffrin also ranks sixth in the overall World Cup standings despite not racing any super-G, downhill or combined. She’s said she dreamed of winning five Olympic golds in 2018 and may start entering super-Gs later this year.

Her next goal, though, is to win a giant slalom race. She’s finished second and third in giant slaloms this season but has never won one.

“I know my GS skiing is fast, fast enough to win, but I really have to do my best skiing,” said Shiffrin, who was 15th and 24th in giant slaloms in Are on Thursday and Friday. “That seems to be slipping away from me a little bit.”

Shiffrin turns 19 on Thursday, then plans to race at the World Cup Finals next weekend followed by the U.S. Championships in Squaw Valley, Calif., beginning March 19 and then get her wisdom teeth removed.

The race for this year’s overall World Cup title is tight. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch took the lead back from Austrian Anna Fenninger with her seventh-place finish Saturday.

Hoefl-Riesch leads by 29 points with the four races left in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, next weekend.

American Resi Stiegler took 14th, her best finish this season, but did not qualify for the World Cup Finals.

Are Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:50.66
2. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:51.26
3. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:52.16
4. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:52.56
5. Nastasia Noens (FRA) 1:53.63
6. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 1:53.77
7. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:53.92
8. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 1:53.94
9. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:54.19
10. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:54.32
14. Resi Stiegler (USA) 1:55.12

Ligety breaks Alpine record in first race since Olympics

Nathan Chen ushers in new era with record-breaking nationals short program

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 24: Nathan Chen looks on after competing in the Men's Free Skate at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 24, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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KANSAS CITY — Nathan Chen is in position to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years and, as he said Friday night, help put the U.S. “back on the map” in men’s skating.

Chen, 17 and already an Olympic medal contender, tallied 106.39 points in the short program, taking Jeremy Abbott‘s U.S. Championships record of 99.86 from 2014 off the books.

He carries a whopping 17.72-point lead into Sunday’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen, a past U.S. novice and junior champion, landed two quadruple jumps and continued his rise in a breakout senior season after taking silver at the Grand Prix Final last month.

He said after his skate that he’s ready to handle the tag of Olympic medal contender and to go for the world title in Helsinki in March.

“I’m able to stack up against these top-level skaters,” said Chen, who beat the reigning Olympic and world champions in the Grand Prix Final free skate. “That’s something I’ve strived for my whole life. I don’t think it’s something I should necessarily be afraid of, something that I’ve wanted my whole life.”

Chen leads the U.S. Championships over a member of the old guard, Ross Miner, a 25-year-old who made three straight U.S. podiums from 2011-13 but none since.

Vincent Zhou, who turned 16 three months ago, was third, but within .82 of Miner. Full results are here.

“Nathan Chen has always been a few steps ahead of me,” said Zhou, who won the 2013 U.S. junior title and finished fifth at the 2016 World Junior Championships, taking two years off in between to recover from a torn meniscus in his right knee and focus on school. “When he was intermediate, I was just a little preliminary admiring him. Now it feels amazing to start closing the gap.”

The U.S. will send two men to the world championships in two months, selected after Sunday’s free skate, and they likely won’t be the usual names. Neither Chen nor Zhou has been to senior worlds, and Miner’s last appearance was 2013.

The 2016 U.S. champion, Adam Rippon, is not competing this week due to a season-ending broken foot. The 2015 U.S. champion, Jason Brown, is in fourth place, 8.62 behind third-place Zhou. Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell twice and tumbled to 12th place Friday.

“It just wasn’t a good day,” Aaron said. “It’s not me.”

There are no more pressure-filled world championships than those one year before the Olympics, where skaters earn Olympic entries for their countries.

“That would definitely be a massive step up that I haven’t prepared for in the fullest, but it would be an absolute honor if I were to be able to go,” Zhou said. “But, for now, I’m setting more of my sights on junior worlds.”

Hopes will mostly be riding with Chen, who has a shot to become the first U.S. men’s medalist at an Olympics or worlds since Evan Lysacek took the 2010 Olympic title.

“We’re pushing back up to where we should be,” Chen said of the U.S. men. “We kind of sunk a little bit, but I think me and some of the other skaters coming up at this event will help bring the U.S. back on the map.”

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs free skate, free dance and women’s free skate, with coverage starting at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

MORE: Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen — 106.39
2. Ross Miner — 88.67
3. Vincent Zhou — 87.85
4. Jason Brown — 79.23
5. Grant Hochstein — 79.10

Maia, Alex Shibutani break U.S. Championships short dance record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani broke the U.S. Championships short dance record held by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White on Friday.

The defending national champion Shibutanis tallied 82.42 points at Sprint Center, easily taking down the Davis-and-White mark of 80.69 set at the 2014 U.S. Championships.

Scores have been higher this season overall, leading to records in international competitions, too.

“Didn’t know it was a record,” Maia Shibutani said. “It was our strongest performance of the short dance so far this season. That’s exactly what we want to be showing right now before we head to the second half of the season.”

The Shibutanis lead by 2.46 points over 2015 U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates going into Saturday’s free dance (3 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, three-time U.S. bronze medalists, are again third. Full results are here.

U.S. Figure Skating will send three dance couples to the world championships in two months. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue were those three couples the past two seasons.

The U.S. is the world power in ice dance, impressively rising during Davis and White’s break since Sochi.

The Shibutanis took silver and Chock and Bates took bronze at the 2016 World Championships. Hubbell and Donohue made it three U.S. couples in the top six at worlds for the first time since 1955.

Chock and Bates had been the top U.S. couple since the Sochi Olympics up until last year’s U.S. Championships. The Shibutanis have topped Chock and Bates in their last three competitions together.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 82.42
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 79.96
3. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 79.72
4. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 72.60
5. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 67.17