Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin laughs about dream of 5 golds, but Obama supports her

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Mikaela Shiffrin left her mark in Sochi, not only in winning the slalom, but also in a media center the next day when she said she dreamed of winning five gold medals at the 2018 Olympics.

Shiffrin regretted blurting out that lofty vision six weeks later, not that she didn’t think she could do it, but because it became “a quote” that media ran with.

“I was on a gold-medal high there,” Shiffrin joked at the Best of U.S. Awards in Washington on Wednesday. “Whoops, shouldn’t have said that. … Of course, that’s everybody’s dream. You go to the Olympics to bring home gold, right?”

Shiffrin, 19 and the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever, received encouragement from President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday. Obama mentioned Shiffrin’s five-gold-medal dream in an address to a room full of Olympians, Paralympians … and more media.

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama directed toward Shiffrin. “Go for it.”

If it indeed becomes a “drive for five” — a term thrown around when the disgraced Marion Jones entered five track and field events in Sydney 2000 — Shiffrin’s quest might have begun already.

The youngest Olympic women’s slalom champion ever trained super-G on the 2015 World Championships course last week. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and among the 10 best in giant slalom but has never raced a downhill, super combined or super-G in a World Cup.

She met last week with U.S. Ski Team coach Roland Pfeifer, who has coached Shiffrin in slalom and giant slalom. The U.S. is bringing in a new speed events coach, whom Shiffrin said she has yet to meet.

Pfeifer stressed comfort in their discussion about adding super-G. There is no set plan on how much super-G she will race next season.

“It’s anywhere from nothing to everything,” said Shiffrin, who marveled at marble staircases and Georgian architecture while touring the White House on Thursday. “When you’re in the starting gate, I want you to really feel like you can charge that course [Pfeifer said]. Even if you don’t have experience, even if it’s icy. It’s just getting to the point where I have some experience on super-G skis, on hard courses, and then I should be comfortable.”

The biggest advice Shiffrin has received? Patience.

“Not to rush it because it’s really hard to be a four-event skier [downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom],” Shiffrin said. “Slalom and GS are the ones you have to train the most. If you’re doing speed, you don’t get to train them [slalom and giant slalom]. It’s mostly about pacing myself. Do a few super-Gs, and then just start learning downhill.”

Time is on her side. Shiffrin has nearly four years to round into the all-around form she desires if the Olympics are the big goal.

The world’s best all-event skiers the last two seasons, Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze, have said they will not ski at the next Olympics.

It’s unknown if Lindsey Vonn, who is better in speed events, will ski any giant slalom or slalom after coming back from her knee surgeries. Or if she will be able to make it to her fourth Olympics in 2018.

World Cup overall winner Anna Fenninger, a 24-year-old Austrian, is at the top right now, but she does not race slalom.

“Sometimes I just want to jump into super-G because I’m like, ‘I can do that,’ but then I take a step back, especially after I train super-G,” Shiffrin said. “And I then think about the top speed girls and how good they are. That’s still a little ways away. I need a lot of practice.”

She’ll get it, even in the offseason. Shiffrin’s slated for another training camp in May, and most skiers head to Chile in August or September for more work before the World Cup schedule starts in October.

After four more seasons of World Cup experience, perhaps media will run with this stat before Pyeongchang 2018: the most medals won by a single Alpine skier at one Olympics is four.

“Hopefully I have a shot at as many gold medals as I can get,” Shiffrin said. “Who knows if I’ll actually get them, but as long as I give myself a chance, then I’m happy.”

What U.S. Olympians told President Obama

Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

MORE: Men’s Alpine season preview