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Mikaela Shiffrin’s overall standings lead trimmed again

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Mikaela Shiffrin placed fifth in a giant slalom in Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday and saw her World Cup overall standings lead drop to 130 points. The lead may disappear this weekend.

“I had a big struggle with my grip today,” Shiffrin said. “It was really, really bizarre because I’ve never had that kind of feeling where I wasn’t confident standing on my edges. We used the same setup and the same tuning that really works on this kind of snow. For some reason today, it was really, really off from the first gate.”

Shiffrin was ninth after the morning run in Kronplatz before improving to finish 1.09 seconds behind Italian winner Federica Brignone after two runs. France’s Tessa Worley was runner-up, .55 behind, followed by Italian Marta Bassino.

Shiffrin continued a consistent giant slalom season, though. She has placed sixth or better in all seven races this season, including two wins, and ranks second in the discipline’s season standings.

Shiffrin goes into the world championships next month as a favorite for medals in both slalom and giant slalom, a double that hasn’t been done by an American since 1982.

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Swiss Lara Gut was fourth on Tuesday to trim five points off Shiffrin’s overall standings lead. Gut is the defending World Cup overall champion, holder of the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

This year’s overall title chase is essentially a duel between Gut and Shiffrin, the latter to possibly become the third U.S. woman to take the crown (Tamara McKinneyLindsey Vonn).

Shiffrin has led the standings since November but could cede it this weekend with a downhill and super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). Gut is stronger in those disciplines — averaging 70 points per race — while Shiffrin is selective on which downhills and super-G she enters.

Shiffrin had planned to enter Sunday’s super-G, but it’s still to be decided for sure, according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Even if Gut wins both of this weekend’s races, Shiffrin should take the overall standings lead back at a Stockholm slalom next Tuesday, the final race before the World Cup takes a break for the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

The first five races after worlds in February are a downhill, two super-Gs and two combineds, a series that favors Gut. That will be the Swiss’ big opportunity to put distance between herself and Shiffrin before the World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo., in mid-March.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn eyes revenge at world championships

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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