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Mikaela Shiffrin is fifth American to win World Cup overall title

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Mikaela Shiffrin is all set to become the World Cup overall champion.

The 22-year-old American will bag the biggest annual prize in ski racing after Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, the only other skier mathematically in the running, reportedly said she will not enter Saturday’s slalom at the World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo., (broadcast schedule here). It will become official when the start list is out later Friday.

Stuhec had a miniscule chance of overtaking Shiffrin, needing to win both Saturday’s slalom and Sunday’s giant slalom and for Shiffrin to finish outside the top 15 in both races. Stuhec does not typically race slaloms.

Shiffrin became the fifth American to take the overall title, awarded since 1967 to the male and female skiers who accumulate the most points across all races in the World Cup season.

She joins Phil Mahre (1981-83), Tamara McKinney (1983), Bode Miller (2005, 2008) and Lindsey Vonn (2008-10, 2012) in bringing the crystal globe back to the U.S.

Shiffrin is also the youngest male or female overall champion since Croatian Janica Kostelic in 2003.

She clinched with two races left in a 37-race season, but it was wrapped up for all intents and purposes on Feb. 10. On that day, Swiss Lara Gut, the defending World Cup overall champion, tore an ACL in a warm-up at the world championships.

Gut was 180 points behind Shiffrin at the time, significant, but the remaining World Cup schedule favored Gut’s speed events to Shiffrin’s technical events.

With Gut out, Shiffrin cruised to the title by winning three of her next four World Cup races. She’s now at 11 wins this season, most by any man or woman, and could finish with 13 if she bags Saturday’s slalom and Sunday’s giant slalom in Aspen.

Thirteen victories would tie Shiffrin for second all-time in one season by a man or woman. It would also give her 33 career World Cup wins, matching Bode Miller for second all-time among Americans behind Vonn, who has 77.

It has been quite the rise for Shiffrin since she captured gold in Sochi. She became more dominant in slalom, began winning in giant slalom and super combined and is now a podium threat in the scattered super-Gs that she starts.

It all sets up for Shiffrin to go into the Olympic season with the chance to become the first U.S. woman to win three gold medals at a single Winter Olympics.

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USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

Neither side has said when its next scheduled meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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