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Watch Mikaela Shiffrin take on new rival this weekend

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Just as the Olympic season is starting, Mikaela Shiffrin faces maybe her toughest challenge yet in the slalom.

Shiffrin, the reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion in the discipline, goes into this weekend’s World Cup races in Killington, Vt., having taken second in the last two slaloms behind emerging Slovakian Petra Vlhova.

Sunday’s slalom in Killington, following a giant slalom on Saturday, could determine in the eyes of many the Olympic slalom favorite.

The broadcast schedule:

  • Giant Slalom first run – Saturday, 9:45am (Stream here)
  • Giant Slalom second run – Saturday, 12:30pm (Olympic Channel) (Stream here)
  • Slalom first run – Sunday, 9:45am (Stream here)
  • Slalom first run – Sunday, 1 pm (NBC) (Stream here)

Shiffrin, who is 22 like Vlhova, is the reigning World Cup overall champion, an award that honors the best skier across all disciplines over the course of a season.

It was a milestone in the young racer’s career, but as her all-around skills improved, her grip on her signature slalom is no longer iron clad.

Vlhova beat Shiffrin at the World Cup Finals in March in Aspen, Colo., and at this season’s opening slalom in Finland two weeks ago.

“In all honesty, Petra skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela,” Shiffrin’s mom, Eileen, said before the Finland race, according to the Denver Post. “Their coaches are always on the hill, videoing Mikaela. I think Petra is going to give Mikaela a real run for her money.”

It marked the first time since December 2013 that another woman won consecutive World Cup slaloms over fields that included Shiffrin. It was Marlies Schild four years ago, just before the Austrian veteran ceded her dominance to Shiffrin going into the Sochi Olympics.

“Mikaela, she’s always fast, but now I am fast,” Vlhova said after her win two weeks ago.

First is Saturday’s giant slalom, where Vlhova is not expected to factor into the podium race.

Shiffrin ranked second in the world in GS last season, continuing a steady rise since placing fifth in Sochi.

Minute Frenchwoman Tessa Worley dominated the GS last season, taking the World Cup and world championships titles, including a win in Killington.

At this season’s opening giant slalom in October, Shiffrin was in second place after the first run but got bumped off her line in the second run and ended up fifth.

Worley ended up second behind 2010 Olympic GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany.

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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