Mikaela Shiffrin, powered by Instagram message, second in Killington (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin, after finishes of fifth, second and second in her first three races this season, an uplifting Instagram message and listening to Eminem all day — had this to say:

“I feel like I’m chasing a little bit,” she said after a runner-up in a World Cup giant slalom in Killington, Vt. “Today was definitely a better performance, but I still feel like I’m chasing, which is, actually, my favorite place to be because I feel less like I have to perform and more like I’m doing it for myself.”

That may seem unusual for the reigning World Cup overall champion, a 22-year-old who dominated slalom the last several years.

But Shiffrin is facing new challenges. She was beaten in her last two slaloms by Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who is three months younger.

On Saturday, German Viktoria Rebensburg won her second straight giant slalom. The 2010 Olympic GS champion also prevailed in the season’s first race in Soelden, Austria, in October, after going winless last season.

Shiffrin, the No. 2 GS skier in the world last season, ended up .67 of a second behind Rebensburg after two runs in front of some 18,000 people.

Rebensburg led by .26 over Shiffrin after the morning run and also had the fastest afternoon run by .32.

Shiffrin looked primed to vault into the lead when Rebensburg, the last skier to go, was halfway through her second run. Rebensburg’s advantage was trimmed to .08, but the veteran made up six tenths in the last 30 seconds.

Shiffrin was also second after the first run of the previous giant slalom last month. But she made an uncharacteristic mistake in her second run and dropped to fifth place, .74 behind the resurgent Rebensburg.

Knowing that, Shiffrin was pleased with Saturday’s runner-up that matched her result in the first World Cup slalom two weeks ago.

“I was excited to put some risk on the hill,” Shiffrin said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve done a lot of races where I’m second place or first place in the first run and then I ended up falling back to fifth or sixth or past that. So it was really nice to know that I had gone for it, and it paid off.”

Italian Manuela Moelgg was third, 1.49 seconds behind. Full results are here.

Shiffrin, who finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic giant slalom, improved to silver behind Tessa Worley of France at last season’s worlds. Worley was sixth Saturday.

Rebensburg, who at 28 is six years older than Shiffrin, is challenging for Olympic GS favorite. She was third in the Sochi Olympic GS, then took silver at the 2015 Worlds before going 19 months between wins.

Shiffrin is still looking for her first win of the season, but she speaks in high spirits after a 2016-17 campaign that brought anxiety and led her to work with a sports psychologist.

Before Saturday’s race, Shiffrin was boosted by a fan’s Instagram message.

“We’re not hear to watch you win,” she told Shiffrin. “We’re here to support you. We’re just here to watch ski racing. We’re so excited, so we hope you don’t feel pressure from us.

“I read this message,” Shiffrin continued. “I was like, that made me feel so much better. So, to the fans out there who are writing direct messages, I do read them. And thank you.”

The women contest a slalom Sunday in Killington (broadcast schedule here), an anticipated head-to-head between Shiffrin and Vlhova.

The Slovakian emerged as the biggest slalom threat to Shiffrin since the American displaced Austrian Marlies Schild in the year before the Sochi Winter Games.

“The last Olympics, it’s almost like I forgot the Olympics were that season until February rolled around,” said Shiffrin, who wore new boots for Saturday’s race. “I’m trying to actually peak almost every single weekend when I’m doing slalom, GS, super-G and some downhill. It’s less of trying to have a huge peak for the Olympics and just sort of trying to peak every single race. The Olympics is included in that, which makes it a little bit easier in a way. I don’t have just one goal for the Olympics this year. I have a lot of goals that are equally as important to me.”

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Killington Giant Slalom
1. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) — 1:57.63
2. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — .67
3. Manuela Moelgg (ITA) — 1.49
29. Megan McJames (USA) — 4.12

Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October. Chen is the only undefeated skater this season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Matt, Becca Hamilton are first U.S. Olympic mixed doubles curling team

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A brother and sister from Wisconsin will be the busiest athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A month ago the Hamilton siblings, Matt and Becca, qualified to compete at the Olympics with the U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams, and today they also qualified to play as a mixed doubles team.

With a win over two of their teammates, John Shuster (skip of Matt’s four-man team) and Cory Christensen (alternate on Becca’s four-woman team), at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for mixed doubles curling, the Hamiltons earned the opportunity to curl on potentially every day of the Olympics.

The Hamiltons will start their Olympic competitions with the mixed doubles tournament on Thursday, Feb. 8, the day before the the Opening Ceremony marks the official beginning of the Olympics. When mixed doubles wraps up on Tuesday the 13th, they’ll start playing separately in the men’s and women’s tournaments on Wednesday the 14th. The traditional curling tournaments go until Sunday, Feb. 25, the day of the Closing Ceremony.

Of course, if one of their teams doesn’t advance past the round-robin rounds to the semifinals and medal games, they’ll have some time off. But if they do go all the way to the gold medal matches, it’ll mean 18 straight days of competition for the Hamiltons.

Matt and Becca showed their readiness during the Olympic Trials. They had the second-best record of the round-robin stage, 5-2, then beat Shuster and Christensen twice in two days to win the Olympic berth. The score of the final was 6-5.

After the match, the siblings–who say their partnership works because they can be brutally honest on the ice–had nothing but kind words for each other.

Becca, the younger Hamilton by a year and a half, said her older brother “taught me everything I know.”

Matt then said of Becca, “it’s been impressive to watch her grow up and become the superstar she is now.”

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VIDEO: Italian curlers go nuts after clutch shot qualifies for Olympics