Mikaela Shiffrin gets first win of Olympic season in rout (video)

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KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin reclaimed her slalom dominance, at least for one day, with her first win of the Olympic season on Sunday.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion routed the field in windy conditions with flurries falling at the East Coast resort.

Shiffrin, 22, led by .89 after the morning run and ended up 1.64 seconds ahead following the second and final afternoon run.

Shiffrin’s new rival, Slovakian Petra Vlhova, was second, followed by Austrian Bernadette Schild.

Full results are here.

Before this race, Shiffrin was beaten in consecutive slaloms by the same woman for the first time in nearly four years. That woman, Vlhova, is three months younger than the U.S. phenom.

Shiffrin also went winless in her first three races of a season for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign. Shiffrin did, though, notch runner-up finishes in two of those three, including Saturday’s giant slalom in Killington.

That augured success for her fourth race this fall in her trademark discipline Sunday.

Shiffrin didn’t disappoint, posting the fastest time in both runs, though she believed the wind aided her in the opening run.

Her margin of victory was the largest for any women’s World Cup race since Shiffrin won the March 2016 World Cup Finals slalom by 2.03 seconds.

“There’s definitely a bit of a relief feeling,” said Shiffrin, who was so nervous last season that she puked before races but has kept everything down in the Olympic season thus far. “When I ski really good slalom, it almost feels like I’m flying. I had a bit of that feeling both runs today.”

Shiffrin and Vlhova trained together for two sessions two weeks ago before the first World Cup slalom of the season in Finland.

It was unusual for Shiffrin to train with a woman who beat her in the last slalom of the previous season, but when she arrived at the venue two days before the race, Vlhova was already there.

So they went head-to-head. Sometimes, Shiffrin was faster. Others, Vlhova was faster.

“I was almost like a deer in the headlights because I hadn’t really felt one particular person who was really pushing me that hard like she was in those training sessions,” said Shiffrin, unequivocally the world’s best slalom skier for the last four years. “I see something different in her that it makes me want to be better, if that makes sense. Not just to win races, but to hold myself to a higher standard of skiing.”

Once they were done, Vlhova put her hand on Shiffrin’s shoulder and thanked her. Shiffrin was fuming before that, “because I hate training with anybody who’s even close to me.”

But the gesture forced Shiffrin to change.

“It’s like competing against Roger Federer, you want to hate him, but you can’t,” said Shiffrin, who hasn’t trained with Vlhova since (Vlhova’s coach reportedly takes video of Shiffrin for them to study so much that Shiffrin’s mom said that Vlhova “skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela.”). “That was really nice of [Vlhova] to say, but I still want to beat you.”

Vlhova went on to beat Shiffrin by one tenth of a second, overcoming Shiffrin’s lead of .21 after the first run.

“That’s what sort of set the tone,” Shiffrin said of those days in Finland. “It reminds me of how I like to work. Kudos to her, and I’m just going to try to do better.”

Vlhova gestured with her hand in a press conference after Sunday’s race. She held it level when speaking of Shiffrin. She waved it back and forth when talking about her own skiing.

“[Shiffrin is] like every race she goes without mistakes,” said Vlhova, who was in fifth place after a surprisingly slow first run Sunday morning. “This is maybe what I have to learn from Mikaela, that she goes like this and she’s always on the top.”

The World Cup moves to Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.

Shiffrin is expected to join Lindsey Vonn for two downhills and a super-G starting Friday.

Julia Mancuso, a medalist at each of the last three Olympics, is uncertain to race in what she hoped would be her first events since March 2015 following prolonged hip problems.

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Killington Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 1:40.91
2. Petra Vlhova (SVK) — +1.64
3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) — +2.67
21. Resi Stiegler (USA) — +4.77

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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