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

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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