Mikaela Shiffrin records downhill breakthrough (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t plan to race the Olympic downhill. Maybe the plan will change.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion notched her first World Cup downhill podium in her third career World Cup downhill start in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Austrian Cornelia Huetter won, followed by Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, .09 back. Shiffrin trailed Huetter by three tenths in third place.

Lindsey Vonn, who has won a record 18 times at Lake Louise, was en route to bumping Shiffrin off the podium (and possibly winning) when she crashed seconds before the finish line (video here).

Full results are here.

“I thought that I could be maybe, like, solidly top 10 or top five in downhill, but I wasn’t really expecting a podium,” Shiffrin said. “I think that would be really presumptuous.”

Downhill is Shiffrin’s least comfortable discipline and the opposite of her favored technical slalom. The U.S. is deep in the event, and Shiffrin has been hesitant to do more than dip her toes into the most dangerous of the Alpine disciplines.

She made her World Cup downhill debut last season in Lake Louise, finishing an impressive 13th and 18th in two races.

On Friday, Shiffrin was the 10th skier to start and crossed the finish line in the lead. She smiled and nodded emphatically. Weirather and Huetter followed with quicker times.

“I skied exactly how I thought that I could ski,” Shiffrin said. “Obviously, I have no control over the other girls, but I felt I was confident in my plan. I tried to stay in my tuck as much as I could. I tried to be soft on my edges. A couple of things that I know are fast in speed [events]. The rest will come with years [of experience].”

Shiffrin continued to show that she is a fast learner.

She made the podium in her fifth World Cup slalom start (2011) and second super combined start (winning a race last February).

Though Shiffrin memorably said in Sochi that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in 2018, that is an unreasonable expectation.

Shiffrin remains the world’s best slalom skier (though with a new rival) and ranked second in the giant slalom last season.

In five World Cup super-G starts, Shiffrin has finished in the top 10 once (a fourth place last season).

The super combined win last season came with the benefit of the first run being a super-G rather than the faster downhill that is typically used.

World Cup racing in Lake Louise continues with another downhill Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

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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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