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Mikaela Shiffrin: I’m an all-event skier now

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COURCHEVEL, France — There appears little to prevent Mikaela Shiffrin taking over from Lindsey Vonn as the unstoppable force in women’s ski racing.

Shiffrin has a huge lead in defense of her overall World Cup title, and her four wins this season have been among three different disciplines.

The 22-year-old is branching out and feeling confident about it. And with the PyeongChang Olympics coming, that’s very bad news for rivals.

Her Dec. 2 downhill win at Lake Louise was a personal breakthrough and sent a statement: The Olympic and three-time world slalom champion, who has five giant slalom wins, no longer views herself as a technical specialist.

“I’m finding something new, some more speed,” Shiffrin said. “My positioning, my skiing, my tactics, everything’s coming together. I’m certainly not [just] a slalom skier anymore, I consider myself an all-event skier.”

Her two victories at the French Alpine resort of Courchevel this week — in GS and the inaugural parallel slalom — took her to 35 World Cup wins.

Vonn is the female record-holder with 78. The undisputed star for so many years, Vonn also has four overall World Cup titles and doubtless would have had more if not for serious knee injuries.

She is far from finished, either. The 33-year-old came back in style with a super-G win at Val d’Isere on Saturday — her first World Cup victory since January.

But considering Shiffrin is so much younger, and has an expanding repertoire, she is well positioned to become a record-breaker. The number of wins Shiffrin could get — if she stays injury-free — is potentially staggering.

When asked if she can beat Vonn’s mark, Shiffrin takes a long and thoughtful pause.

“If I’m feeling crazy I can think, yeah, maybe if I keep going this way I could get 78 or something. I could get there,” she said. “But as soon as I think about that, my skiing starts getting really bad. It’s fun to dream about these things, but it’s not my first goal.”

Although supremely confident, the slimly built Shiffrin knows that becoming a multi-event specialist puts her best discipline at risk.

“If I ski my best, then I know it’s good enough to win in any event, actually. Even in downhill,” she said. “But it is very, very difficult to stay strong in every event. The better I get with speed, the more my slalom suffers.”

Intriguingly, she could race Vonn in downhill in PyeongChang.

Injury-hit Vonn missed the Sochi Winter Games and is intensely motivated to reclaim the downhill title she won at Vancouver 2010.

Facing Vonn in downhill would be a treat for U.S. fans — and somewhat like Shiffrin agreeing to fight Vonn in her own backyard.

It might be too good to refuse.

“I hadn’t been planning on doing the downhill. For sure, after Lake Louise I’m considering it more,” Shiffrin said. “It’s cool that the tech [slalom and GS] races are first [at the Olympics], so that makes me feel more comfortable with doing the speed races.”

Asked what would happen if she actually beat Vonn in downhill at the Olympics, Shiffrin bursts into loud laughter.

It is not a mocking laugh, but one of incredulity at the idea of toppling arguably the greatest female downhill skier of all time.

Shiffrin then becomes serious again, talking about Vonn with utmost respect, yet her burning ambition is hard to contain.

“If I were able to win a medal in any of the speed events that would be absolutely incredible,” Shiffrin said. “If it was gold, even better.”

She could also face Vonn in super-G. Their first Olympic meeting could be in giant slalom, which Vonn has said she’s targeting, though it is not one of her strong events.

Shiffrin’s workload is unlikely to include the nations’ team event, which features parallel slalom and makes its Olympic debut.

“I’m not planning on it. To take that really seriously we would have to find some time to have the U.S. team training together, and there is no time,” she said. “Even right now, my biggest concern is thinking about racing the downhill as well as super-G and [super] combined.”

“That’s such a full [program] and I don’t know,” she says, wearily contemplating how much it would take out of her. “It’s exhausting.”

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Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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