Mikaela Shiffrin tumbles to seventh in final World Cup slalom before Olympics

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Mikaela Shiffrin will head to the Sochi Olympics wondering what might have been.

The 18-year-old American phenom had a fourth World Cup slalom victory and an outside chance at wrapping up the season title within reach but after leading the first run, she was thrown off early in the second run and slipped down to seventh place Sunday in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

The Golden Fox race was won by Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, who after eight career runner-up finishes earned her first triumph on the World Cup circuit. Austrian sisters Marlies Schild and Bernadette Schild finished second and third, respectively.

“This is for sure a dream come true,” Hansdotter said after the race. “It’s amazing to ski well, especially when it is hard and difficult conditions like we had today. I usually don’t ski well when the snow is soft like this so I am very satisfied with my run. I think the key was just to go for it and ski clean.”

Shiffrin had an opportunity to lock up her second straight World Cup globe in the slalom, becoming the first American to do so, by extending her 144-point lead coming into the race to more than 200 points with just two World Cup slalom races to contest after the Olympics. A victory coupled with Hansdotter finishing sixth or below and Schild fourth or below would have done the trick.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

With Hansdotter and Schild watching from the finish area, Shiffrin exploded out of the gate. Not long thereafter, her ski caught a hole in the deteriorated course and nearly knocked her over. She managed to save the run, but the awkward recovery cost her almost all of her speed. Another mistake in the middle of the section prevented her from making up time.

With two days of persistent snow and rain softening the course and making for poor course conditions, Shiffrin had taken advantage of her early bib draw (she started third) to open up a 0.31 second lead over Hansdotter in the first run. She made just one mistake on the steep in the middle section but recovered to keep the green light on her way to the finish.

“It was not great conditions but it was better conditions for me than for the girls coming down later,” Shiffrin said.

World Cup overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, who finished 23rd, questioned the decision to start this race in the first place but said it was inevitable given the tight calendar post-Sochi.

“I saw already at inspection this morning that the course is very bad,” Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Olympic slalom champion, told AP after the first run. “We knew they would push through this race today at all costs, which is questionable for me so shortly before the Olympics. The snow broke and with my start No. 7 there were already some big holes.”

Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze, who has struggled all season, was hoping to use a strong performance at home as a positive springboard to Sochi but was disqualified for straddling a gate in the second run.

The women’s slalom is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Sochi. Following the Olympics, the final World Cup slaloms will be contested in Are, Sweden on March 8 and in Lenzerheide, Switzerland on March 15.

Kranjska Gora Women’s Slalom

1. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:50.17

2. Marlies Schild (AUT) 1:50.22

3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:50.32

4. Nastasia Noens (FRA) 1:50.41

5. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:50.46

6. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:50.80

7. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:50.89

8. Chiara Costazza (ITA) 1:50.93

T9. Wendy Holdener (SUI) 1:50.97

T9. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 1:50.97

Olympic gold medal contender Takanashi wins ski jumping in Hinzenbach

Lawmakers choke back tears, scream at Olympic sport leaders for sex-abuse scandal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The tears and anger this time came from lawmakers who spent the day fuming over a growing sex-abuse problem in Olympic sports that leaders have taken too much time to solve while devoting too little money for the fixes.

“I just hope everyone here realizes the time to talk is over, and you need to walk your talk,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Wednesday shortly after choking back tears while questioning leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The hearing of the House subcommittee was filled with both substance and spectacle — the latter coming mostly courtesy of a five-minute burst from Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., who told the USOC’s acting CEO, Susanne Lyons, “you should resign your position now,” and tore into USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry and the rest of the panel for not uttering the exact words: “I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t want to say you’re sorry, I don’t want to talk to you,” said Carter, who represents the district where a lawsuit that triggered the mushrooming scandal in gymnastics was filed.

In fact, members on the panel of U.S. sports executives did apologize to the victims, whose numbers grow almost daily and whose pain was most heart-wrenchingly displayed during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, the Michigan State doctor who also worked for the U.S. gymnastics team.

But set against the USOC’s slow-moving reforms, to say nothing of the raw numbers presented by SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl, some of the apologies felt hollow.

The USOC started talking about reforming its sex-abuse policy in 2010 after a scandal was exposed inside of USA Swimming. From then, it took seven years to open the SafeSport center to independently investigate sex-abuse claims made by Olympic athletes. Pfohl described an office that has been overwhelmed in the 14 months it has been in business.

— When it opened in March 2017, Pfohl said the center received 20 to 30 calls a month. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Nassar case, that has increased to about 20 to 30 calls per week.

— SafeSport operates on a budget of $4.3 million a year, $1.55 million of which was recently added as part of the USOC’s mission to bolster its response to the abuse issue. That brought the USOC’s contribution to $3.1 million. (By comparison, the USOC gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in charge of Olympic drug testing in the United States, $3.7 million in 2016. Its budget is more than $19 million.)

— The budget is enough for 14 full-time employees, which includes five full-time investigators. Seven additional investigators work on a contract basis. The center has fielded 840 reports over 14 months. Reports have come in regarding 38 of the 49 national governing bodies.

— Part of the delay in opening the SafeSport center came because the USOC met reluctance from almost everyone in funding, both from outside and inside the Olympic movement. The NGBs are charged on a sliding scale, depending on their size. USA Swimming contributed only $43,000 this year, “but we’re one of the larger NGBs, and based on who we are, we could provide more resources,” CEO Tim Hinchey said.

Pfohl said she wouldn’t turn it down.

Meanwhile, she is still waiting for paperwork to apply for a $2.5 million grant the government wrote into this year’s budget. (The government gave $9.5 million to USADA in 2016.)

The witnesses testified to a continued lack of uniformity in sex-abuse policies among the NGBs, despite efforts that date to at least 2013. Some publish full lists of banned coaches and athletes. Some distribute them only to members of the organizations. Under terms of a recently passed law to protect athletes, the NGBs are supposed to be audited randomly by the SafeSport center, but that project is hamstrung because resources do not exist.

Meanwhile, the role of the USOC in overseeing it all remains confusing.

Brought up more than once was an exchange during a deposition for a sex-abuse lawsuit in which a USOC lawyer was asked if protecting athletes was a top priority for the federation.

“The USOC does not have athletes,” answered Gary Johansen — speaking to the reality that, except during the Olympics, athletes technically fall under the umbrella of their individual sports.

Lyons said that mindset will change.

“We do hold ourselves responsible, and if there’s a failing, it’s from not properly exercising our authority,” she said.

One of the best examples of the USOC using that authority has been the top-to-bottom housecleaning it demanded from USA Gymnastics.

Most news about the federation’s changes, however, has been delivered in long news releases. Wednesday marked the first time Perry has made public comments since her hiring in December. She left after the hearing without taking questions.

“I’m glad you’re here today, but a lot of people have wanted to hear from you since you took the job,” Dingell said.

But Dingell didn’t really like what she heard — “I don’t hear a sense of urgency,” she said — and she was not alone.

“As compared to how much money a district attorney’s office has, or how much money a Title IX office has at a school, it’s not in the same ballpark at all,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimmer and outspoken critic of the USOC’s efforts, said of the SafeSport budget. “Shellie desperately needs more money.”

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Lindsey Vonn, Ronda Rousey among athletes featured on Shark Week

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Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ronda Rousey headline an athlete roster appearing on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in two months.

They follow Michael Phelps‘ much talked about Shark Week shows last year.

Vonn will appear on a show called “Monster Tag.” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski are also included.

They “will join forces with top shark scientists to learn crucial information about the ocean’s top predators,” according to Discovery Channel.

Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist, will dive with a mako shark in “Uncaged: Shark vs. Ronda Rousey.” The title is similar to “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” from last year.

“First, Rousey, in a cage, dives into the ring with several lightweight shark species in the waters off Fiji and then moves onto the main event in New Zealand where she’ll ‘free dive uncaged’ with the heavyweight mako shark,” according to Discovery Channel.

More on Shark Week from Discovery Channel is here.

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