Are U.S., Canada still crushing world of women’s hockey?

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SOCHI, Russia — Don’t let the final score fool you. This was not a particularly close game. The United States beat Finland, 3-1, Saturday in the first women’s hockey game of the Olympics, but for the really telling stat, one must consider the shots: 43 for the Americans, only 15 for the Finns.

Fifty-three seconds is all it took for U.S. forward Hilary Knight to open the scoring at Shayba Arena, capitalizing on a giveaway to beat the Finns’ superb (and busy) goalie, Noora Raty.

“Obviously, to have an opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone.

The Americans dominated after Knight’s goal. The score was 3-0 by the end of the second period, with the shots 33-7. The Finns managed a power-play goal late in the third to spoil Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, but the outcome was all but official by then.

Stone, though, was eager to give her opponent credit.

“They played very well in front of Noora Raty,” she said. “It’s not just about the goaltending. It’s about how well that their team plays in front of her. They made it very difficult for us.”

Stone was also sure to express her belief that the women’s Olympic tournament is a “world event that anyone can win.”

WATCH: How impressive was U.S. victory?

Finland is the third-ranked team in the world, by the way. The U.S. is first, Canada, a 5-0 winners vs. Switzerland on Saturday, is second.

And the competitiveness of the women’s tournament is, of course, a sensitive topic. In 2010, the U.S. and Canada so badly dominated the rest of the teams that then-IOC president Jacques Rogge threatened its place in the Olympics.

“There is a discrepancy there. Everyone agrees with that,” he said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Hence, sensitivities to suggestions there hasn’t been enough “improvement” in the “discrepancy” department.

This year’s tournament even has a new, unique format to reduce the number of blowouts – like Canada over Slovakia 18-0, or the United States defeating Russia 13-0 – that occurred in Vancouver.

In Sochi, there’s an A group with the top four seeds (U.S., Canada, Finland, Switzerland) and a B group with seeds 5-8 (Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany). For the preliminary round, all the teams in the A group will play each other, and all the teams in the B group will play each other. After that, the top two in the A group will get a bye to the semifinals, while the bottom two in the A group and the top two in the B group will meet in the quarters.

WATCH: Highlights from 3-1 U.S. victory

It’s extremely unlikely, but theoretically, a team in the A group could lose all three of its preliminary round games and still win the gold medal.

That isn’t how most tournaments work.

U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said Saturday that she doesn’t worry about it.

“I just see all the other teams getting better every year,” she said, “and I think our rivalry with Canada, that just makes people want to watch more.”

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan struck a similar tone.

“To be honest, the media makes it a bigger deal than we do in our locker room,” she said.

But Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player ever, isn’t quite so carefree.

“I think I always worry about the future of women’s hockey, mainly because of the fact that most of the world pays attention to the game only two weeks out of every four years,” Wickenheiser said earlier this week, according to the Globe and Mail. “The tournament has to be competitive, there’s no question, and countries have to show progress. That’s the number one thing.”

Progress, though, is a tough thing to measure, because it’s not like the top two countries are standing still.

“The problem is that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it’s harder for the other countries to catch up. So that’s a dilemma that women’s hockey is always going to face,” Wickenheiser said.

“I think the game has really come a long way in the [four] Olympics that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. plays Switzerland Monday before closing out the preliminary round Wednesday versus Canada.

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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