Even minus a medal, Mikaela Shiffrin already ‘amazing’

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — When Michael Phelps would stand on the blocks in an Olympic final and do that thing he did, wrapping his arms around and around and making that whap-whap-whap sound, was there really any doubt in his mind — or anyone’s watching — what was going to happen?

In the chaos of an Olympic short-track speed skating race, when Apolo Anton Ohno toed the line, his bandana tucked under his helmet, his gaze locked like steel on the first few meters of ice ahead, he was all purposeful calm. He knew what was what, and everyone else — on the line around him — and the thousands in the arena did, too.

VIDEO: Shiffrin combines attributes of the best

It takes great physical talent to become an Olympic athlete. A select few have something more. They have an extra level of mental awareness, purposefulness, toughness.

Even on a day when there is no medal — there are those in whom the signs are there of greatness assuredly there to come.

When 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin stepped into the start gate Tuesday morning before her very first Olympic run, it was pounding rain here at the Rosa Khutor Alpine complex, the rain turning to snow up top. Shiffrin took a look over at the TV cameras. She winked. It was on.

Shiffrin finished fifth in that run. She would end the day fifth overall. Tina Maze of Slovenia, back to being the dominant female skier in the world, as she was last season, won her second gold of these Sochi 2014 Olympics, and was so delighted she ripped off her skis and made snow angels, front and back, in the finish area.

Shiffrin, meanwhile, had served notice.

“For that age, she is great,” the 30-year-old Maze said afterwards of Shiffrin. “Amazing.”

WATCH: Tina Maze golden again; Mancuso exits minus medal

The giant slalom is not Shiffrin’s best event. That would be the slalom, coming up Friday. Shiffrin is leading this year’s slalom World Cup standings; she was last year’s slalom World Cup season champ, the youngest skier to win the season title since 1974, and is, moreover, the 2013 world champion.

In giant slalom this season, Shiffrin had come in second in one race, in Beaver Creek, Colo., and third in another, in Lienz, Austria, both in December.

Shiffrin came to Sochi after a block of training in central Europe, on soft snow in Italy, Germany and Austria, anticipating spring-like conditions at Rosa Khutor. “In training,” she had said upon arrival here, “I’ve had a lot of ruts to ski through, and from what I’m hearing, it’ll be good preparation for what I’m going to see.”

That was when it was still sunny here. Then the clouds moved in. Officials knew by Monday evening that conditions for Tuesday’s race were going to be so sketchy that they moved the start of the first run of the giant slalom — it’s two runs, combined total time wins — up from 11 a.m. to 9:30, hoping to get the event in.

None of this fazed Shiffrin.

“I was nervous at the start,” she said. “But when I was in the gate I wasn’t. I just wanted to ski.”

RELATED: Tina Maze wins giant slalom for second Sochi gold

Asked about the rain, and whether it affected her in the first run, she said, “I didn’t really notice it, so I guess not.”

Compare this to Italy’s Nadia Fanchini, third in the first run, who would go on to finish fourth overall: “Obviously, it’s very difficult to ski when it’s raining. Visibility is very poor and glasses get dirty very quickly.”

“I like racing in the rain,” Shiffrin also said with a giggle. “I’ve done a bunch of rainy races before, so those were preparation.”

In this regard, Shiffrin is — to draw another comparison to another breakout performer from Colorado — the American swim star Missy Franklin. When it’s not race time, they are typical teenagers. It’s time to laugh and be normal. When it’s go time, however, the rest of the world can wait.

Strike that. It’s not that the rest of the world can wait. It must wait, and will wait. What’s at hand in the start gate, or on the blocks, is the entire reason that Shiffrin, or Franklin, or others who profoundly get the essence of supreme athletic mission — the sense of being at one with the race, purposeful and energized and unfazed by anything.

RELATED: Mikaela Shiffrin – Model Olympian

“We’re all here to inspire the rest of the world with our sport,” Shiffrin had said, “and that’s exactly what I’m planning to do.”’

This is an 18-year-old talking, ladies and gentlemen.

She also had said that she had anticipated, and planned for, everything. This was, obviously, her first Olympic Games. But not, and this is the key, in her mind.

“It takes a lot of courage,” she had said, “to see yourself at the Olympics, to be able to see that in your head and then brush it away. To everybody else, it’s my first Olympics. But to me, it’s my 1,000th.”

She also told reporters, “I envisioned your questions. I wrote down the answers in my notebook. I have envisioned this moment for quite a while. I’ve envisioned myself on the top step of the podium and on the third step of the podium. I’ve envisioned myself crashing, and I know what mistake I’ve made in my head.”

She didn’t crash Tuesday. She was asked after the first run what she needed to do in the second to get a medal. She replied, “Ski faster.” And she laughed.

RELATED: Mikaela Shiffrin – Team USA Yearbook

The second run was delayed 14 minutes because of heavy snow up top and fog. Again, this didn’t faze Shiffrin.

“For a couple gates,” she said, “you start to convince yourself it’s going to be clear, and then it’s not. I actually didn’t have a problem with visibility. I felt like conditions were really good for how much it was precipitating. I was psyched.”

The second run, she said, “it just boiled down to losing a couple tenths on a couple turns that I didn’t ski as cleanly as the other girls.”

Asked what she would do differently, she said, nothing.

“I wouldn’t re-do any of them,” meaning her two runs, she said, adding, “I think this is supposed to happen.”

Excuse me, said the collected members of the press?

“Well,” Mikaela Shiffrin said, “I wanted a gold. “But I also, as I said — I think this is meant to happen. It’s something I am going to learn from.

“The next Olympics I go to,” she said, “I sure as heck am not getting fifth.”

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing
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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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