Mikaela Shiffrin captures slalom title, inspired by girl with leukemia (video)

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin had not only the World Cup slalom season title on her mind Saturday, but also a girl with leukemia whom she met more than one year ago.

The Olympic slalom champion continued her dominance, winning her fourth World Cup slalom in seven races this season and clinching the season title in the event for the second straight year in Are, Sweden, on Saturday.

Shiffrin, 18, has now won four World Cup slaloms each of the last two seasons and is the first woman to win eight World Cup slaloms before age 19, according to Infostrada.

Shiffrin prevailed in blizzard-like conditions in Are in a two-run time of 1 minute, 50.66 seconds. Swedes went two-three-four, led by Maria Pietilae Holmner, who was .6 behind Shiffrin. Anna Swenn-Larsson was third, her first career World Cup podium.

Shiffrin’s win came at the same venue as her first career World Cup victory on Dec. 20, 2012. That day was fresh in Shiffrin’s mind after winning Saturday, especially a meeting with a young girl who wanted a picture with her. Here’s what Shiffrin said in 2012:

And on Saturday:

“I just keep thinking about [Emma],” Shiffrin said in a press conference. “She was a little lucky charm for me. … It put everything in perspective. Since then, I’ve carried that same motto that I can win, whatever, Olympics, it is all great, but it could be a lot worse, so I have to be grateful for everything that I have.”

Shiffrin’s ascent is clear from her World Cup standings results the last three years, the best indicator of skiing talent as they take into account finishes from throughout the season.

She’s gone from 17th to first to first in the slalom and 49th to 19th to sixth in the giant slalom. She won the slalom title by 33 points last year and leads this year’s standings by 130 points with just the World Cup Finals left next weekend.

Shiffrin also ranks sixth in the overall World Cup standings despite not racing any super-G, downhill or combined. She’s said she dreamed of winning five Olympic golds in 2018 and may start entering super-Gs later this year.

Her next goal, though, is to win a giant slalom race. She’s finished second and third in giant slaloms this season but has never won one.

“I know my GS skiing is fast, fast enough to win, but I really have to do my best skiing,” said Shiffrin, who was 15th and 24th in giant slaloms in Are on Thursday and Friday. “That seems to be slipping away from me a little bit.”

Shiffrin turns 19 on Thursday, then plans to race at the World Cup Finals next weekend followed by the U.S. Championships in Squaw Valley, Calif., beginning March 19 and then get her wisdom teeth removed.

The race for this year’s overall World Cup title is tight. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch took the lead back from Austrian Anna Fenninger with her seventh-place finish Saturday.

Hoefl-Riesch leads by 29 points with the four races left in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, next weekend.

American Resi Stiegler took 14th, her best finish this season, but did not qualify for the World Cup Finals.

Are Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1:50.66
2. Maria Pietilae-Holmner (SWE) 1:51.26
3. Anna Swenn-Larsson (SWE) 1:52.16
4. Frida Hansdotter (SWE) 1:52.56
5. Nastasia Noens (FRA) 1:53.63
6. Sarka Strachova (CZE) 1:53.77
7. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:53.92
8. Kathrin Zettel (AUT) 1:53.94
9. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:54.19
10. Bernadette Schild (AUT) 1:54.32
14. Resi Stiegler (USA) 1:55.12

Ligety breaks Alpine record in first race since Olympics

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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