Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin laughs about dream of 5 golds, but Obama supports her

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Mikaela Shiffrin left her mark in Sochi, not only in winning the slalom, but also in a media center the next day when she said she dreamed of winning five gold medals at the 2018 Olympics.

Shiffrin regretted blurting out that lofty vision six weeks later, not that she didn’t think she could do it, but because it became “a quote” that media ran with.

“I was on a gold-medal high there,” Shiffrin joked at the Best of U.S. Awards in Washington on Wednesday. “Whoops, shouldn’t have said that. … Of course, that’s everybody’s dream. You go to the Olympics to bring home gold, right?”

Shiffrin, 19 and the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever, received encouragement from President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday. Obama mentioned Shiffrin’s five-gold-medal dream in an address to a room full of Olympians, Paralympians … and more media.

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama directed toward Shiffrin. “Go for it.”

If it indeed becomes a “drive for five” — a term thrown around when the disgraced Marion Jones entered five track and field events in Sydney 2000 — Shiffrin’s quest might have begun already.

The youngest Olympic women’s slalom champion ever trained super-G on the 2015 World Championships course last week. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and among the 10 best in giant slalom but has never raced a downhill, super combined or super-G in a World Cup.

She met last week with U.S. Ski Team coach Roland Pfeifer, who has coached Shiffrin in slalom and giant slalom. The U.S. is bringing in a new speed events coach, whom Shiffrin said she has yet to meet.

Pfeifer stressed comfort in their discussion about adding super-G. There is no set plan on how much super-G she will race next season.

“It’s anywhere from nothing to everything,” said Shiffrin, who marveled at marble staircases and Georgian architecture while touring the White House on Thursday. “When you’re in the starting gate, I want you to really feel like you can charge that course [Pfeifer said]. Even if you don’t have experience, even if it’s icy. It’s just getting to the point where I have some experience on super-G skis, on hard courses, and then I should be comfortable.”

The biggest advice Shiffrin has received? Patience.

“Not to rush it because it’s really hard to be a four-event skier [downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom],” Shiffrin said. “Slalom and GS are the ones you have to train the most. If you’re doing speed, you don’t get to train them [slalom and giant slalom]. It’s mostly about pacing myself. Do a few super-Gs, and then just start learning downhill.”

Time is on her side. Shiffrin has nearly four years to round into the all-around form she desires if the Olympics are the big goal.

The world’s best all-event skiers the last two seasons, Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Tina Maze, have said they will not ski at the next Olympics.

It’s unknown if Lindsey Vonn, who is better in speed events, will ski any giant slalom or slalom after coming back from her knee surgeries. Or if she will be able to make it to her fourth Olympics in 2018.

World Cup overall winner Anna Fenninger, a 24-year-old Austrian, is at the top right now, but she does not race slalom.

“Sometimes I just want to jump into super-G because I’m like, ‘I can do that,’ but then I take a step back, especially after I train super-G,” Shiffrin said. “And I then think about the top speed girls and how good they are. That’s still a little ways away. I need a lot of practice.”

She’ll get it, even in the offseason. Shiffrin’s slated for another training camp in May, and most skiers head to Chile in August or September for more work before the World Cup schedule starts in October.

After four more seasons of World Cup experience, perhaps media will run with this stat before Pyeongchang 2018: the most medals won by a single Alpine skier at one Olympics is four.

“Hopefully I have a shot at as many gold medals as I can get,” Shiffrin said. “Who knows if I’ll actually get them, but as long as I give myself a chance, then I’m happy.”

What U.S. Olympians told President Obama

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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