Mikaela Shiffrin eyes breakthrough with World Cup season approaching

Mikaela Shiffrin
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NEW YORK — Three days before Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in February, she finished fifth in her first Olympic race, the giant slalom.

“She was almost crying,” Shiffrin’s mother, Eileen, told reporters the day her daughter missed the medals by .23 of a second (the podium finishers were all at least five years older than the American).

Shiffrin felt disappointed despite skiing about to her level, having placed second, third, sixth and eighth in four World Cup giant slalom races she had finished before the Olympics. She hoped she would notch her first top-level giant slalom win at the Olympics, though.

“Next Olympics,” Shiffrin said in Russia, “I’m sure as heck not getting fifth.”

Shiffrin didn’t break through in GS in the post-Olympic World Cup races in March, so she carries over her goals into the new season beginning next month.

Defend the World Cup slalom title. Win her first giant slalom race.

“And hopefully get a couple more [GS wins] after that,” she said in the lobby of a Midtown Manhattan hotel Wednesday afternoon. “I’m really hoping to try to separate myself a little bit in GS this year. It’s a tough event. A lot of people say it’s the hardest event because it’s a mix between slalom and super-G. It’s just tough.”

The 19-year-old said her training is more balanced going into her fourth season on tour.

“Before, if I had the choice to train slalom or GS, I always chose slalom,” said Shiffrin, who holds the three most prestigious titles in slalom, Olympic champion, World champion and World Cup champion. “Now, it’s like, all right, well my slalom feels pretty good, but I need work on GS, or it just depends upon how I feel.”

She recently finished a five-week technical events camp in New Zealand with U.S. teammates and feels in “more of a comfort zone” with GS, which requires more speed than the other technical discipline, slalom.

It’s all in preparation for the first event of the World Cup season, a giant slalom race in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 25. Shiffrin heads to Europe three weeks before that.

If Shiffrin had to prioritize her goals — defending her World Cup slalom title and winning her first GS race — which would she prefer?

“That’s a tough one,” she said. “Last year, I would have chosen slalom. But I don’t think I’m going to have to choose this year. I think my slalom’s at a point where I’m really comfortable with where I’m at. I’m comfortable with that speed. It’s not a question whether I can put good skiing out there. It’s whether I’ll be hindered by ruts in the course or whatever it is. But in general my skiing is there. That level is there. That leaves a little bit more room for training GS, which is what I need to be able to race comfortably in GS.”

Shiffrin’s early giant slalom work this season will also go into determining if and when she makes her World Cup debut in a super-G race, the next level up in speed.

This season’s World Cup calendar doesn’t include any sites where the women race a super-G and a technical event on the same weekend before February’s World Championships in Beaver Creek and Vail, Colo.

“Hopefully, before World Champs, I’ll be able to squeeze in one or two super-Gs,” Shiffrin said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to make something work, but we’re just not sure where or when it would be.”

It won’t be in Lake Louise, Alberta, the first speed races of the season where Lindsey Vonn hopes to make her return from Dec. 5-7.

“I’m not a tucker yet,” Shiffrin said, smiling. “I’ve got to get some more meat packed on me before I can expect to do well there.”

Shiffrin will be expected to continue rising in giant slalom. Her spot atop slalom appears more assured, given Olympic silver medalist Marlies Schild retired last week.

“I guess it wasn’t really a surprise, but it’s still upsetting,” Shiffrin said of the Austrian Schild, one of her skiing idols, who overcame injury, age (32) and a sixth-place first run at the Olympics to swipe slalom silver. “She’s a legend, and I wanted to keep racing with her for a little longer. One of my goals was to succeed in slalom, and to win slaloms, but also one of my goals was to be able to race with her. I’m lucky I got an opportunity to do that.”

Shiffrin’s U.S. Ski Team coach, Roland Pfeifer, recently told SkiRacing.com that Shiffrin produced promising returns in summer training, cleaning up her skiing on a new GS ski.

“With the work we’ve put into it already and a little bit of fine-tuning in Europe heading into Soelden, it’s going to be exciting to see what she’s capable of,” Pfeifer told the website. “She will be better than last year.”

Cautious Lindsey Vonn hopes to chase wins record this season

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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