Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin wins her first World Cup giant slalom in Soelden tie (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her first career World Cup giant slalom race, tying for the victory in the season opener in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday.

The U.S. Olympic slalom champion clocked a two-run time of 2 minutes, 39.85 seconds. As did Austrian Anna Fenninger, the reigning World Cup overall champion. Another Austrian, Eva-Maria Brem, was third.

“I’m really psyched I made it down alive [in the second run],” said Shiffrin, who had a stomach ache before her second run. “Maybe I’ll try to get on the top step on my own next time.

“It’s a pretty good start. I can’t really wish for better.”

Shiffrin led Fenninger by .09 after the first run. She was the last skier to go in the second run and fell .63 behind Fenninger at an early split but made up the deficit. She was obviously pleased with the tie, smiling while putting her hands on her knees after seeing a scoreboard crossing the finish line.

“As long as you see the green light [on the scoreboard, indicating having taken a lead], then it’s good,” Shiffrin said. “The last year, and the past three years, I’ve come down in GS and seen red, red, red. It feels good to finally come the second run and see green.”

Shiffrin, 19, who became the youngest Olympic men’s or women’s slalom gold medalist ever in Sochi, set these youngest-since World Cup marks Saturday:

* Youngest World Cup giant slalom men’s or women’s race winner since France’s Tessa Worley on Nov. 9, 2008.
* Youngest U.S. World Cup giant slalom men’s or women’s race winner since Diann Roffe on March 13, 1985 (Roffe was 17).
* Youngest Soelden men’s or women’s race winner since Nicole Hosp (18), Tina Maze (19) and Andrine Flemmen (27) tied for the win in 2002, the first three-way tie in World Cup history.

Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic, World and World Cup champion in the slalom, but she was near tears in Sochi after finishing fifth in the Olympic giant slalom three days before she won the slalom.

“I was really thinking that my first giant slalom win would be at the Olympics,” Shiffrin said in Sochi, though her agent, a former World Cup racer, said Shiffrin skied to her level in the Olympic giant slalom.

So she made it her primary post-Olympic goal to win her first giant slalom race. Shiffrin was sixth in Soelden last year and notched her first career World Cup giant slalom podiums with second- and third-place finishes last December.

Saturday marked her 23rd career World Cup giant slalom start. Shiffrin was 43rd in her first giant slalom on March 11, 2011, 4.64 seconds behind the first-run leader. She failed to qualify for the second run and was two days shy of her 16th birthday.

She won her first World Cup slalom race in her 14th start in that discipline.

“It’s very helpful to know that I can win GS,” Shiffrin said. “I’ve thought it for so long and believed in myself, but today was the first day where, between runs, I was like, I really think I can do this.”

On Saturday, Fenninger won her fifth straight World Cup giant slalom race with the tie. Shiffrin may be emerging as a threat to Fenninger’s defense of the World Cup overall title. The American was fifth and sixth in the overall standings, a sum of results across all five Alpine disciplines, the last two years.

Now that Shiffrin has her first World Cup giant slalom win, many will wonder when she makes her debut in a World Cup speed event, likely a super-G. She has said she would like to do so before the World Championships in Colorado in February. Her giant slalom comfort would play a role in when she added super-G.

”Soelden is always like a see-where-I-am kind of a race,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going for the [crystal] globes [that go to season-long discipline and overall champions], as many as I can.”

The men race in Soelden on Sunday. U.S. Olympic champion Ted Ligety eyes his fourth straight season-opening win in Soelden.

The women’s World Cup continues with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 15. Shiffrin won in Levi last year and received a reindeer as a prize.

Men’s Alpine skiing World Cup preview

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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