Mikaela Shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin struggles in first slalom of season; Tina Maze wins (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin struggled in her specialty, finishing 11th in the first World Cup slalom of the season in Levi, Finland, on Saturday.

Slovenian Tina Maze won with a two-run time of 1 minute, 55.15 seconds, over Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Austria’s Kathrin Zettel. Shiffrin was 2.07 seconds slower than Maze, a startling result.

“It was like I was sleeping,” said Shiffrin, who arrived in Levi late, not until Thursday due to travel delay, according to Ski Racing magazine. “I took the competition for granted a little bit. … Something that always worked for me was to feel like the underdog and come from behind. Even if I was the favorite to win, I always come into races and do my best to ski my very fastest. Not ski for the win, ski for my fastest skiing. … I maybe lost sight of that a little bit today.”

Shiffrin, who in Sochi became the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever, won four of the final five World Cup slaloms last season. This year, she won her first career World Cup giant slalom race in the season opener in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 25.

The 19-year-old clearly had momentum and set her sights on a first World Cup super-G start in December.

Not so fast. Shiffrin’s slalom dominance was nowhere to be found inside the Arctic Circle on Saturday, a venue where she prevailed by 1.06 seconds in 2013 and won a reindeer she named Rudolph. (Maze named her reindeer Victor on Saturday)

Shiffrin, who led after the first run of the previous six World Cup slaloms, was 1.71 seconds behind Maze and in 14th place after a foggy first run Saturday. The 1.71-second deficit was her largest since Nov. 25, 2012. She didn’t make any major mistakes, but lost a large chunk of time on the steep part of the course.

Shiffrin was aiming for her 10th World Cup slalom win, which would have broken her tie for the most by an American with Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre.

The women’s World Cup season continues with a giant slalom and slalom in Aspen, Colo., on Thanksgiving weekend.

“I know I my skiing’s there,” Shiffrin said. “I’m definitely not psyched, but I’m also going to stay positive, because that’s my bread and butter.”

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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