‘Half bear’ Mikaela Shiffrin rallies, repeats as World slalom champion

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin naps regularly, and it looked like she was hibernating about 30 minutes before she skied in the World Championships slalom Saturday afternoon.

She was shown on camera lying on top of snow near the start house on a warm afternoon in Beaver Creek, Colo.

“In fact, I am half a bear,” she joked later, after she said, “I was staring up at the trees and not thinking about anything. I was listening to music.”

The 19-year-old gathered herself and took to the course under the pressure of defending her title, as the favorite, in front of a hometown crowd.

At first, the time splits made it look like she was still groggy. Shiffrin, skiing with a four tenths lead due to her fastest morning run, had lost it all and fallen .03 behind Swede Frida Hansdotter with about 14 seconds left on the course.

“Between the first run and the second run, all I was thinking about was I honestly just have to try to hold my own against Frida,” Shiffrin said of Hansdotter, who has been better in the slalom during the World Cup season.

But Shiffrin flipped the switch on the final portion of the course, making up .37 to win by .34. Hansdotter had to accept silver with Czech Sarka Strachova bagging bronze.

“That took every ounce of my energy to pull myself together towards the bottom, not to blow it,” Shiffrin said, later adding, “Everybody I’ve seen so far said, ‘Wow, you almost killed us.’ I guess that’s the point, to have a good show, right? But it was not purposeful.”

Shiffrin crossed the finish line looking like the drama and the joy were lost on her. She was expression-less.

“I think I was still sleeping,” she joked. “I put a ton of energy out there, especially that last third of the course. I came away with the win, but I had no energy at the finish. I was like, I don’t know what to do.

“It’s always a little bit awkward because I feel like the best racers in history had the most epic finish celebrations. Ted [Ligety]‘s celebration yesterday when he chucked his ski. Lindsey [Vonn] falls on the ground. [Tina] Maze puts her finger in the air. I always watched these celebrations, and I go over it in my mind before the race thinking, how cool would it be if I won this, and then I did something so epic that everybody just starts crying.

“Then I get to the finish and I’m like, hiiiiiiiii. That was really fun. I’m so glad that I’m here and I won. This is fun. It’s a weird thing. I’m kind of a dork.”

Only one other woman since World War II has successfully defended a World slalom title — Croatian legend Janica Kostelic.

Shiffrin, a teenager for one more month, has won every major slalom title the last three seasons — Olympic gold, two World Championships and two World Cup crystal globes. Time and again, she has gone into major championships as the favorite and delivered.

“One of my motivating factors is not to be one of the examples that those authors use in books like choke or mindset or whatever,” Shiffrin said. “They always use examples of the champions who choked at some point, didn’t perform under pressure. I read these books, I’m like, oh gosh, it’s not so easy. Maybe they didn’t choke. Maybe they didn’t feel good that day.”

Shiffrin must carry over her success from Beaver Creek at her next races on the World Cup circuit in February and March to earn a third straight World Cup title. Only one other woman has won three straight World Cup slalom titles — Swiss great Vreni Schneider.

Shiffrin trails Hansdotter by 41 points in the World Cup slalom standings with three races left. Skiers earn 100 points for a win, 80 for second place, 60 for third and on down the line.

But Shiffrin spreads her focus to another discipline — the giant slalom. She won her first World Cup giant slalom race in October but has not recorded a GS victory since and was eighth in the event at the World Championships on Thursday.

“I really hope that in the next couple weeks, before my next race, I get back to my GS and really try to take the next step,” Shiffrin said on NBC. “I’m so close.”

The World Championships conclude with the men’s slalom, including Ted Ligety, on Sunday on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Tearful Shani Davis back on top at World Championships

French Open: Iga Swiatek rolls toward possible Coco Gauff rematch

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek reached the French Open third round without dropping a set, eyeing a third Roland Garros title in four years. Not that she needed the help, but Swiatek’s immediate draw is wide open after the rest of the seeds in her section lost.

Swiatek dispatched 102nd-ranked American Claire Liu 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday, the same score as her first-round win. She gets 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China in the round of 32.

The other three seeds in Swiatek’s section all lost in the first round, so the earliest that the world No. 1 could play another seed is the quarterfinals. And that would be No. 6 Coco Gauff, who was runner-up to Swiatek last year.

Gauff plays her second-round match later Thursday against 61st-ranked Austrian Julia Grabher. Gauff also doesn’t have any seeds in her way before a possible Swiatek showdown.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Swiatek, who turned 22 on Wednesday, came into this year’s French Open without the invincibility of a year ago, when she was 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury, but said it wasn’t serious. That diagnosis appears to have been spot-on through two matches this week, though her serve was broken twice in the first set of each match.

While the men’s draw has been upended by 14-time champion Rafael Nadal‘s pre-event withdrawal and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev‘s loss in the first round, the top women have taken care of business.

Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, American Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan also reached the third round without dropping a set.

Though all of them have beaten Swiatek in 2023, the Pole remains the favorite to lift the trophy a week from Saturday. She can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

She can also become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

Swiatek doesn’t dwell on it.

“I never even played Serena or Monica Seles,” she said. “I’m kind of living my own life and having my own journey.”

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Penny Oleksiak to miss world swimming championships

Penny Oleksiak

Seven-time Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak of Canada will miss July’s world swimming championships because she does not expect to be recovered enough from knee and shoulder injuries.

“The bar that we set was, can she be as good as she’s ever been at these world championships?” coach Ryan Mallette said in a press release. “We just don’t feel like we’re going to be ready to be 100 percent yet this summer. Our focus is to get her back to 100 percent as soon as possible to get ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

Oleksiak, who owns the Canadian record of seven Olympic medals (across all sports), missed Canada’s trials meet for worlds two months ago due to the injuries. She was still named to the team at the time in hope that she would be ready in time for worlds.

The 22-year-old returned to competition last month at a Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, after which she chose to focus on continued rehab rather than compete at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

“Swimming at Mare Nostrum was a checkpoint for worlds, and I gave it my best shot,” Oleksiak said in the release. “We reviewed my swims there, and it showed me the level I want to get back to. Now I need to focus on my rehab to get back to where I want to be and put myself in position to be at my best next season.”

Oleksiak had knee surgery last year to repair a meniscus. After that, she developed a left shoulder injury.

In 2016, Oleksiak tied for Olympic 100m freestyle gold with American Simone Manuel. She also earned 100m butterfly silver in Rio and 200m free bronze in Tokyo, along with four relay medals between those two Games.

At last year’s worlds, she earned four relay medals and placed fourth in the 100m free.

She anchored the Canadian 4x100m free relay to silver behind Australia at the most recent Olympics and worlds.

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