Mikaela Shiffrin wins Maribor slalom, snags World Cup lead in teenage finale (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 13th World Cup race in her final scheduled start as a teenager, moving into the World Cup slalom standings lead in rainy Maribor, Slovenia, on Sunday.

Shiffrin, who became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi, prevailed by 1.03 seconds over two runs for her fourth World Cup win this season. Slovakian Veronika Velez Zuzulova was second, followed by Czech Sarka Strachova.

Shiffrin said she likes skiing in the rain.

“I have really good goggles,” she joked a finish-area interview.

Shiffrin moved into sole possession of third place in World Cup wins by active female skiers. The only ones with more are Lindsey Vonn (64) and Tina Maze (26).

Vonn won the first of those 64 at age 20. Maze had one victory as a teenager. The only female skier with more World Cup wins as a teenager than Shiffrin was Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell, who took 27 en route to 62 total victories.

Vonn and Maze own wins in all five disciplines, while Shiffrin has only contested two of the five (slalom and giant slalom) and scrapped a plan to add super-G earlier this season when she struggled with her slalom.

“I’m hesitant, I don’t want to rush the super-G because I’m doing pretty well in slalom and [giant slalom] right now,” Shiffrin, who owns one World Cup giant slalom win from October, said in a press conference Sunday. “In my perfect world, I would be winning both slalom and GS consistently and then move into super-G. So, if I go too fast with that, then I won’t get any of it.”

Shiffrin regained her form in the slalom earlier this winter, repeating as World champion two weeks ago and surpassing Swede Frida Hansdotter for the World Cup slalom standings lead Sunday. She went from 41 points behind to 30 points ahead of Hansdotter, who was ninth Sunday.

There are two World Cup slaloms remaining — March 13 in Are, Sweden (Shiffrin’s 20th birthday) and in Meribel, France at the World Cup Finals one week later.

Shiffrin is trying to win a third straight World Cup slalom season title. The last woman to do that was Vreni Schneider, who took the last of her six World Cup titles in 1995. The only women since 1996 to capture three straight titles in any discipline are Vonn and six-time Olympic medalist Janica Kostelic.

Also Sunday, Austrian Matthias Mayer prevailed in a super-G in Saalbach, Austria. Mayer, the Olympic downhill champion, won for the second straight day. France’s Adrien Theaux was second, followed by Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud. Travis Ganong was the top American in ninth.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup continues with two super-Gs and a super combined in Bansko, Bulgaria, next weekend. Vonn is expected to race, if healthy following her Saturday fall.

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

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

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

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