Upcoming milestones for Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin

Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin

Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin finished off championship seasons at the World Cup Finals on Sunday, leading to wonder what records they’ll chase next winter and going toward the 2018 Olympics.

Start with Vonn, who in her return from two major knee surgeries broke the women’s record for career World Cup wins (she’s at 67 now) and tied the overall record for World Cup season titles (19).

Next season, the 30-year-old’s sights are set on vying for the overall World Cup title. Vonn finished third in the overall standings this year, with 1,087 points, well behind repeat winner Anna Fenninger (1,553) and Tina Maze (1,531).

Vonn, a four-time World Cup overall champion from 2008-2012, may not have to worry about Maze next year. The 31-year-old Slovenian hasn’t yet committed to racing another season.

But Fenninger, at just 25, appears a dominant threat for years to come. The Austrian is capable of winning races in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and super combined.

Vonn, meanwhile, beat Fenninger in downhill and super-G this season but did not finish better than fifth in three giant slalom starts.

If Vonn can improve her giant slalom, overtake Fenninger and capture her fifth World Cup overall title in 2016, she will move one behind retired Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s record for career overall titles. She will also become the oldest women’s overall champion.

Vonn can also grab her eighth downhill season title next year, which would tie the record for most titles in one discipline. That mark is held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Stenmark also holds the overall World Cup career wins record of 86. Vonn is 19 wins shy of that. She had eight victories this season, and if she continues on that pace, she will reach 86 during the 2018 Olympic season.

In 2018, Vonn could become the oldest women’s Olympic Alpine skiing medalist ever.

Like Vonn, Shiffrin will want to branch out next season. She’s been the world’s best slalom skier for three years and improved her giant slalom in the same stretch to finish third in that discipline’s standings this season.

No woman has captured both the giant slalom and slalom World Cup season titles since Swede Anja Paerson in 2004. Shiffrin could break that drought, but she will have to go through Fenninger and perhaps Vonn to do it.

If Shiffrin feels confident enough in her slalom and giant slalom, she may attempt to make her World Cup debut in the super-G. The 20-year-old hoped to this past season, even starting twice in lower-level super-Gs in Colorado, but abandoned the plan while in an early season slalom slump.

If Shiffrin can dominate slalom and giant slalom and contend in super-G, she will become a greater World Cup overall threat. She placed fourth in the overall standings this season, 51 points behind third-place Vonn.

Shiffrin will be heavily favored to take her fourth straight slalom season title in 2016. The record for season slalom titles is six, held by retired Swiss Vreni Schneider.

At the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, Shiffrin could become the first Alpine skier — man or woman — to repeat as slalom gold medalist.

Also in 2018, Shiffrin, Vonn and Julia Mancuso all could have chances to become the first U.S. women’s Alpine skier to win gold medals in multiple Olympics.

Anna Fenninger wins World Cup overall title in tight finish

U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
File photo

Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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