Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin differ on who is favorite for overall title

AP
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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Lindsey Vonn felt “awesome” after resuming ski training free of pain on Thursday, 10 weeks after fracturing a bone in her left ankle and just two days before the new World Cup season starts.

The four-time overall champion made eight practice runs on a glacier, without her ankle showing any reaction.

“I didn’t feel anything. It didn’t hurt and it wasn’t swollen afterward,” the American told The Associated Press. “A lot better than I expected, honestly.”

Vonn crashed during a training camp in New Zealand in August, suffering yet another setback after an impressive return from serious knee injuries last season. She broke the all-time record for most women’s World Cup wins and grabbed her seventh downhill season title.

Vonn finished third in the overall standings, trailing only Anna Fenninger and Tina Maze. Both the injured Austrian and the Slovenian, who is taking a break from ski racing, won’t compete this year.

Having recovered just before the new season starts is a huge relief for Vonn.

“I’ve been doing some work in my ski boots the last couple of weeks to get used to it but you never know until you step on your skis,” she said. “Right away the first run felt awesome. It was a really good feeling to be back on snow.”

Despite the 10-week layoff, Vonn still hasn’t ruled out a start in Saturday’s giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier. She will train again on Friday before taking a final decision.

“I am going to push myself hard. I really want to make sure there is no pain. I want to make sure it’s not swollen after the training,” Vonn said. “And then as long as it is holding up well and I feel comfortable and confident, it’s worth to start. My goal may not be to be on the podium but if I get a top-10, you never know how valuable these points will be at the end of the year.”

Fenninger’s and Maze’s absence and the retirement of Austria’s Nicole Hosp have left Vonn the only skier on the women’s circuit to have won the overall title before.

And if the American, who turned 31 Sunday, will manage to win her fifth crystal globe, she will become the oldest female skier to win that trophy, breaking Vreni Schneider‘s 20-year-old record. The Swiss standout was 30 when she won her third overall title in 1995.

The ankle injury won’t hamper her physically, and she won’t spend many thoughts about the risk of hurting herself again.

“Injuries are not a mental problem for me,” Vonn said. “If I have any physical pain, then that’s what slows me down. Falling, crashing, injuring, it never bothers me. It’s part of the game. So it was not in my mind at all today.”

Once an all-event skier, Vonn won’t compete in slaloms anymore. To have a shot at the overall championship, she will need to score heavily again in downhill and super-G and take as many points as possible from GS.

“The main thing is I have to dominate the speed events. I really have to win as many races as I can,” said Vonn, who labeled Switzerland’s Lara Gut, Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg and fellow American Mikaela Shiffrin as her main rivals for the season.

“Mikaela is definitely the favorite,” she said about her 20-year-old teammate. “She had a great season in GS last year. She’s always a big competitor. I won’t race slalom, and she can win nearly all of them. In giant slalom she also has a good chance and if she can be fast in super-G, she’s definitely a huge competitor.”

Shiffrin, however, played the ball back to Vonn.

“She does know how to win the overall title and she is a tough fighter. I would say she is probably the best bet,” said Shiffrin, who ruled out that Vonn could be affected by her far from ideal preparation for the season.

“If you think about last year and the comeback she made after essentially two years of not being able to ski, she won her second race back. I don’t think it’s going to slow her down.”

MORE ALPINE SKIING: Men’s season preview

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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