Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin meet to discuss rivalry

Leave a comment

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — Over hot chocolate, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin recently had their first real heart-to-heart chat.

Among the topics discussed in a New Zealand coffee shop were family, friends, “girl stuff” — as Shiffrin put it — and, of course, ski racing.

Throughout the season, these two American teammates could very well be at the top of the overall standings. Might come down to the very end, too.

No bitterness, they maintain. No nastiness, either. Just a robust rivalry.

“How will it be going head-to-head? It’s exciting to find out,” said the 20-year-old Shiffrin, who will be a big favorite in a World Cup giant slalom race Friday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra) on home snow, along with two slalom events over the weekend. “If we were to go head-to-head, I have a feeling it could be one of those things where she’s not going to give it to me and I’m sure as heck not going to give it to her.”

For years, Shiffrin was touted as the next Vonn. Well, Shiffrin’s fulfilled those lofty expectations, capturing the slalom title at the 2013 world championships, Olympic gold in the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Games and then defending her world title last February in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

This season, Shiffrin ventures into Vonn’s territory by adding some speed events, beginning next week with a super-G at Lake Louise, Alberta.

MORE: FIS World Cup TV and live streaming schedule

Among those who believe Shiffrin’s ready for the jump to speed is Vonn.

“She’s just a great skier and she’s obviously extremely talented,” said the 31-year-old Vonn, who’s healed from breaking her left ankle three months ago in training and a bite on her right thumb that required stitches after breaking up a fight between her dogs. “She has such a great touch on snow and such a solid technique.

“I’m sure she’s going to do phenomenal in speed as well.”

High praise from Vonn, the four-time overall champion. Then again, she doesn’t see this rivalry as anything but healthy.

Being a decade older than Shiffrin, Vonn wants to be a “resource” for her young compatriot.

“We both have a lot of respect for each other,” said Vonn, the all-time winningest female World Cup racer who will compete only in the GS this weekend. “We’ll see how the season shapes up. It would be really great for ski racing if two Americans were fighting for the overall.”

The paths of Shiffrin and Vonn haven’t crossed all that much over the years. That’s partly because of Vonn’s serious knee injury, which kept her out of the Sochi Games. And when Vonn has been back, they’ve traveled in different circles since Shiffrin works so closely with the technical side.

That’s why Vonn invited Shiffrin out for cocoa during training over the summer. A chance to get better acquainted.

Vonn’s take on their meeting: “It was a really nice conversation. It wasn’t anything in particular. Just kind of a nice, easy conversation.”

Shiffrin was flattered a skier she’s long considered one of her idols wanted to sit down with her.

“Lindsey’s made more sacrifices than anybody else in order to get the job done,” Shiffrin said. “I respect that a lot.”

With defending overall champion Anna Fenninger sidelined by a knee injury and Tina Maze taking a break, that opens the door for a Vonn-Shiffrin showdown.

“If she beats me for the overall, you know what, cheers to that,” Shiffrin said. “It’s like, ‘You’re a really good ski racer and a really good athlete and there’s a reason you’re winning.’ Hopefully, I’ll be able to give her some good competition.”

Off to a great start. Shiffrin finished second in the giant slalom last month in Soelden, Austria. Valuable points, especially with Vonn skipping it to give her ankle more time to mend.

Shiffrin believes she can be on the podium in all three races this weekend. No American has finished in the top three during a World Cup race at Aspen since Julia Mancuso was third in 2011. What’s more, no American has won at this venue since Tamara McKinney in 1981.

“The podium is definitely a possibility. Maybe more than a possibility,” Shiffrin said. “But things have to line up.”

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose so far Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!