Mikaela Shiffrin wins comeback race, concedes World Cup title

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A nervous, jittery Mikaela Shiffrin returned to racing Monday, two months after suffering the first knee injury of her career.

The questions:

Did she come back too early from tearing an MCL and suffering a bone fracture in a Dec. 12 warm-up crash, her first time tumbling into fencing?

Why ski at all this winter, with no real hope of capturing her fourth straight World Cup slalom season title?

This is her job, Shiffrin has stressed, and she can’t afford to take extra time off.

And when the 20-year-old from Colorado got back into the start gate in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Monday morning, she went back to work.

“I came in today sort of blind,” Shiffrin said. “Close your eyes and go.”

Shiffrin won her sixth straight World Cup slalom race, in her first start in the discipline since Nov. 29.

She was .27 of a second better than the field in the morning run.

“I was nervous,” Shiffrin said between morning and afternoon runs. “It’s good to have my coaches and my mom and everybody here, and they’re all very reassuring. Until you know for sure you’re in there, it’s hard to not be nervous.”

She raced last in the afternoon, forced to navigate a course made slushy and rutted by the 29 women who went before her. That’s not uncommon for the world’s best slalom skier the last three years.

Fog also rolled in and out, but the mountain cleared for Shiffrin. She said having “a little bit” of visibility saved her.

“I haven’t skied in anything like that,” Shiffrin said in a finish-area interview. “I was like, here goes nothing.”

Shiffrin managed it well, crossing the finish line with .45 to spare to notch her 18th career World Cup victory.

Shiffrin, not known for exuberant celebrations, came to a stop and bowed her head into her gloves for a moment before being congratulated by second-place Nastasia Noens of France and third-place Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada.

Full results from Monday are here.

Shiffrin does not plan to race the next World Cup slalom, a parallel city event in Stockholm on Feb. 23. If she doesn’t contest it, she is mathematically eliminated from winning her fourth straight World Cup slalom season title.

Even if she does race Stockholm, a comeback to take the trophy (a crystal globe) after missing five slaloms would be extremely unlikely.

“The slalom globe’s out,” Shiffrin said in a press conference, laughing. “I think everybody’s wondering kind of what my goals are the rest of the season.”

The women’s World Cup season continues with a downhill and super-G in Italy this weekend.

After her win, Shiffrin said she may next race a super-G in Soldeu, Andorra, on Feb. 27, but focused more on the next giant slalom in Jasna, Slovakia, on March 6.

“I’m going to focus on [giant slalom] a little bit now, for a few days at least, and try to see how quickly I can get back the feeling in GS,” she said. “Jasna, see if I can get on the podium both races [the GS and a March 7 slalom]. For the rest of the season, I’m just looking to see how many points I can get overall, not necessarily in one single event.”

MORE: Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists

Snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter passes away

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Jake Burton Carpenter, the pioneer who brought snowboarding to the masses and helped turn the sport into a billion-dollar business and Olympic showpiece, has died at 65.

He died Wednesday night in Burlington, Vermont, according to an email sent to the staff of the company he founded. Carpenter had emailed his staff this month saying, “You will not believe this, but my cancer has come back.” He had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 but after several months of therapy had been given a clean bill of health.

Carpenter quit his job in New York in 1977 to form the company now known simply as Burton. His goal was to advance the rudimentary snowboard, then called a “Snurfer,” which had been invented by Sherman Poppen a dozen years earlier.

It worked, and more than four decades later, snowboarding is a major fixture at the Winter Games and snowboards are as common as skis at resorts across the globe.

“He was our founder, the soul of snowboarding, the one who gave us the sport we all love so much,” Burton co-CEO John Lacy said in his email to the staff.

Grieving Mikaela Shiffrin returns to World Cup Alpine action with fourth reindeer at stake

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The traditional World Cup Alpine skiing season opener last month in Soelden, Austria, was an emotional one for Mikaela Shiffrin.

Shiffrin’s grandmother, Pauline Condron, was in declining health in the days leading up to the race, making Shiffrin wonder if she should head home instead of staying in Soelden. Condron was especially close to Shiffrin, helping to take care of her soon after birth.

Condron passed away Oct. 22, four days before the Soelden giant slalom, at age 98.

“Polly loved sports,” Condron’s obituary said. “She was an avid bowler in her younger years and enjoyed playing tennis and skiing. Few people know that she excelled at ping pong, had a killer serve, gave up very few games and played into her 90s.”

Condron was able to see Shiffrin in person at World Cup races in Killington, Vt. The World Cup will return next weekend to Killington, which has just passed its FIS inspection.

Shiffrin finished second in Soelden’s giant slalom to an upstart rival, 17-year-old New Zealander Alice Robinson. Shiffrin is the reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the giant slalom, but she hasn’t won in Soelden since 2014.

In the slalom, Shiffrin is more dominant. She won eight of nine World Cup races last year, losing only to Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, and won her fourth straight world championship despite battling illness. The last time Shiffrin finished worse than second in the technical discipline was in the 2018 Olympics, when she uncharacteristically faltered and finished fourth.

Saturday’s race in Levi, Finland, is a slalom. Shiffrin has won three of the last five races in Levi, which means she also has three reindeer  Rudolph, Sven and Mr. Gru. She can win a fourth on Saturday.

The men also have a slalom this weekend in Levi, racing Sunday.

Both runs for each event stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET, with the Olympic Channel also carrying the second runs each day.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV schedule

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