Stronger Mikaela Shiffrin eyes new goals

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A breathless Mikaela Shiffrin answered the phone and asked to push back an interview with NBC five minutes.

When she called back, she explained the brief delay.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I was at the gym and I was trying to finish one last set before we spoke.”

Strength training is a newfound priority for the 21-year-old skier.

Shiffrin has traditionally focused on the technical disciplines, slalom and giant slalom, which require agility for quick turning. Now she is expanding her portfolio to include the speed disciplines, super-G and downhill, which require isometric strength to hold the tuck position longer and deeper.

Shiffrin’s first priority this season remains competing in the technical disciplines, which she calls “my babies.” The 2014 Olympic slalom champion is looking to claim her fourth World Cup crystal globe in slalom this season.

Gaining experience in the speed disciplines is her second priority.

Shiffrin said she is “90% of the way there” with the speed disciplines, largely because of the extra time she spent in the gym. She suffered a knee injury last December that kept her out two months. Told to stay off her skis, Shiffrin focused on lifting weights.

“I’ve never been this strong,” said Shiffrin, who is “100% healthy” and not planning on wearing a knee brace this season. “Not that it is ideal to have to do conditioning in the middle of the winter, but I feel like that gave me a little bit of a head start for the summer conditioning months.”

To get the final “10% of the way there,” Shiffrin believes she needs to become more familiar with the terrain at speed races.

“For most of the annual spots where the girls ski every single year, I haven’t raced or even seen those hills,” Shiffrin said. “That’s where my confidence falters a little bit.”

Since the technical disciplines remain Shiffrin’s top priority, she will only enter speed races when it fits in her schedule. For example, she is undecided about racing in the season-opening speed event in Lake Louise, where downhill training starts just two days after a slalom race in Killington.

“I don’t want to sacrifice anything in Killington because I am stressed about getting to Lake Louise for the first training runs,” she said.

Shiffrin’s third priority is to contend for the overall World Cup title. To do so, she will need to “perform better than I ever have in every single [technical] race” and then get “bonus points” by performing well in super-G and downhill.

“I won’t know where I stand with the overall [crystal] globe until at least mid-season,” she said. “If I’m close, then maybe it will become more of a priority.”

The competition for the overall World Cup title is expected to be tougher this season than in 2015-2016, when Shiffrin believes “it definitely would have been possible” to challenge for the overall World Cup title had she not gotten injured.

Anna Veith and Lindsey Vonn are expected to return from injuries, along with the possible return from break of Tina Maze, to challenge last season’s World Cup overall champion, Lara Gut.

“Everybody is back,” Shiffrin said.

Vonn wrote on social media last month that she is not going for the World Cup overall title, but Shiffrin is not ruling her out.

“[Vonn] is going to be in contention for the overall as well, whether or not that is her goal,” Shiffrin said. “That is similar to where I’m at. It’s not my main goal, but it’s very possible that if I perform how I hope to in each event, it will be there.”

Vonn is known as the “Speed Queen,” with eight downhill and five super-G World Cup titles. But Shiffrin has not asked Vonn for advice about the speed disciplines, preferring to simply watch Vonn ski.

“That is advice enough,” Shiffrin said. “She doesn’t need to tell me anything.”

The World Cup season starts Oct. 22 in Soelden. The anticipation reminds Shiffrin of when she made her World Cup debut in 2011 at the age of 15.

“I was starting to feel like a veteran on slalom and getting there in giant slalom,” Shiffrin said. “But now that I’m starting to add more speed, I’m back to being the rookie again.”

MORE: Lindsey Vonn clarifies joke about J.J. Watt

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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