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Mikaela Shiffrin’s streak ends with first DNF in 4 years

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin‘s seven-race winning streak in women’s World Cup slaloms came to end Tuesday, leaving the American one short of the record for most consecutive victories in the discipline.

But the Olympic champion was quick to consider the positives.

“I was never thinking about the streak in the beginning until people started talking about it,” Shiffrin said shortly after straddling a gate about 25 seconds into her first run. “To be honest it is a bit of a relief because nobody is going to talk about it anymore.”

It was the first time in more than four years that Shiffrin failed to finish a slalom race. Her previous DNF came in Semmering, Austria, in December 2012, one week after she had earned her first of 26 career victories.

With a win Tuesday, Shiffrin would have matched the best mark set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in 1988-89 and Croatian skier Janica Kostelic in 2000-01.

In total, Shiffrin had won the previous 12 slaloms she competed in, but missed five races because of a knee injury last season.

Slovakian Veronika Velez Zuzolova won by .24 over two runs over countrywoman Petra Vlhova. Czech Sarka Strachova was third. Velez Zuzulova, 32, became the second-oldest woman to win a World Cup slalom after the great Marlies Schild.

Two-time U.S. Olympian Resi Stiegler was seventh, her second-best World Cup result since 2007. Full results are here.

“It is what it is. Sometimes you don’t ski exactly the way you want to,” Shiffrin said. “I was trying to go forward but I got a little bit tentative in some sections and straddled.”

Never showing much interest in chasing records, Shiffrin still felt sorry about her early exit — though not for herself.

“It’s huge for U.S. ski racing to have somebody who has something like a big streak going on. People start to gain interest,” Shiffrin said. “But for me, I am not doing this for those records. I am doing this for myself. I try to find peace in my own heart. I am on my way there.”

Many of the top slalom skiers struggled on the Sljeme hill. Four out of the first eight starters failed to complete their runs as Swiss duo Wendy Holdener and Michelle Gisin also skied out, as did Nina Loeseth of Norway.

Shiffrin was 0.07 seconds off Velez Zuzulova’s leading time when the mishap occurred.

“Straddling is always your own mistake,” the American said. “Maybe something about the surface, a little bump here and there caught your edge. But in general, I feel like if I am skiing well, there is absolutely no reason I would have straddled. I only have myself to blame. Even with bumpy snow or a little bit of weird sunlight, it is my fault.”

The result won’t affect Shiffrin’s lead in the overall World Cup standings because her closest competitor, defending champion Lara Gut, usually sits out slaloms. Shiffrin leads the Swiss skier by 215 points.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”