Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin
Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin come to World Championships from different places

Leave a comment

For two skiers so often linked, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are rarely in the same place. That will be the case again at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, these next two weeks.

Vonn, the winningest woman in World Cup history, competes at her seventh Worlds as one of the oldest medal contenders at age 32, after completing another cycle of crashes and injuries followed by a return to the top of the World Cup podium in the last year.

She will race the super-G on Tuesday, then the super combined on Friday and the downhill on Sunday.

“My goals are definitely to try to get medals, hopefully two,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “In downhill and super-G, I have a good chance at getting medals, especially in downhill.”

She will figuratively pass the baton to Shiffrin for week two in St. Moritz.

In her third worlds, Shiffrin will skip the first week’s speed events and race the giant slalom on Feb. 16 and slalom Feb. 18. She could become the second woman to win three straight world slalom titles and, given she has won multiple World Cup races in both disciplines this season, the first woman in 20 years to sweep the GS and slalom at one worlds.

Though Shiffrin dabbles in downhill and super-G on the World Cup — finishing a career-high fourth in her most recent super-G — the 21-year-old who shares Vonn’s hometown of Vail, Colo., is not ready to expand her championships schedule quite yet.

“Is it about going for as many medals as you can, or is it about taking advantage of your best events and trying to have the best chance of winning a medal in those events?” Shiffrin said in a phone interview last week. “Right now, I’m going with the latter because I just don’t think that I have quite enough experience in speed to be able to count on winning a medal in those events yet. But by the time we go to South Korea next year, maybe I could.”

WORLDS: TV schedule | Five men to watch | Five women to watch

Though the worlds schedule calls to focus on Vonn before Shiffrin, the results of the past year say otherwise.

Shiffrin is the world’s best female skier by virtue of leading the World Cup overall standings through 26 of 37 races this season. She has won 11 World Cup races in the last 365 days, the most of any man or woman, including her first two outright giant slalom wins plus that fourth place in a super-G. Shiffrin could become the third U.S. woman to take the overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, after Tamara McKinney and Vonn (who did it four times).

Shiffrin is rounding into the all-around skier so many imagined she would turn into by the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Remember that in Sochi, Shiffrin had the exact same schedule she’ll have in St. Moritz — giant slalom and slalom.

About 13 hours after becoming the youngest Olympic slalom champion, Shiffrin blurted in a press conference in Sochi that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in four years’ time, sweeping all five Olympic Alpine events (no skier has ever won four).

The 18-year-old was running on two hours of sleep and immediately regretted revealing it. The dream did happen, but she didn’t want to sound arrogant.

Shiffrin doesn’t think it’s an unattainable dream — “I feel like a lot of people don’t stretch those boundaries. … I’m trying to show people what’s not impossible,” she said six months later — and neither did President Obama.

“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama directed at Shiffrin in a White House address in front of the Olympic team in March 2014. “Go for it.”

One might think that since Shiffrin is only racing giant slalom and slalom at worlds, she is not in position to try for five gold medals in PyeongChang. Shiffrin has only raced two World Cup downhills, both this season, with a best finish of 13th.

The U.S. women will get four spots in the PyeongChang downhill. Only two — Vonn and Jackie Wiles — have finished in the top five of a downhill this season. It would not take much more improvement for Shiffrin to earn an Olympic downhill start.

Shiffrin notes that the Olympic venue is an equalizer. It is not in a traditional skiing hotbed. The women’s World Cup tour gets its first visit to PyeongChang next month.

“[Next year] I might be in a position where I can at least be in contention for medals in giant slalom, slalom, combined, super-G and maybe even downhill, only because nobody’s ever skied on that track before,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin and Vonn are both looking at goals beyond the World Championships and the Olympics. For Shiffrin, it’s that World Cup overall title. She was originally planning to skip the World Cup stop after the World Championships and head over to South Korea early to familiarize with the Olympic venue.

But now, with a considerable-but-not-comfortable 180-point lead in the standings, she will race two super combineds and a super-G in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, the week after worlds.

“Some things are starting to fall into place. I’m starting to think that it might actually be possible to win the overall,” said Shiffrin, who spent the fall and early winter stressing to media that she wasn’t focused on the title but rather perfecting her slalom and giant slalom.

She’s never made a World Cup podium in either discipline on the Crans-Montana schedule. If Shiffrin wants to start all five individual races in PyeongChang, she might prove she deserves those spots in Crans-Montana.

Then there is Vonn, whose current line is that the most important of her three remaining career goals is to break the World Cup career wins record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

The other goals, less important, are to win Olympic gold in PyeongChang after missing Sochi due to knee injuries, and to become the first woman in a men’s World Cup race some time after the 2018 Winter Games.

“Ingemar’s record is something that would be remembered more in the history of skiing than anything else,” Vonn told media in St. Moritz.

Vonn is at 77 wins, nine shy of Stenmark. She will not catch the Swede this season but will next year if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual rate. Neither is certain given her detailed history of crashes and her age.

At the last World Cup stop, Vonn crashed in the same place in a training run and in the downhill race. Then she skied conservatively in the next day’s super-G. She says confidence going into Tuesday’s super-G in St. Moritz is not at her highest, but it won’t affect the way she races.

“The only thing that matters is the medals,” she said. “I’m either going to win, or I’m going to go [crash] out.”

Four years ago, Vonn crashed out of worlds in the super-G and would end up missing the Sochi Olympics. Four years ago, Shiffrin became the youngest world champion in 28 years, setting herself up to win at the Sochi Olympics.

Two years ago, Vonn tearfully left worlds in Vail with a single bronze medal and vowed her next goal would be to reclaim the World Cup overall title. That never happened, and after more crashes, Vonn has narrowed her focus to downhill and super-G and given up hope of contending for an overall title ever again.

Two years ago, Shiffrin repeated as world slalom champion in Vail. She has since become the overall leader.

Vonn and Shiffrin come to St. Moritz from different places. They’ve competed in the same race once in the last 11 months and are not often in the same training circles given their focuses on different events.

“I think she’s going to be a big character, a big personality on the World Cup for a long time,” Vonn said of Shiffrin.

They had one deep conversation, over hot cocoa two summers ago. From that chat, Shiffrin most remembers, respects and has learned from Vonn’s philosophy on competing against countrywomen and teammates.

“She said, yeah, we’re all friends, we have dinner, we hang out and laugh, and it’s awesome,” Shiffrin said. “But, at the end of the day, I go back to my room, I take care of my own stuff, and I do my job in order to have success.”

MORE: Vonn develops friendship with young skier battling cancer

Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars

Noah Lyles, Michael Norman
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Noah Lyles remembers all of it. Michael Norman is a little hazy on the details.

Even if they compete in different sprints (as they are at this week’s USATF Outdoor Championships), Lyles and Norman will always be linked by the 2016 Olympic Trials 200m final.

Both 18-year-olds. Both racing in high school singlets. Neither was expected to contend for the U.S. Olympic team at the start of the 10-day meet. But each won his 200m semifinal at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus two years ago.

The next day, the top three men in the 200m final would make the U.S. Olympic team. Lyles and Norman conversed in the call room before the race.

“Talking about how we were just doing this last year,” Lyles said, referencing his 200m win over Norman in the 2015 U.S. Junior Championships, also at Hayward. “I can’t believe we’re here, high schoolers, trying to bring a whole new generation.”

They entered the stadium.

“I remember walking down the track,” Lyles continued. “I can’t remember which race was going on, but I remember seeing Galen Rupp there, so it had to be the 5000m [it was, and perhaps the greatest race of the meet]. I remember everybody going wild for the distance race. All the people slamming on the front of the stands. Just starting to get hyped.”

Norman settled in lane six. Lyles in lane four. The starter’s gun fired.

“I remember running at the end,” Lyles said. “I had no idea what place I was in. I just saw LaShawn [Merritt] and Justin [Gatlin, a pair of Olympic champions] in front of me. That’s all that I saw, so I was really hoping I got third.”

Lyles didn’t see Ameer Webb in lane seven. Webb got third in 20.00 behind Gatlin and Merritt. Lyles was fourth in 20.09 (a national high school record). Norman was fifth in 20.14 (personal best).

Lyles and Norman just missed becoming the youngest U.S. man to make an Olympic track and field team in 32 years. Both left Eugene satisfied, though.

“That would be the only opportunity that both me and Noah Lyles will be able to go into the Olympic Trials with zero expectations and zero pressure,” Norman said this week.

Lyles and Norman are already U.S. Championships headliners at the midpoint of this Olympic cycle. Part of that is due to the absences of Gatlin, Merritt and Christian Coleman. But also what Lyles and Norman have done since those Olympic Trials.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Lyles is a co-favorite in Friday’s 100m, a complementary event for a man who signed a reported eight-year contract with Adidas shortly after the Olympic Trials.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Lyles is the son of Seton Hall track and field athletes. His first Olympic memory is watching Usain Bolt‘s record-breaking performances at the 2008 Beijing Games. He ran in R2-D2 socks on May 4, is a sneaker artist, dancer and Lego lover and apparently has “ICON” tattooed on his side.

Since Olympic Trials, Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races. He broke 20 seconds in May 2017 but suffered a hamstring tear during that race and withdrew during the U.S. Championships the next month. He watched the August world championships from his Florida home, then beat the surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev at the Diamond League final three weeks later.

This year, Lyles set personal bests in the 100m (9.93, .02 off the fastest in the world this year) and 200m (19.69, tied for fastest in the world this year) and ran the fastest indoor 300m of all time.

Norman is expected to win Sunday’s 200m in his first meet since announcing he would turn professional after the NCAA Championships. Norman is forgoing his final two years at the University of Southern California.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Norman also has former college runners as parents. His dad went to Ball State, then transferred to a junior college before joining the Navy. His mom said she was once the fastest Japanese middle school 100m runner of all time. Norman has no evidence, but he has seen pictures.

Like Lyles, Norman’s first Olympic memory was Bolt in 2008. He races in a headband after being inspired by 2015 World 100m bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell. Norman has “22” in his social media handles because it shares a keyboard piece with the @ symbol.

Norman was also slowed by injuries in that post-Olympic Trials season as he became primarily a 400m runner at USC.

Shin splints. A stress reaction in his back. A hamstring strain that he reinjured in practice five weeks later. Norman did compete at the 2017 U.S. Championships, but not at full fitness, and finished seventh, missing the world championships 4x400m pool by one spot. He said this week is about “self redemption.”

Norman’s sophomore year at USC was a healthy one. Norman broke the 400m indoor record on March 10. He has taken .99 of a second off his outdoor 400m personal best, winning the NCAA title in 43.61. That’s the fastest time in the world since Wayde van Niekerk‘s world record 43.03 at the Rio Olympics. Norman is now the sixth-fastest 400m runner ever.

“I see myself as both a 200m and 400m runner,” said Norman, who hasn’t raced the 200m at a significant meet since winning the world U20 title two weeks after the Olympic Trials.

Norman and Lyles chose to room together at the 2016 World U20 Championships in Poland. They joked who would be put on the 4x400m relay (Norman led off, Lyles anchored, and the U.S. beat Japan by .08). Unlike trials, Norman has a better memory of the experience.

“Before [Lyles] raced his 100m final, he was talking to a sports psychologist,” he said. “I didn’t really know that people did that.”

Norman also remembers that Lyles is 2-0 in their all-time head to head. They could have raced this week, but Lyles chose the 100m. They are both entered in a 200m at a Diamond League meet in Lausanne on July 5.

“That’s one of my huge goals for the year, race Noah Lyles,” Norman said at the Olympic Trials.

They haven’t raced against each other since that day in Eugene. Norman had a dry-erase board at his USC dorm room on which he scribbled goals,. Though he never wrote anything about Lyles, he is certainly looking forward to their next meeting.

“It brings some more light to the sport, having rivalries like this may pique other people’s interest,” said Norman, who has gone about a year without ice cream but will indulge a Baked Bear double-decker ice-cream sandwich at the end of the season. “As long as it doesn’t become a negative, where we’re not conversing or being friendly, it will be beneficial to track and both of our careers.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt’s Olympic spikes stolen

Five men’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The featured men’s events at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships have a bit of everything.

Dominance from Olympic medalists Ryan Crouser (shot put) and Paul Chelimo (5000m). Promise in the form of Noah Lyles (100m), Michael Norman (200m) and Grant Holloway (110m hurdles). Overcoming adversity — Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) and Clayton Murphy (800m).

A Lyles-Norman showdown in the 200m would have enough spice to headline this meet on its own, but Lyles decided against the double. That enhances the likelihood that the biggest story in Des Moines could come from one of many events on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

There is no Olympic or world championships team to qualify for this year, which is why established stars like Justin GatlinChristian Coleman and LaShawn Merritt are out.

But their absences could yield the emergence of first-time national champions. Just look at 2014, when that list included Tianna BartolettaKori CarterJeff HendersonSam Kendricks and Joe Kovacs, all of whom have since won Olympic or world titles.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Five men’s events to watch this week:

100m (Final — Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBC Sports Gold)
World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are missing, but two more impressive sprinters this outdoor season go head-to-head. Noah Lyles, who finished fourth in the 200m at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18 and is since undefeated in that event, drops down for his first 100m at a major meet as a professional. Lyles has the joint-fastest 200m in the world this year. He chose the 100m this week for two reasons — he can improve more in the 100m than the 200m over three rounds and to try something different given his race schedule the rest of the summer is tailored for the 200m. Lyles is forgoing a matchup with Michael Norman in the 200m this week, but he should have his hands full with Ronnie Baker. Baker, who grew up running cross-country and avoiding the moose in Alaska, has been the most impressive American in the 100m this year. Baker beat a slightly injured Coleman at consecutive Diamond League meets in May and, with favorable wind, should improve on his personal best of 9.93 and overtake the fastest time in the world this year (Zharnel Hughes‘ 9.91). As should Lyles, who also has a personal best of 9.93.

Shot Put (Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports Gold)
All four men from Rio and the 2017 Worlds are here, including Olympic gold and silver medalists Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs. Crouser, whose father, two uncles and two cousins were elite throwers, has won 13 of his last 14 head-to-heads with Kovacs, who was taught to throw by his mom in his Pennsylvania high-school parking lot. Crouser also won his last 13 of 14 head-to-heads with Rio Olympian Darrell Hill, according to Tilastopaja.org. Crouser also has the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws in 2018 competition, according to Tilastopaja.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 5:40 p.m. ET, NBC)
Is Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz vulnerable? He was upset at nationals last year by Robby Andrews. Centrowitz revealed afterward that he competed on 10 days of training after a series of health problems that included an emergency-room visit with a viral infection. Then at worlds, a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat and said he was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season. The 28-year-old heads into Des Moines ranked behind Andrews and Johnny Gregorek on best times this season. At last month’s Pre Classic, Centrowitz was beaten by a countryman (Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, not racing the 1500m this week) at a major race at Hayward Field for the first time in five years.

800m (Final — Sunday, 4:13 p.m. ET, NBC)
Maybe the deepest field at nationals. The six fastest Americans since the start of 2016 are here. Clayton Murphy took bronze at the Rio Olympics but withdrew during 2017 Nationals with sore hamstrings and missed worlds. Boris Berian went from flipping burgers at McDonald’s to winning the 2016 World Indoor title and placing second at the Olympic Trials. He didn’t race at all in 2017 (Achilles) and ranks 186th in the U.S. this year. Donavan Brazier won the 2017 U.S. title and 2018 U.S. Indoor title at age 20 but hasn’t raced outdoors this year. Drew Windle took silver at world indoors on March 3. NCAA champion Isaiah Harris and Erik Sowinski are the fastest Americans this outdoor season.

110m Hurdles (Final — Sunday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
An intergenerational group with 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt, 2016 Olympic Trials winner Devon Allen and Grant Holloway, a rising University of Florida junior who won all four NCAA hurdles titles his first two years and ranks second in the world this season. Merritt underwent a kidney transplant in 2015, then missed the 2016 Olympic team by .01 and missed a national title in 2017 by .07 behind Aleec Harris (who is also in this field). Allen, the former University of Oregon wide receiver, looked primed to break 13 seconds after he won the trials in 13.03, but that remains his personal best. Holloway clocked his personal best of 13.15 on May 13 and is the only American to break 13.20 this year. It’s been nearly three years since an American broke 13 seconds, the longest drought in more than two decades.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Usain Bolt’s Olympic spikes stolen