Mikaela Shiffrin takes silver in worlds giant slalom

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Two years ago, Mikaela Shiffrin believed she would probably never earn a world championships medal in the giant slalom.

On Thursday, she took silver with the fastest second run in the field in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where she had failed to complete a GS in three previous World Cup stops in 2012, 2013 and 2016.

Shiffrin finished .34 behind French world champion Tessa Worley after two runs. Italian Sofia Goggia earned bronze.

Full Results | Race Replay

Shiffrin earned the first U.S. medal in the event since Julia Mancuso‘s bronze in 2005. The last American to win the world championships giant slalom was Diann Roffe in 1985.

It bodes well as Shiffrin goes for her third straight world title in the slalom on Saturday (3:45 and 7 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live), where she is a heavy favorite.

Shiffrin has won just about every major slalom crown the last four years, all the while steadily improving in giant slalom. However, Shiffrin experienced a setback at the 2015 World Championships near her home in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

She was 13th in the first giant slalom run there and ended up eighth overall. She had been sixth in the 2013 Worlds giant slalom (at age 17) and fifth at the 2014 Olympics.

“If you asked me in Beaver Creek at world championships if I would ever medal in a GS, I was so far out in my skiing, I was so mad about my skiing that I probably would have said no,” Shiffrin said Thursday. “Two years later, here I am.”

Shiffrin was in third place after the first run in the morning, .72 behind the pre-race favorite Worley and .24 back of Goggia. She said she felt tentative, thinking about spots on the course where she had fallen in years’ past.

“I left something out on the hill,” Shiffrin said on NBCSN.

Shiffrin, known for taking naps between her first and second runs, couldn’t take her mind off being in medal position in the four hours between runs Thursday.

“You don’t want to lose this chance, it’s right there,” Shiffrin said she thought to herself. “I tried to think of it like a completely new run, just to see if I could win the run.”

She did, two tenths faster than anybody else. Worley, the last skier to go, erred early in her descent but had enough cushion to hang on for her second world title in the GS. The Frenchwoman, who barely eclipses 5 feet tall, won the 2013 World title but missed the Sochi Olympics with a torn ACL.

Shiffrin tacks her world medal onto her three career World Cup giant slalom victories, to go along with her 25 World Cup slalom wins. Shiffrin is also poised to win this season’s World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Not bad for a 21-year-old.

“I don’t really feel like a star,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit clueless about that. When people say it, it feels like they’re talking about somebody else.”

A total of 98 skiers entered Thursday’s race, the last being 37-year-old Haitian Celine Marti, who was 41.37 seconds behind after the first run, failing to qualify for the second run.

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Pole vaulter, 84, sets her sights on more records

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — An 84-year-old pole vaulter isn’t putting her pole down anytime soon.

Flo Filion Meiler left Thursday for the World Masters Athletics Championship Indoor in Poland, where she’ll compete in events including the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, pentathlon and pole vault, for which she’s the shoo-in.

The petite, energetic woman from Shelburne, Vermont, said she feels more like 70 than nearly 85.

“But you know, I do train five days a week. And when I found out I was going to compete at the worlds, I’ve been training six days a week because I knew I would really get my body in shape,” she said last week, after track and field training at the University of Vermont.

But she literally won’t have any competition in the pole vault in the championships, which runs March 24-31 in Torun, Poland. She is the only one registered in her age group, 80-84, for the sport, for which she set a world record at age 80. In the men’s pole vault, nine men are listed as competing in that age group.

Meiler said she the events she likes the best are the hurdles and the pole vault – one of the more daring track and field events, in which competitors run while carrying a fiberglass or composite pole, brace it against the ground to launch themselves over a high bar, and land on a mat.

“You really have to work at that,” she said. “You have to have the upper core and you have to have timing, and I just love it because it’s challenging.”

Meiler is used to hard work. She grew up on a dairy farm, where she helped her father with the chores, feeding the cattle and raking hay. In school, she did well at basketball, took tap and ballroom dancing, and, living near Lake Champlain, she water skied.

Meiler, who worked for 30 years as a sales representative for Herbalife nutritional supplements, and her husband, Eugene, who was a military pilot and then became a financial analyst, together competed in water skiing.

“Many times when I did water ski competition I was the only gal in my age group,” she said.

She’s a relative newcomer to pole vaulting and track and field, overall. At age 60, she was competing in doubles tennis with her husband in a qualifying year at the Vermont Senior Games when a friend encouraged her to try the long jump because competitors were needed.

“That was the beginning of my track career,” she said, standing in a room of her home, surrounded by hundreds of hanging medals. She took up pole vaulting at 65.

Athletics has helped her though some hard times, she said. She and her husband adopted three children after losing two premature biological babies and a 3-year-old. Two years ago, their son died at age 51.

And she desperately misses her training partner, a woman who started having health problems about five years ago and can no longer train. It’s tough to train alone, she said, and she hopes to find a new partner.

“She’s incredibly serious about what she does,” said Meiler’s coach, Emmaline Berg. “She comes in early to make sure she’s warmed up enough. She goes home and stretches a lot. So she pretty much structures her entire life around being a fantastic athlete, which is remarkable at any age, let alone hers.”

And it has paid off, said Berg, an assistant track coach at Vermont.

Berg herself first started following Meiler 10 years ago while she was a student at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, watching her at the annual Dartmouth Relays.

“She was like a local celebrity,” she said.

Setting a record at age 80 with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) pole vault at the USA Track and Field Adirondack Championships in Albany, New York, while her husband watched, Meiler said, was one of her happiest days.

“I was screaming, I was so happy,” she said.

The overall world record for women’s pole vaulting is 16.6 feet (5.6 meters), according to the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Meiler turns 85 in June, when she’ll head to the National Senior Games in New Mexico.

That will put her in a new age group, in which she hopes to set even more records.

Meiler’s athletic achievements are remarkable and something to be celebrated, said Dr. Michael LaMantia, director of the University of Vermont Center on Aging.

Pole vaulting clearly isn’t for everyone of her age, but in general, activity should be, LaMantia said.

“She can serve as a role model for other seniors,” he said.

Amateur boxing president steps aside during IOC inquiry

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — With Olympic boxing under investigation by the IOC, the president of the sport’s governing body said on Friday he was stepping aside to let an interim leader take charge.

Gafur Rakhimov sai d he was not resigning as AIBA president, however, and did not call for new elections.

Rakhimov’s status on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list as an alleged heroin trafficker is part of an inquiry by an International Olympic Committee-appointed panel.

The panel will update the IOC executive board next week in Lausanne, Switzerland. AIBA could be derecognized by IOC members in June.

The IOC halted planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic boxing tournaments and blocked AIBA officials from contacting organizers in Japan.

“The allegations against me were fabricated and based on politically motivated lies,” Rakhimov said. “I trust that the truth will prevail. Nevertheless, I have always said that I would never put myself above boxing, and as president, I have a duty to do everything in my power to serve our sport and our athletes.”

Under AIBA statutes, an interim president is picked from among the five vice-presidents, who include several Rakhimov supporters. The executive committee is due to meet by telephone this weekend. The interim leader can serve only a maximum 365 days before fresh elections, however, meaning that arrangement can’t last through to the Tokyo Olympics.

When Rakhimov was elected last year, his supporters pushed for a plan to allow the president to step aside while still retaining key influence and being able to return at any time, but that was defeated.

It’s not clear if Rakhimov’s departure would be enough to calm the IOC, which has also criticized AIBA over how fights are judged, anti-doping measures, and its debts.

The IOC could try to host an Olympic boxing tournament without AIBA, and some national boxing officials have tried to form a group which could help the IOC stage the event.