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Mikaela Shiffrin chases higher goals as second Olympics approach

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After the finale of the 73-race World Cup Alpine skiing season in March, the winners of the men’s and women’s overall titles were brought together. They were handed crystal globe trophies and directed to pose for the cameras.

Those winners were Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who actually won crystal globes for the overall, giant slalom and slalom disciplines. And Mikaela Shiffrin, who took two crystal globes, for the overall and slalom.

It made for a very crowded photo shoot.

“He’s trying to juggle three different trophies,” Shiffrin (who actually learned to juggle and unicycle in elementary school) said in the spring, leading into this joke: “There’s nothing like standing next to Marcel Hirscher to make me feel like I didn’t do enough this season.”

She did plenty.

The Coloradoan clinched her first overall crown — the biggest annual prize in ski racing — four days after her 22nd birthday, making her the youngest champion in 14 years.

She became the fifth American to take the overall title since it was introduced in 1967 and won 11 of her 25 World Cup starts.

But Shiffrin always wants more.

In Sochi, in the early morning, bleary hours after becoming the youngest Olympic slalom champion, Shiffrin blurted out in a press conference that she dreamed of winning five gold medals in 2018.

She’s not retracting those words now. Five gold medals are certainly possible, though extremely improbable. The most gold medals any Alpine skier has won at a single Olympics is three.

“I believe in my ability, and I have a team around me that also believes in my ability, which allows me to stand behind that statement even if it was almost ignorant in a way,” Shiffrin said at a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.

The believers also included President Barack Obama, who embarrassed the skier by mentioning the five golds comment in front of more than 100 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the Team USA White House visit after the Sochi Winter Games.

“It’s not all supposed to be saying, like, undervaluing what the other athletes are able to do, because there are a couple of other athletes out there who also could win in five events,” Shiffrin said.

Realistically, Shiffrin does not see five individual golds in PyeongChang. She’s targeting three, maybe four events.

Slalom, where she can become the first man or woman to repeat as Olympic champion.

Giant slalom, where Shiffrin finished fifth in Sochi and improved to a silver medal at the world championships last February.

Super combined. Shiffrin did not race the combined in Sochi (one downhill run plus one slalom run) but won her first World Cup combined last season (albeit a super-G, rather than downhill, and slalom).

Super-G is a maybe. Shiffrin has never won a super-G but will race it in PyeongChang if she can make the four-woman U.S. team and feels comfortable.

Downhill is unlikely. Shiffrin raced her first two World Cup downhills last season but does not consider herself a speed racer. Plus, the U.S. team is loaded with accomplished women in the event — Lindsey VonnJulia MancusoLaurenne RossJackie Wiles and Stacey Cook. Only four starting spots are available.

“If I can compete in four events, it’s because I think I have shot to win a medal in four events,” Shiffrin said in Park City. “Five might be biting off too much even though I did go on record saying I want five gold medals, I want the world and the king of the universe and all those things last Olympics.”

The focus first is on the World Cup, which begins with the traditional season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, two weeks from Saturday.

It will be a key indicator for one of Shiffrin’s next short-term goals — to become best in the world in giant slalom. Last season, only Tessa Worley of France was better than Shiffrin.

If she can wrestle the crown away from Worley this fall and winter, and retain her slalom and overall titles, Shiffrin will be the one juggling three crystal globes at photo shoots.

Those World Cup trophies, earned through five months of results, are better indicators of superiority than Olympic medals. They’re also several pounds heavier.

“The Olympic gold, it’s a really big event, but that race in it of itself, one gold medal, just means the same thing as a World Cup [race] win,” Shiffrin said in the spring. “You’re the best for that day. And then the next day that could change.”

Shiffrin could become the first woman since Swede Anja Paerson in 2004 to win the overall, giant slalom and slalom World Cup titles in one year. If she achieves that, it might be on to the next goal.

“Right now my impossible is winning races in every event in a single season,” she said in the spring.

Four skiers have done that — wins in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and combined in one season — Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze.

“I’m chasing that,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.”

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MORE: Mikaela Shiffrin’s best season also brought the most anxiety

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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