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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

Top prospects, WNBA rookies make statement in World Beach Games 3×3 hoops

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Before No. 1 high school basketball prospect Paige Bueckers starts her career at Connecticut — or before she even graduates from high school — she is taking some time to help the U.S. women’s 3×3 team make a late charge in the world rankings before next year’s Olympics.

On the beachside court at Qatar’s Katara Beach, the 19th-ranked U.S. women opened the World Beach Games with a couple of routs over the Dominican Republic (22-5) and Jordan (22-4), clinching a spot in the knockout rounds.

Top-ranked Russia should have provided tougher competition Tuesday, with the group win and a better seed in the playoffs at stake, but the U.S. rolled to a 22-3 win.

The U.S. women are currently ranked 19th, but check back as the rankings change daily. The rankings require a bit of calculus, but in general, they reward not just results but participation, a disadvantage for North American teams that don’t have as many international events within easy traveling distance.

Their effort in Qatar won’t be enough to climb into the top three to take one of the automatic Olympic qualifying spots by the Nov. 1 deadline, but they should easily have enough points to reach the qualifying tournament in March.

In last year’s 3×3 World Cup, the U.S. women also defeated Russia 21-13 in pool play but dropped a 17-14 decision to Italy in the quarterfinals. Ruthy Hebard, a University of Oregon forward from Alaska who is projected as a top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, is the sole carry-over from that team to this year’s World Beach Games team. Hebard and Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu, who is not playing in Qatar, were on the U.S. team that took gold at the Pan Am Games this summer.

Two of Hebard’s teammates in Qatar, Jackie Young and Napheesa Collier, have just finished their rookie seasons in the WNBA. Collier, the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year with the Minnesota Lynx, has plenty of international experience, including a win in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. Young, who is making her international debut, was the top pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft and led the Las Vegas Aces with 4.5 assists per game in her rookier year.

Bueckers, who will turn 18 next week, has already helped U.S. teams win three gold medals in youth full-court tournaments 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup, the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship plus 3×3 gold at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. She was MVP of the U19 World Cup earlier this year.

The team had a balanced attack in its first two games, with Hebard and Collier each averaging 6 points per game under 3×3’s unique scoring system 1 point for a field goal inside the arc, 2 points for a shot beyond the arc, and 1 point for a free throw. Bueckers hit 4 of 8 2-pointers in the first two games and averaged 5.5 points, and Young chipped in 4.5 per game.

Young took charge against Russia, hitting 7-of-14 1-point shots and two free throws for 9 points. Collier had 6 points, including a 2-pointer. Bueckers hit two shots from beyond the arc for 4 points, and Hebard added 3 on 1-point shots. The team’s defense held Russia to 14% shooting.

The U.S. did not enter the men’s 3×3 competition in Qatar. The men are already guaranteed a spot in next year’s Olympic qualifying event.

Elsewhere at the World Beach Games:

  • Daniela Moroz won the women’s kitefoil racing event, Guenther Oka and Jamie Lopina each took bronze in wakeboarding, and Gakuji Tozaki earned bronze in the karate kata event, which is now an Olympic event.
  • The U.S. women’s beach soccer team, which just completed its first-ever training camp, finished 1-2 in pool play.
  • In 4×4 beach volleyball, the U.S. women have advanced to the final, while the U.S. men will play in the semifinals.

STREAMING: World Beach Games on OlympicChannel.com

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Chinese swimmer Sun Yang gets rare open hearing in doping case

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The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said Monday it will hear the World Anti-Doping Agency’s case against three-time Olympic gold medalist Sun Yang on Nov. 15 in front of reporters — possibly even live-streamed — at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace in Montreux, Switzerland.

The hearing won’t be completely open. Registration will be required, and photographers and videographers “will be invited to leave the hearing room after the opening,” CAS said in a statement. But those outside the room may still get a glimpse of the proceedings.

“With the agreement of all parties, it is intended to live stream all or parts of the hearing on the CAS website,” CAS said.

CAS noted that it has only held one prior hearing that wasn’t in a private setting — the 1999 case involving Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, who won three gold medals in the 1996 Olympics but was banned for four years for tampering with a urine sample, a case that still prompts soul-searching in the Irish media. De Bruin lost the appeal.

Sun is accused of smashing a vial of blood at a drug test last fall. FINA allowed him to continue to compete, but the WADA has appealed, seeking a substantial suspension.

The Chinese swimmer won two gold medals at the world championships this summer and snubbed by some rivals at each medal ceremony, leading to a confrontation with British swimmer Duncan Scott.

RECAP AND VIDEO: Sun taunts Scott after medal ceremony

Sun has won 11 world individual titles in several freestyle distances but also has a long history of controversies ranging from a prior positive drug test and confrontations with other swimmers.

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