Mikaela Shiffrin, powered by Instagram message, second in Killington (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin, after finishes of fifth, second and second in her first three races this season, an uplifting Instagram message and listening to Eminem all day — had this to say:

“I feel like I’m chasing a little bit,” she said after a runner-up in a World Cup giant slalom in Killington, Vt. “Today was definitely a better performance, but I still feel like I’m chasing, which is, actually, my favorite place to be because I feel less like I have to perform and more like I’m doing it for myself.”

That may seem unusual for the reigning World Cup overall champion, a 22-year-old who dominated slalom the last several years.

But Shiffrin is facing new challenges. She was beaten in her last two slaloms by Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who is three months younger.

On Saturday, German Viktoria Rebensburg won her second straight giant slalom. The 2010 Olympic GS champion also prevailed in the season’s first race in Soelden, Austria, in October, after going winless last season.

Shiffrin, the No. 2 GS skier in the world last season, ended up .67 of a second behind Rebensburg after two runs in front of some 18,000 people.

Rebensburg led by .26 over Shiffrin after the morning run and also had the fastest afternoon run by .32.

Shiffrin looked primed to vault into the lead when Rebensburg, the last skier to go, was halfway through her second run. Rebensburg’s advantage was trimmed to .08, but the veteran made up six tenths in the last 30 seconds.

Shiffrin was also second after the first run of the previous giant slalom last month. But she made an uncharacteristic mistake in her second run and dropped to fifth place, .74 behind the resurgent Rebensburg.

Knowing that, Shiffrin was pleased with Saturday’s runner-up that matched her result in the first World Cup slalom two weeks ago.

“I was excited to put some risk on the hill,” Shiffrin said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’ve done a lot of races where I’m second place or first place in the first run and then I ended up falling back to fifth or sixth or past that. So it was really nice to know that I had gone for it, and it paid off.”

Italian Manuela Moelgg was third, 1.49 seconds behind. Full results are here.

Shiffrin, who finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic giant slalom, improved to silver behind Tessa Worley of France at last season’s worlds. Worley was sixth Saturday.

Rebensburg, who at 28 is six years older than Shiffrin, is challenging for Olympic GS favorite. She was third in the Sochi Olympic GS, then took silver at the 2015 Worlds before going 19 months between wins.

Shiffrin is still looking for her first win of the season, but she speaks in high spirits after a 2016-17 campaign that brought anxiety and led her to work with a sports psychologist.

Before Saturday’s race, Shiffrin was boosted by a fan’s Instagram message.

“We’re not hear to watch you win,” she told Shiffrin. “We’re here to support you. We’re just here to watch ski racing. We’re so excited, so we hope you don’t feel pressure from us.

“I read this message,” Shiffrin continued. “I was like, that made me feel so much better. So, to the fans out there who are writing direct messages, I do read them. And thank you.”

The women contest a slalom Sunday in Killington (broadcast schedule here), an anticipated head-to-head between Shiffrin and Vlhova.

The Slovakian emerged as the biggest slalom threat to Shiffrin since the American displaced Austrian Marlies Schild in the year before the Sochi Winter Games.

“The last Olympics, it’s almost like I forgot the Olympics were that season until February rolled around,” said Shiffrin, who wore new boots for Saturday’s race. “I’m trying to actually peak almost every single weekend when I’m doing slalom, GS, super-G and some downhill. It’s less of trying to have a huge peak for the Olympics and just sort of trying to peak every single race. The Olympics is included in that, which makes it a little bit easier in a way. I don’t have just one goal for the Olympics this year. I have a lot of goals that are equally as important to me.”

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Killington Giant Slalom
1. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) — 1:57.63
2. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — .67
3. Manuela Moelgg (ITA) — 1.49
29. Megan McJames (USA) — 4.12

Lindsey Vonn makes first trip to Kitzbuehel, still feeling some sadness of retirement

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Lindsey Vonn is back on the Alpine skiing World Cup tour this weekend, but not as a racer.

Vonn, who retired last year, is a spectator (and course inspector) at the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria, home to the biggest annual men’s race in the sport (full TV, live stream schedule here).

It’s her first time watching competition in person since a career’s worth of injuries forced her to retire last winter, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record total of 86.

“I feel like skiing is like a bad break-up, so I need to keep some distance and some space,” she said, according to sponsor Red Bull. “And I’m slowly getting back into watching it. It’s hard, because every time I watch it, it reminds me of what I’m missing. I find it easier to watch the men’s races obviously than the women’s, but of course I’m always cheering for my teammates and watching girls coming back from injury who’ve had a hard time.

“I kind of need some space still. But, as time goes on, I’ll be able to be more involved and it will be less painful for me, and I can kind of start to build a new relationship with ski racing.”

Vonn was a special guest at the podium presentation of Friday’s super-G won by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who like Vonn came back from major knee injuries to return to an Olympic podium.

Vonn long harbored ambitions of racing against men, but it never came to fruition, at least in part due to the International Ski Federation never signing off. In 2012, she was quoted saying she wanted to race at Kitzbuehel, the most challenging track on the men’s circuit.

“Before I was injured, I really wish I would have at least got a chance to ski down it,” she said this week. “I wouldn’t even mind if I had raced, but it would have been cool for me to one time go down it with a race suit on and see what it’s like. Being here as a spectator, I’m so jealous of the men.”

While Vonn keeps busy in retirement, including wedding planning with fiance P.K. Subban, emotional pain remains from being off the ski circuit.

“It’s not really about letting go as much as just not being able to do what I love anymore,” she said. “That’s like a bad break-up where I just miss it, and wish I could still do it, but physically I wasn’t able to, and it’s a hard reality to accept. No matter how many business deals I make or companies I start, it’s never going to replace the adrenaline and the speed and the thrill of ski racing.

“It’s something I have to learn to live with ,and I just thought it would be a little easier than it was, but when you wake up and your world’s totally different and the reality sinks in, it just makes you sad sometimes.”

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Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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