Mikaela Shiffrin gets first win of Olympic season in rout (video)

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KILLINGTON, Vt. — Mikaela Shiffrin reclaimed her slalom dominance, at least for one day, with her first win of the Olympic season on Sunday.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion routed the field in windy conditions with flurries falling at the East Coast resort.

Shiffrin, 22, led by .89 after the morning run and ended up 1.64 seconds ahead following the second and final afternoon run.

Shiffrin’s new rival, Slovakian Petra Vlhova, was second, followed by Austrian Bernadette Schild.

Full results are here.

Before this race, Shiffrin was beaten in consecutive slaloms by the same woman for the first time in nearly four years. That woman, Vlhova, is three months younger than the U.S. phenom.

Shiffrin also went winless in her first three races of a season for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign. Shiffrin did, though, notch runner-up finishes in two of those three, including Saturday’s giant slalom in Killington.

That augured success for her fourth race this fall in her trademark discipline Sunday.

Shiffrin didn’t disappoint, posting the fastest time in both runs, though she believed the wind aided her in the opening run.

Her margin of victory was the largest for any women’s World Cup race since Shiffrin won the March 2016 World Cup Finals slalom by 2.03 seconds.

“There’s definitely a bit of a relief feeling,” said Shiffrin, who was so nervous last season that she puked before races but has kept everything down in the Olympic season thus far. “When I ski really good slalom, it almost feels like I’m flying. I had a bit of that feeling both runs today.”

Shiffrin and Vlhova trained together for two sessions two weeks ago before the first World Cup slalom of the season in Finland.

It was unusual for Shiffrin to train with a woman who beat her in the last slalom of the previous season, but when she arrived at the venue two days before the race, Vlhova was already there.

So they went head-to-head. Sometimes, Shiffrin was faster. Others, Vlhova was faster.

“I was almost like a deer in the headlights because I hadn’t really felt one particular person who was really pushing me that hard like she was in those training sessions,” said Shiffrin, unequivocally the world’s best slalom skier for the last four years. “I see something different in her that it makes me want to be better, if that makes sense. Not just to win races, but to hold myself to a higher standard of skiing.”

Once they were done, Vlhova put her hand on Shiffrin’s shoulder and thanked her. Shiffrin was fuming before that, “because I hate training with anybody who’s even close to me.”

But the gesture forced Shiffrin to change.

“It’s like competing against Roger Federer, you want to hate him, but you can’t,” said Shiffrin, who hasn’t trained with Vlhova since (Vlhova’s coach reportedly takes video of Shiffrin for them to study so much that Shiffrin’s mom said that Vlhova “skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela.”). “That was really nice of [Vlhova] to say, but I still want to beat you.”

Vlhova went on to beat Shiffrin by one tenth of a second, overcoming Shiffrin’s lead of .21 after the first run.

“That’s what sort of set the tone,” Shiffrin said of those days in Finland. “It reminds me of how I like to work. Kudos to her, and I’m just going to try to do better.”

Vlhova gestured with her hand in a press conference after Sunday’s race. She held it level when speaking of Shiffrin. She waved it back and forth when talking about her own skiing.

“[Shiffrin is] like every race she goes without mistakes,” said Vlhova, who was in fifth place after a surprisingly slow first run Sunday morning. “This is maybe what I have to learn from Mikaela, that she goes like this and she’s always on the top.”

The World Cup moves to Lake Louise, Alberta, next weekend.

Shiffrin is expected to join Lindsey Vonn for two downhills and a super-G starting Friday.

Julia Mancuso, a medalist at each of the last three Olympics, is uncertain to race in what she hoped would be her first events since March 2015 following prolonged hip problems.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Killington Slalom
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 1:40.91
2. Petra Vlhova (SVK) — +1.64
3. Bernadette Schild (AUT) — +2.67
21. Resi Stiegler (USA) — +4.77

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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