Mikaela Shiffrin wins first downhill; Lindsey Vonn 12th (video)

Leave a comment

Mikaela Shiffrin owned Lake Lindsey on Saturday.

Shiffrin won her first World Cup downhill in her fourth career start in the discipline, while a sore Lindsey Vonn was 12th in Lake Louise, Alberta.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion racing her least comfortable discipline, clocked 1:27.55 and won by .13 over German Viktoria Rebensburg.

“I’m not under the impression that, like, I can just go in and win downhills now,” said Shiffrin, adding that she plans to skip the next two World Cup downhills and the Olympic downhill. “Maybe on courses where I have a little experience and if I have some luck with the lighting.”

Vonn, who owns a record 18 wins at Lake Louise (leading fans to name it after her), was .93 behind, one day after crashing en route to a possible 78th World Cup win. She shrugged after crossing the finish line.

“I had a hard time trusting my [right] knee today,” Vonn, whose right knee surgeries forced her to miss the 2014 Olympics, said, according to media in Lake Louise. “It’s definitely pretty swollen and wasn’t very happy with me. I’ll go ice it now, and hopefully it settles down a little bit more.”

Full results are here.

The race start was pushed back 75 minutes after a power outage stranded skiers on the chair lift for about 45 minutes (including Shiffrin and Vonn). The start was also moved down, which Shiffrin believed played to her advantage.

The victory wasn’t a complete shock.

That’s largely because the 22-year-old was third in Friday’s downhill at the same venue, her first podium finish in the discipline.

“I felt Lake Louise was a really good opportunity for me just because I have some experience on the track,” said Shiffrin, who is racing at the Canadian resort for a third straight season. “I wasn’t planning to win, but I was planning to come here and do my best, see what happened.”

Shiffrin has 33 World Cup victories — 27 in slalom, four in giant slalom and one each in super combined and downhill.

She is an Olympic gold favorite in slalom, a medal favorite in giant slalom and would be a contender in downhill, super-G and super combined. One Alpine skier captured four medals at one Olympics — Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2002.

But Shiffrin said after Saturday’s win that she probably will not race the Olympic downhill in three months. Racing all five individual events at the Olympics might be “a little ambitious.”

She doesn’t plan on racing either of the next two World Cup downhills (Dec. 16 in France and Jan. 13 in Austria). The focus remains on her favored slalom and giant slalom.

“We’ll just play it by ear,” she said of racing more downhills later in the season (all four of her World Cup downhill starts have come at Lake Louise). “I have a good balance. It’s sort of like dangling candy in front of a baby when I feel like I have a chance to make real waves in speed [events].”

Shiffrin’s stock can rise higher with a strong finish in Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise (1 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA). Shiffrin can become the seventh woman to notch World Cup wins in every discipline (Vonn has done this).

Shiffrin openly expresses hesitation about racing the fastest and riskiest discipline of downhill.

She flirted with danger early in Saturday’s run, bobbling her outside ski in an area where teammate Breezy Johnson later crashed.

“I took some risk,” Shiffrin said. “I had a pretty close, almost run-in with the fence.”

She recovered to become the first U.S. woman not named Vonn to win a World Cup speed race (downhill or super-G) in more than four years.

In that span, Vonn won 18 speed races.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Lake Louise Downhill
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 1:27.55
2. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) — +.13
3. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +.17
6. Stacey Cook (USA) — +.61
12. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — +.93
23. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) — +1.45
35. Alice McKennis (USA) — +2.02
37. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.20
DNF. Breezy Johnson (USA)

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

Carreira and Ponomarenko
Getty Images
Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 19, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

women's soccer
Getty Images
Leave a comment

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!