Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance rarely seen in sports, let alone skiing

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Of Mikaela Shiffrin‘s incredible current streak — eight wins in nine World Cup races — perhaps Saturday’s giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, stands out the most.

The 22-year-old caught an illness that affected other racers on the circuit. She vomited several times before winning that race, NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said.

That wasn’t her only obstacle that day.

“It was set like a downhill,” Porino said of the second-run course set by a Swiss coach. Shiffrin was 21st-fastest of 30 skiers in the second run but won thanks to a .86 lead from the first run.

“It was all the things that she hates,” said Porino, a U.S. national team skier in the 1980s and ’90s. “All the things that was her kryptonite. Softer snow. Rough conditions. [Bad] light. 200 miles per hour. That’s not where she separates herself from the field. She still hung on to win. That particular race, to me, was wow. She is willing to accept the level of risk that I have not seen from her before.”

Before this streak began last month, Shiffrin was already the world’s best slalom skier. Already the reigning World Cup overall champion, the title associated with the best all-around skier.

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If the streak taught us anything, it’s that she has mastered her nerves, Porino said.

This was a problem last season, when Shiffrin revealed she threw up before several races (not because of sickness like last week but anxiety which led her to see a sports psychologist for the first time).

“I would always contend, based on not seeing it myself but talking to coaches, that she was so much faster in training than she was in race day, which is not something everyone wanted to talk about because she was winning anyway,” Porino said. “That component of nerves is part of every major victory she’s had, with the possible exception of the Olympic Games [in 2014].

“There’s a looseness to her skiing [now] that is particularly evident in giant slalom.”

Back to the streak. It begs the question — who are today’s most dominant athletes?

Look no further than men’s Alpine skiing for one of the best.

Austrian Marcel Hirscher has won six straight World Cup overall titles and might be peaking this season. He’s won seven of his last 10 World Cup starts despite breaking his left ankle in preseason training Aug. 17. Like Shiffrin, he is a slalom/giant slalom specialist who rarely starts downhill or super-G.

In other winter sports: Canadian Mikael Kingsbury has won 12 straight World Cup moguls events dating to last January.

Japanese speed skater Nao Kodaira (in the 500m) and Russian figure skater Yevgenia Medvedeva haven’t lost in the last two seasons.

MORE: Everything to know about Mikaela Shiffrin

Expand it even more.

Katie Ledecky. Boxer Claressa Shields (78-1). Ronaldo (four of the last five FIFA Player of the Year Awards). UFC pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson hasn’t lost in nearly six years.

Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk has won 42 straight finals dating to 2014. She broke the world record four times in that span and produced the 14 best throws of all time, according to Tilastopaja.org and the IAAF.

Then there’s French judoka Teddy Riner, riding a 130-plus-match winning streak since 2010.

Those athletes don’t deal with the variables of Alpine skiing. Changing weather. Changing light. Courses set by rival coaches. Ruts.

The added obstacle in slalom is the straddle, hooking a ski around the wrong side of a gate for disqualification. It happens to everyone.

Shiffrin’s top rivals have either straddled or made a similar big mistake that knocked them completely out of contention between four and eight times in their last 50 World Cup slaloms.

Shiffrin has straddled once in her last 42 World Cup slaloms — on Jan. 3, 2017, in Zagreb, Croatia. She came back to Zagreb last week and won by 1.59 seconds.

“To [her coach’s] knowledge, she did not straddle from that day [last January] to when she showed up there again,” Porino said. “I don’t know how many runs of slalom that is, but I’m guessing that’s in the thousands [including training]. That’s ridiculous.

“She takes those little mistakes, and she dwells on them until it’s solved.”

MORE: Meet the U.S. Alpine ski team

Shiffrin has made the podium in 25 of her last 26 World Cup slaloms dating to December 2014.

Other skiers put up this kind of streak in one discipline before, but none in the last 20 years.

Ingemar Stenmark, the World Cup career wins leader with 86, made 37 straight giant slalom podiums during his heyday about 40 years ago, according to his International Ski Federation bio.

Swiss Vreni Schneider made 26 of 27 slalom podiums in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

One number has changed in that gap — miles per hour — which makes Shiffrin’s feat all the more impressive.

Bode [Miller] will say this, and I don’t totally disagree,” Porino said, “slalom now is performed at a substantially higher speed than it was performed when Stenmark was racing.”

The Olympics are in a month.

Shiffrin is a gold-medal favorite in the giant slalom and the slalom in the first week and the super combined (one run downhill + one run slalom) in the second.

Three golds would tie the Alpine record for a single Games. She’s expected to race the super-G, too, and possibly the downhill.

“If I can compete in four events, it’s because I think I have shot to win a medal in four events,” Shiffrin said before this season.

Porino is hesitant to echo Miller’s recent reported comments that Shiffrin may already be the best ski racer he’s ever seen.

She’s one of two to reach 41 World Cup wins before turning 23 years old, joining Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell. Shiffrin turns 23 on March 13.

But look at Moser-Proell. She won her 41st race at age 21, then took a whole season off to care for her father before he died of lung cancer in 1976.

Moser-Proell returned and won another 21 races. Her last race was at age 26.

Give Shiffrin a few more years.

“She just hasn’t passed the test of time,” Porino said.

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MORE: Bode Miller: Shiffrin can win 5 medals, may be best ever already

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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