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

Leave a comment

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.

MORE: How to watch the Winter Olympics

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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

Jamaican bobsledders want to return to the Olympics, so they’re pushing a Mini Cooper

Jamaica Bobsled
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Jamaican bobsled team’s push for the next Winter Olympics took a detour to the roads of Great Britain.

Numerous British media outlets reported in the last week on Shanwayne Stephens and Nimroy Turgott, who have been pushing cars, including a Mini Cooper, in Peterborough.

“We had to come up with our own ways of replicating the sort of pushing we need to do [in bobsledding amid the coronavirus pandemic],” Stephens, a reported British resident since age 11, said, according to Reuters. “So that’s why we thought: why not go out and push the car?

“We do get some funny looks. We’ve had people run over, thinking the car’s broken down, trying to help us bump-start the car. When we tell them we’re the Jamaica bobsleigh team, the direction is totally different, and they’re very excited.”

The Jamaican bobsled team rose to fame with its Olympic debut at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, inspiring the 1993 Disney film, “Cool Runnings.” At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014, with a best finish of 14th.

A Jamaican women’s sled debuted at the Olympics in 2018, driven by 2014 U.S. Olympian Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian. A Jamaican men’s sled just missed qualifying for PyeongChang by one spot in world rankings.

Stephens, a driver, is 51st and 56th in the current world rankings for the four-person and two-man events, respectively.

He competed in lower-level international races last season with a best finish of sixth in a four-person race that had seven sleds. One of Stephens’ push athletes was Carrie Russell, a 2018 Olympian in the two-woman event and former sprinter who won a world title in the 4x100m in 2013.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Sam Clayton, Jamaica’s first bobsled driver, was ‘a pioneer of pioneers’

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and a Tour de France rivalry that brought tears

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lance Armstrong reportedly breaks down into tears in Sunday’s second episode of his ESPN documentary, discussing his closest rival during his run of seven Tour de France titles, all later stripped for doping.

Armstrong visited Jan Ullrich in Germany in 2018, after Ullrich was released from a psychiatric hospital following multiple reported arrests over assault charges.

“The reason I went to see him is I love him,” Armstrong said, followed by tears, according to reports. “It was not a good trip. He was the most important person in my life.”

Ullrich struggled with reported substance abuse, saying in a 2018 letter in German newspaper Bild that he detoxed in a Miami facility and that he had “an illness.”

Ullrich, after winning the 1997 Tour de France, finished second to Armstrong in 2000, 2001 and 2003.

He retired in 2007. In 2013, he admitted to doping during his career (which had been widely assumed), five months after Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“Nobody scared me, motivated me. The other guys … no disrespect to them, didn’t get me up early,” Armstrong said in the ESPN film, according to Cycling Weekly. “He got me up early. And [in 2018] he was just a f—ing mess.”

Armstrong and Ullrich’s most notable Tour de France interactions: In Stage 10 in 2001, on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59.

In Stage 15 in 2003, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement. Ullrich and others slowed to allow Armstrong to remount and catch up. Armstrong won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07, eventually winning the Tour by 1:01, by far the closest of his seven titles (again, all later stripped).

For Armstrong, Ullrich began transforming from rival to friend in 2005. After Armstrong won his last (later stripped) Tour de France that July, he was told Ullrich wanted to show up at Armstrong’s victory party in a luxury Paris hotel. Ullrich wanted to say a few words in front of hundreds of Armstrong supporters.

“If you know Jan, you know that his English is not great,” Armstrong said in a 2017 episode of one of his podcasts. “I’m just going, no, this can’t be happening. This is not real. Jan showed up and took the mic and gave a speech and talked about me and talked about us. It was the classiest thing that anybody ever did for me in my cycling career. I’ll never forget it. I love him for it.

“I wasn’t man enough to do that. If the roles were reversed, there’s no way I would have done that. But for him to do that, that’s something that I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

In 2017, Armstrong was upset that Ullrich wasn’t invited to appear at the Tour de France’s opening stages, held in Germany that year. In 2013, when Ullrich fessed up to doping, he said of his chief rival and fellow cheater, “I am no better than Armstrong, but no worse either.”

Ullrich (and other dopers) kept his Tour de France title, a fact that Armstrong has brought up in interviews since his confession. Ullrich was reportedly asked in 2016 by CyclingTips if he considered Armstrong a seven-time Tour de France champion.

“This is a hard question,” he said, according to the report. “It’s not good, that in all those years, you have no winner. It’s not good for history, it’s not good for the Tour de France. I have heard all the stories about Lance. It’s a hard question. I don’t know the answer. I’m not the judge. But for the history of the Tour de France, it’s not good that there is no winner.”

TIMELINE: Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!