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Mikaela Shiffrin not convinced Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic career is over

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Mikaela Shiffrin is not quite convinced Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic career is done.

“Whenever I hear anybody say something about this,” Shiffrin said Friday, “it’s like, ‘most likely,’ ‘probably,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘we’ll see,’ ‘not sure.’ I’m like, ‘Knowing Lindsey, I don’t believe her.'”

And with that, Shiffrin let out a big laugh.

She is, without a doubt, the heir apparent to Vonn as the leader of U.S. ski racing. They were the only two members of the country’s Alpine team to earn a medal at the Pyeongchang Games — and the only two to hold news conferences a day after the sport’s last two individual events.

First came Vonn, 33, wearing her downhill bronze medal. After she left the room, it was time for Shiffrin, 22, whose gold from the giant slalom and silver from the combined dangled from her neck.

Vonn spent much of her session taking questions about her, um, extensive experience — “You’re not getting any younger,” was the way one reporter put it, to which the skier replied with a smile, “Come right out and say it, why don’t you!” — and the emotions of her (presumably) last Olympics.

Then Shiffrin discussed what she called the frustration of dealing with schedule changes that contributed to a fourth-place finish in her top event, the slalom, and forced her to enter only three of five races.

When asked about being Vonn’s successor, she was deferential.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I’m taking over something for the sport. I don’t know if I could fill Lindsey’s shoes, the way that she has worn them,” Shiffrin said. “I’m going to do my best to help the sport grow in whatever way that I can. The best way that I can do that, as far as I see right now, is just to ski my best and to keep taking ski racing to a new level.”

Shiffrin also was asked about what sort of advice she might have received from Vonn when it comes to taking over as the face of Alpine skiing in the United States.

“I haven’t had a lot of advice about what to do because, first of all, I don’t think Lindsey sees herself as being done yet or passing the baton,” she answered. “And I don’t see myself as taking the baton.”

Shiffrin is now what Vonn once was: a multiple Olympic medalist in her 20s with a bright future.

After Vonn won a gold and bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the assumption was she would go on to add medal upon medal to her career total. Instead, she was forced to miss the 2014 Olympics after tearing knee ligaments.

So after an eight-year wait, Vonn stepped back on the stage, but has said this would be her last Olympics. As it is, she became the oldest woman to win an Alpine medal.

Vonn said the woman who took the gold in the downhill, good friend Sofia Goggia of Italy, wrote a note trying to lobby for a return in 2022.

“I told her … if I physically could continue for four years, then I probably would, as long as I considered myself still a competitor,” Vonn said. “But four years is a really long time. I told her that. She said she’s going to keep trying to convince me.”

In the meantime, there are other goals Vonn will pursue before retiring. She reiterated she is “not going to stop ski racing until I break” Ingemar Stenmark’s World Cup record for most career race wins. She has 81; he had 86.

“I think next season,” Vonn said, “I can get it done.”

She also intends to pursue a chance to compete against men, something she’s sought for years.

The sport’s governing body is supposed to consider her request in a few months, but if that doesn’t work out, Vonn said she would think about trying to set up an exhibition race.

All of that will be put on hold for a bit, though.

Instead of joining the skiing circuit when it resumes in Switzerland next weekend, Vonn will wait until the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on March 14-18, to try to overtake Goggia for the season downhill title.

“I need a break,” Vonn said. “I need a moment to breathe. I’ve never actually had time after an Olympics to enjoy it, so I’m going to.”

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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