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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.”

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

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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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