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Sydney McLaughlin signs with New Balance

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Sydney McLaughlin, who in 2016 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, has signed a contract with New Balance as her footwear and apparel sponsor.

The 19-year-old turned pro after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky, when she lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles, all by more than a second, and ran the world’s fastest 400m hurdles of 2018 by .57.

“New Balance has a long-standing history as an excellent running company and they are the perfect partner for me,” McLaughlin said in a press release. “I’m thrilled to join the Team New Balance family, a brand that not only shares the same values and principles that are important to me but also supports its athletes on and off the track.”

McLaughlin, a Rio Olympic 400m hurdles semifinalist, last raced June 9 at the NCAA Championships. She withdrew from the USATF Outdoor Championships later that month, one year after she was sixth at USATF Outdoors in perhaps the greatest 400m hurdles race ever.

She now ranks Nos. 54, 27 and 5 all time in the U.S. in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles. Perhaps the only woman who reached anywhere near that versatility was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who ranks No. 38 in the 200m and No. 43 in the 400m hurdles but never ran the 400m at her peak.

New Balance’s other notable track and field athletes include Olympic 1500m bronze medalist Jenny Simpson, world 3000m steeplechase champion Emma Coburn and Olympic 100m sprinter Trayvon Bromell.

McLaughlin has not announced a new coach after NBC Sports’ Ato Boldon said on the House of Run podcast in July that she and her Kentucky coach, Edrick Floréal, parted.

Boldon believes McLaughlin will lower her 400m hurdles personal best of 52.75 and challenge the world record of 52.34, set by Russian Yuliya Pechonkina in 2003. He also sees McLaughlin becoming a star off the track, given she signed with Beverly Hills talent agency WME.

“Sydney McLaughlin is about to be what Flo-Jo would have been if she was starting out right now in this era,” Boldon said. “She has the look. She has the performance. … It’s going to be an exciting time to watch her rise.”

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MORE: Joan Benoit Samuelson finishes Chicago Marathon, 34 years after Olympic gold

Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

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Nathan Chen called into his media teleconference from the rink last week, still on his winter break between his freshman semesters at Yale University.

The signal wasn’t great inside, he said, and it momentarily spared him from answering a direct question about his GPA his first semester as a college student.

Back on the call, the reigning world champion admitted, “I’m not gonna say the exact number, but there are some A’s and B’s sprinkled in.

“Really no complaints. I got pretty good grades. I’m pretty happy with that.”

His skating report card from the fall reads equally as impressively. Chen won the title at Skate America to open the season, followed by a come-from-behind win at Grand Prix France. To cap it all off, he won a second-consecutive Grand Prix Final title.

All this while the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist is across the country from his longtime coach Rafael Arutunian and trying out telecoaching for the first time.

Back in California between semesters, Chen said Raf has asked him to stay full-time.

“Since the past two weeks that I’ve been here, literally every day he’s been like, ‘you gotta come back! You gotta come back! There’s so much that you can learn at the rink. I respect what your decision is at Yale but it’s been so great having you here.’ He really wishes that I could stay here full time but at the same time, I already started this path and I don’t really want to pull out just yet.”

As for his second semester in college, Chen is signed up for about 10 courses and will have about two weeks at the beginning of term to add and drop courses. He’ll be in classes – he’s not exactly sure which, though – for a week before attempting to notch his third-straight U.S. national title.

“I selected a bunch of courses, probably selected like 10 different courses. I’ll go in and the first week I will see which courses I like, which courses I don’t like.”

Competing during the spring semester might be harder. February’s Four Continents Championships, this year to be held in Anaheim, Calif., aren’t during a scheduled academic break. Conveniently, world championships are scheduled during Yale’s spring break.

“I’m not sure yet [if he’ll compete there if named to the team],” he said. “That’s still TBD. I would love to since it’s in California, and it’s a great event. We’ll see.”

But for now, competing well in Detroit is the next step.

“I have to skate as well as I can and regardless of the external things,” he said when asked if coming in as the reigning world champion or as the favorite affects him. “Just focus on all the things that I can do right now in training to make sure that I do the best I can in competition.”

The men’s short program is Jan. 26 followed by the free skate on Jan. 27.

MORE: Adam Rippon’s new year’s resolutions

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins Kronplatz giant slalom for her 10th win of the season

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Mikaela Shiffrin won the women’s giant slalom at the World Cup stop in Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday, marking her 10th victory of the 2018-19 season and 53rd World Cup win of her career. Shiffrin, the 2018 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist, led France’s Tessa Worley by 1.39 seconds after the first run. Although Worley outpaced Shiffrin in the second run, Shiffrin’s massive first-run margin allowed her to win the two-run event by 1.21 seconds. Italy’s Marta Bassino placed third. Full results are here. 

Shiffrin entered Kronplatz ranked third in the World Cup giant slalom standings, but moves into first place with the win. The 23-year-old also leads the overall World Cup leader board, as well as the slalom and super-G discipline standings. Shiffrin has won seven World Cup globes in her career (two overall, five slalom).

Shiffrin has already broken multiple records this season, including becoming the youngest skier to win 50 World Cup races, and there are still more records within striking distance. Shiffrin could break the record for most World Cup wins in a single seasons; the current record (14) was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1988-89.

The next stop for the women’s World Cup is this weekend in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, with two downhills scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and a super-G slated for Sunday. Shiffrin plans to skip the downhills, but enter the super-G. Lindsey Vonn, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, is expected to make her return to competition in Friday’s downhill.