Is Mikaela Shiffrin chasing records? Not exactly

AP
0 Comments

With every win these days, Mikaela Shiffrin breaks a record (or approaches one) or joins an exclusive club of the greatest skiers in modern history.

Asked what she thought of that kind of chatter to which media clings, she said, “I don’t consider myself a record chaser,” on a U.S. Ski and Snowboard media call Wednesday.

“My opinion of the sport and of what I want to do in the sport is to be considered one of the best technical skiers and essentially to win,” Shiffrin said. “Not to win a certain number of races, but just to be able to get in the start and have the ability to be the best racer on any given day in any given event.

“With that comes winning races and getting closer to these records. I’m not chasing that. These people who have come before and who have set these records, I don’t feel like I’m ever going to compete with that.”

What the 23-year-old from Vail, Colo., has done is become a factor no matter the event, no matter the location. Shiffrin became the seventh woman to earn a World Cup win in all five disciplines with her first super-G victory on Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta. She took a more aggressive line than speed specialists with far more experience.

Her steady increase in training and racing the speed events of downhill and super-G the last few years was done “with the hope that at some point I would be able to be a contender to win in all disciplines,” she said. “I think the point for me was not necessarily to actually be the best in every discipline, but more just to be one of the people that every time I get in the starting gate, everyone’s watching because they know that I can. I have the ability. I think that’s where I’m at right now.”

When looking at her finishes this past weekend — ninth and fourth in downhills followed by the super-G win — consider that the vast majority of Shiffrin’s training this fall has been for her trademark technical events of slalom and giant slalom. Also consider that she has more experience at Lake Louise than the rest of the speed venues on the World Cup.

The circuit moves to St. Moritz, Switzerland, for a super-G on Saturday and a parallel slalom on Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold. A full weekend TV schedule is here. Shiffrin is a clear favorite in the latter and some sort of a contender in the former, having placed 20th in the super-G there last year in her lone speed start at the two-time Winter Olympic host.

Her next win — her 47th — will move Shiffrin into sole position of fourth place on the women’s World Cup career wins list. Her next slalom win — her 35th — will tie Marlies Schild for the record in that discipline.

The stat that accompanies every Shiffrin victory is the number of wins she has attained before she turns 24 on March 13.

Lindsey Vonn had 13 at the same age, but what Vonn has done late in her career (23 wins in her 30s) is anomalous like Shiffrin’s early 20s resume. Ingemar Stenmark, the record holder with 86 victories, won 52 times before turning 24 in 1980. Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who held the female record before Vonn broke it, had 42 wins before age 24, with a one-year retirement mixed in. Different statistics can be used to argue different views.

“I’m sort of torn,” about the record talk and historical comparisons, Shiffrin said. “First of all, it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the all-time greatest skiers. So that is very flattering. But, in some ways, I don’t think it’s comparable.”

Shiffrin has said she will always consider childhood idol Schild the greatest slalom skier of all time.

“She was the one who made it possible for me to ski slalom the way that I do,” said Shiffrin, who as a teen studied video of Schild’s technique and said last month that she still watches the Austrian’s old runs. “So I can’t ever feel like, oh yeah, I took that record from her.”

Bode Miller was another of Shiffrin’s early inspirations. Like Shiffrin, Miller made his first Olympic team in slalom and giant slalom only. He went on to win at least five times in each discipline on the World Cup.

“It is an incredible feeling to know that my dream as a little girl, watching my big, all-time inspirations in the sport, that dream, I’ve been able to succeed and realize that dream,” Shiffrin said. “Now I guess the trick is just continuing to work.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Lindsey Vonn gets favorite course named after her

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
Getty
0 Comments

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
Getty
0 Comments

If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!