Shiffrin recharging, focusing on early March return to slopes

Shiffrin
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A worn out and under-the-weather Mikaela Shiffrin will temporarily apply the brakes on her historic Alpine skiing season in order to take a much-needed breather. The way she’s racing, that’s almost got to be a sigh of relief for the rest of the field.

The skier from Avon, Colorado , plans on skipping World Cup races in Switzerland and Russia — site of the 2014 Sochi Games, where she won Olympic gold in the slalom — before returning to the circuit for the final push. Following a nearly two-week hiatus, she will be back in the start gate for the technical races in the Czech Republic and then the World Cup Finals in Andorra.

Her absence is a chance for other names to appear on top of a podium she’s dominated of late.

So far this season, Shiffrin’s recorded 20 top-three finishes, including 14 World Cup wins along with two world championships gold medals and a bronze. She’s already wrapped up the World Cup slalom title and currently sits 719 points ahead of Petra Vlhova of Slovakia in a bid to win her third straight overall World Cup crown.

Shiffrin could keep right on charging. But what she really needs is time to recharge.

“Just get 100 percent recovered and healthy again, get some training in,” said Shiffrin, who turns 24 on March 13.

Shiffrin’s been running on fumes for days. She earned her fourth straight slalom title at the world championships in Sweden last Saturday despite a cold so severe it had her team fearing she might have a touch of pneumonia. She wasn’t sure how well she could compete, but stormed to the title with a furious final run that left her breathless and speechless.

“Most emotional I’ve ever been at a ski race. I kept crying,” said Shiffrin , who’s typically so reserved after wins. “Some of that might have been illness and being exhausted.”

A few days later, Shiffrin captured a city event in Stockholm. It was her 57th career win on the circuit and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

“Rest,” she said, “is going to help a lot.”

And rest assured, she’s got the formula for winning down to a science. Her hidden secret? Don’t set high expectations.

Better yet, none at all.

She does her best work when she doesn’t imagine a good run, because rarely does it live up to the picture in her mind. So she concentrates on going from gate to gate in order to capture win after win.

“When I’m in the starting gate thinking, ‘I want to win this,’ I bring the intensity too high and then I make a mistake,” explained Shiffrin, who also won gold in the super-G at the recent world championships and bronze in the giant slalom. “I get to the finish and I’m really disappointed because I totally let the result get in the way of the actual process. My biggest goal is every time I stand in the starting gate, no matter what records I might be looking at, focus on the skiing, focus on the turns, because that’s the thing that leaves me the most satisfied.”

Lately, she’s been dealing with a sore back. She described it as a “GS back,” due to all the rotational force and the movement required in the giant slalom.

“With each year, my body is starting to complain to me,” said Shiffrin, who earned Olympic gold (giant slalom) and silver (combined) at the Pyeongchang Games last February. “My back has been kind of nagging all season long. It’s something we’ve had to manage.”

There will be plenty on the line when she returns from her brief break. She holds a slight lead over Tessa Worley of France in the overall GS race. Shiffrin also has a 32-point advantage over Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein in the season-long super-G standings (one of the races in Russia is a super-G). Her priority the rest of the way will definitely be on the GS, a World Cup crown she’s yet captured. Should she capture the super-G title, well, that’s an added bonus since she only recently started training for the speed discipline.

“I’m having more fun this season than I ever have, which is awesome,” Shiffrin said.

This will keep her motivated down the stretch: “I’m looking forward,” Shiffrin said, “to getting to a beach — somewhere.”

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game