Shiffrin closes in on season title; Vlhova wins giant slalom

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SPINDLERUV MLYN, Czech Republic — Mikaela Shiffrin closed in on her first women’s World Cup giant slalom trophy Friday after placing third in the penultimate race of the season, which was won by world champion Petra Vlhova.

Shiffrin leads her Slovakian rival by 97 points in the discipline standings with only one event remaining at next week’s World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra. A race win is worth 100 points.

“I think there is still something possible at the finals so I won’t celebrate yet. But I am really happy to have this kind of advantage,” said Shiffrin, who has already successfully defended her overall and slalom titles.

After three overall and six slalom championships, it would be the 10th career crystal globe and third of the season for Shiffrin, who is also in the hunt for the super-G title.

“Slalom, overall and GS are my biggest goals this year so it’s an incredible place to be right now,” the American said.

Vlhova built on her commanding first-run lead of nearly a half-second to beat Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany by 0.11 seconds.

Shiffrin, who was 1.33 behind in fourth after the opening run, posted the fastest time in the final run and improved to third, 0.60 behind Vlhova. Tessa Worley of France, who was runner-up in the GS standings before the race, finished seventh to drop out of contention.

It was Shiffrin’s first race in 17 days after sitting out events in Crans-Montana and Sochi to recharge following the world championships and a parallel city event in Sweden.

Returning to the resort where she started her World Cup career at the age of 15 in 2011, Shiffrin struggled in the opening run. She started aggressively and led Vlhova by 0.13 at the first split time, but failed to find a smooth rhythm in the rest of her run and trailed by 1.33 in fourth.

“When I saw the video (from the first run) I was pretty disappointed,” Shiffrin said. “To compete with the best, with Vicky and Petra, I had to do better on everything.”

After finishing her second run well ahead of the competition, Shiffrin bent forward and briefly screamed for relief.

“The second run was much, much better so I am really happy with that,” she said. “So happy to have a podium.”

Initially a slalom specialist, Vlhova has evolved into a leading giant slalom contender, winning her first World Cup races in the discipline in Semmering and Maribor this season. Vlhova added gold at last month’s world championships, where she and Rebensburg finished 1-2.

On Friday, Vlhova impressed in both runs with a strong recovery from a mistake.

“I knew I did a big mistake but I had a really good feeling in the steep part,” she said between runs. “In the last part I just let my skis go and I was really fast.”

Vlhova repeated the feat in the final run. She quickly lost four-tenths of her advantage over Rebensburg and even trailed the former Olympic champion from Germany by 0.15 halfway through her run, but skied a solid bottom section to get the green light at the finish.

“It was not easy but I did it and it’s something amazing,” said Vlhova, loudly cheered by many of her Slovakian fans. “It’s something special because I feel like at home here. Those fans (are) something amazing.”

A slalom on the same course is scheduled for Saturday.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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