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Mikaela Shiffrin’s rivals don’t believe they can beat her for overall title

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — With Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance in the Alpine skiing World Cup increasing each year, some of her main competitors don’t seem to hold out much hope of beating the American standout for the overall title.

Like Wendy Holdener, who was runner-up to Shiffrin two years ago and third last season.

“I don’t think about the overall at the moment. If it could be a battle, it would be great,” the Swiss skier told The Associated Press on Thursday before the season starts with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier (Saturday, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Or Sofia Goggia, who has finished in the top three overall a few times before a fractured ankle halted her challenge for most of last season.

“The goal is to confirm myself on the speed side. But I am not thinking about the overall,” the Italian said.

It will likely leave Petra Vlhova as Shiffrin’s main challenger again. The Slovakian technical specialist won five races last season and even beat Shiffrin once in the American’s strongest discipline, slalom. Vlhova ended the season as the runner-up, but trailed Shiffrin by 801 points.

That was the American’s biggest season-ending margin so far. Shiffrin led Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia by 274 points for her first big crystal globe in 2017, and the difference grew to 671 points over Holdener the next year.

What followed was a record-breaking season, including 17 World Cup wins to raise her career tally to 60, third on the all-time winners list of the women’s World Cup. While Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell is within reach with 62 career wins, Shiffrin probably won’t catch Lindsey Vonn this season. The retired four-time overall champions has 82 wins.

Apart from her third straight overall title, Shiffrin won the season titles in slalom, GS and super-G.

“Last season was huge and it was almost too much, so I think I have to be a little bit realistic, too,” Shiffrin said about replicating her achievement.

What separates the upcoming season from the previous three is the lack of a major medal competition. With no Olympics or world championships in February 2020, Shiffrin might choose to step up her efforts in super-G and downhill.

“It actually gives an opportunity to test out a little bit more what I am able to do in speed,” she said. “I feel more comfortable to push there because you don’t have to be safe for a world championship.”

While her build-up to the season has been similar to previous years and her team, led by head coach Mike Day, has remained unchanged, something will be different: mother Eileen, also one of her coaches, won’t travel the whole circuit this season as she is also taking care of her 98-year-old mother.

“But I selfishly asked her when she is able to come, to travel and be with me because she has been a huge piece of my success,” Shiffrin told the AP in a recent interview at the office of her equipment supplier, Atomic.

“Somebody who is so close to me, my mother is my best friend and also an incredible coach. I think that sets me apart from the other athletes,” Shiffrin said. “It sounds a bit selfish but I don’t want to let that go.”

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GOGGIA’S GOALS

Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion, saw her quest for last season’s overall title end before the first race. A broken ankle kept her out until late January, but she returned with a bang, winning super-G silver at the world championships and a World Cup downhill in Switzerland the following month.

“The first races last season were a surprise but when you start with no real expectations, everything can happen,” Goggia said. “When you have your back and your shoulders against the wall, you got one chance to do the right thing. So when it comes to being a shooter, I am a good shooter.”

Goggia’s injury forced her to sit out all but two giant slaloms last season, meaning she has dropped out of the top 30 in the discipline rankings and will get an unfavorable late start position in Saturday’s race.

“I am going to start far behind. I really have no expectations but I have been working a lot,” the Italian said. “In super-G and downhill I am OK, so I am pretty confident and solid.”

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HOLDENER’S HOPE

Having added a few extra days of speed training to her offseason schedule in Zermatt in her native Switzerland, Holdener might increase her number of starts in super-G and downhill.

“It’s difficult to have, like, five disciplines. We will see how the season is starting, which events I am doing in speed. Normally I won’t do a lot of downhills,” she said.

Make no mistake, slalom and GS remain her main events.

“In GS I am top seven but the best girls are still a little bit in front of me,” she said. “Last season sometimes I skied really good and then I took a step back. You shouldn’t do that. You should fight until the finish.”

One of Holdener’s biggest wishes is to finally get that first win in slalom. She amassed 22 top-three results but is yet to win a race.

No skier, male or female, has ever had more World Cup podiums in a single discipline without a win.

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Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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