Mikaela Shiffrin, after a wave of retirements, ponders her future as World Cup starts

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For so long, Mikaela Shiffrin, a ski racer who makes preparation paramount, has readied for World Cup slaloms and giant slaloms by grabbing a spot in front of a TV in the lodge or team hospitality.

She would watch the broadcast of a men’s World Cup race happening the same day at a different resort. The skier she would most often see winning was Marcel Hirscher, an Austrian who bagged a record eight World Cup overall titles before announcing his retirement on Sept. 4.

“Thirty minutes before I go out for my run, he gives me this inspiration to kind of pull out some athletic skiing and go for it,” said Shiffrin, who like Hirscher starred in the technical events of slalom and GS the last several years. “I’ve had countless races where I remember feeling like, just being able to see him crush it right before I went has given me the last little bit of energy and spark that I kind of needed before I went. I’m definitely going to miss that a lot.”

Shiffrin, if she wasn’t already, is the leading face of her sport following the retirements of Hirscher, Lindsey Vonn and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal since last winter. She is 24, six years younger than Hirscher. Vonn left at 34; Svindal at 36.

She is the favorite for most races she enters, starting with Saturday’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it until I’m 30, if I’m going to retire before that, if it’s going to be after that,” Shiffrin said. “I probably don’t see myself going well beyond 30, but at the same time, if I’m at that point and I’m still having an absolute blast and sort of still reaching my own standards of skiing, then I’ll keep going.”

That kind of career decision does not appear imminent. Shiffrin is coming off what she called her best season — a record-breaking 17 World Cup wins (in 26 starts), two more world championships gold medals and a third straight World Cup overall title.

This year, if she stays healthy (never a given in her sport), Shiffrin is widely expected to move to No. 3 on the World Cup career wins list (trailing only Vonn and Ingemar Stenmark) and become the first woman to win four straight overall crowns in 45 years.

What could get in her way? For one, the ascension of younger rivals.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who beat Shiffrin in consecutive slaloms in 2017, won as many giant slaloms as Shiffrin last season (four, when including the world champs). New Zealand 17-year-old Alice Robinson had the fastest second run in the world championships giant slalom (benefiting from an early start number) and then placed second in the World Cup Finals GS.

“Slalom, [Shiffrin] still holds a little bit of distance there,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said. “But in GS, I don’t think there is any sense of domination.”

Then there is a topic that Shiffrin first broached last season and brought up again this week: back soreness.

“With each year, my body is starting to complain to me,” she said in February, according to The Associated Press. “My back has been kind of nagging all season long. It’s something we’ve had to manage.”

Shiffrin has been fortunate in that in nearly a decade of racing World Cups, she hasn’t had any leg injuries serious enough to require major surgery. But that doesn’t hide the toll of mileage from competing (and, more so, training) at the highest level since she was 15.

“I’ve dealt with some back injuries and probably will maybe for the rest of my career a little bit, but that’s also the case for most ski racers,” she said Monday. “So it’s just a little bit like what’s my body going to allow me to do as well. I know I’m only 24, but at the same time I sort of feel like I’m already 24 [laughs], and I feel it.”

Which brings it back to Shiffrin’s calculated preparation and training. Porino said that what he’s most intrigued about this season is what Shiffrin doesn’t do.

With no Olympics or world championships, there are more than 40 World Cup races between Saturday and the end of the season in March. Shiffrin, even as she has picked up more downhills and super-Gs, has never started more than 30 races combined among the Olympics, world championships and World Cup in one campaign.

Is Shiffrin in for her busiest season of racing yet? Where will she be cautious? If she does limit the race schedule, it might make her even more dangerous, because it frees more time for training.

“You simply do not get better by racing in Alpine skiing,” Porino said. “That has to be intimidating. When she doesn’t show up, she’s getting better than you, and she’s already better than you.”

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Sofia Goggia loses pole, wins race by .01

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ST. MORITZ, Switerland (AP) — An Italian 1-2 edging Mikaela Shiffrin into third place. This movie has been seen before in the women’s World Cup this season.

By the smallest margin, Italy’s Sofia Goggia won a super-G on Saturday and Mikaela Shiffrin was third, which helped extend her overall standings lead.

Goggia was just 0.01 second faster than her teammate Federica Brignone on a sunny, windswept mountain above the high-end resort of St. Moritz.

Shiffrin was only 0.13 behind Goggia for her sixth podium finish in eight World Cup races so far as she seeks a fourth straight overall title.

It was the second time in two weeks that Shiffrin stood looking up at two Italians. It also happened in a giant slalom at Killington, Vt., where Marta Bassino edged Brignone for victory.

“They are all great skiers and they have a really aggressive mindset,” Shiffrin said of her friendly rivalry with the Italy team. “It’s super cool to see.”

Brignone was sitting in the leader’s box when Goggia raced and applauded with hands above her head after seeing her teammate’s time.

“It’s an amazing thing for all the team to share the podium and share happiness,” said Brignone, though acknowledging it hurt to lose by so little.

“It’s one hundredth so it burns. A lot,” she said.

Goggia’s seventh World Cup win was her third in super-G. She also took silver at the biennial world championships in February when Shiffrin won by just 0.02.

Always one of the most flamboyant racers, Goggia seemed at the limit making some turns and lost a ski pole landing a jump near the end.

The 2018 Olympic downhill champion said she had to let the pole go after soaring “too long, too high” at the jump.

Goggia also held nothing back standing atop the podium, loudly and heartily singing her national anthem, known by its opening line of Fratelli d’Italia, with eyes closed.

In a tight race, 10 racers were within one second of the winner. Nicole Schmidhofer, the 2017 World champion on this course, was fourth and there was a three-way tie for sixth.

By placing 10th, Viktoria Rebensburg rose to lead the super-G standings after two races. The German racer is also second overall though her World Cup points total is less than half of Shiffrin’s 532 tally.

“For now, she [Shiffrin] is unbeatable for the overall,” said Brignone, who is third.

Shiffrin won this race last year, and also added victory in the parallel slalom to sweep the weekend series.

Shiffrin later said she will skip Sunday’s parallel event — just the third time she has skipped a tech race since she burst onto the World Cup scene in 2012 — to prepare for a giant slalom in Courchevel, France, on Tuesday and a downhill and combined in Val d’Isere next weekend.

“There are quite a few reasons for this but at the top of the list is that for several years I have been longing to race Val d’Isere but have never been able to because the @fisalpine schedule is always too tough (for those who race in all disciplines),” was posted on Shiffrin’s social media. “But one of my goals this season is to get on that track and to race a little more speed in general so I’m trying to manage energy and focus accordingly!”

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Brittany Bowe breaks record shared with Bonnie Blair, Heather Bergsma

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Brittany Bowe broke a record she shared with Bonnie Blair and Heather Bergsma by winning her seventh straight World Cup 1000m on Saturday in Nagano, Japan.

Bowe clocked 1:14.344, taking the track record from Olympic silver medalist Nao Kodaira and distancing Olympic bronze medalist Miho Takagi and Dutchwoman Sanneke de Neeling by .55.

Bowe, fourth and eighth in the event at her two Olympics, is averaging better than a half-second margin of victory during her streak dating to last season, a significant gap to the rest of the field. She lowered track records in six of her seven wins, plus broke the world record and added a world championships gold.

“I’ve got a lot of losses under my belt. With how sweet the wins are, the losses are just as tough,” Bowe told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “There are some races that I’m not pleased with, and I’d like to be on the top of that 1500m podium. So that one’s keeping me hungry.”

Bowe, a past world champion and former world-record holder at 1500m, last won at that distance in February.

Her latest 1000m victory broke a tie with Blair and Bergsma for the U.S. record for consecutive women’s World Cup 1000m victories, according to schaatsstatistieken.nl. Blair won all six of her World Cup 1000m starts in the 1993-94 Olympic season, while Bergsma took six straight in 2016-17.

Only German Anni Friesinger-Postma has more consecutive World Cup wins at the distance with eight in the 2007-08 season, according to the website. For the men, Shani Davis won 12 straight from 2008-10.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard who missed all of 2016-17 with a concussion, is up to 26 career World Cup wins. That’s fifth on the U.S. all-time list behind Blair (69), Davis (58), Dan Jansen (46) and Bergsma (34), according to schaatsstatistieken.nl.

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