Mikaela Shiffrin stunned by New Zealand 17-year-old in World Cup opener

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A slew of big-name Alpine skiing retirements opened the door for a new generation to emerge this season. Enter Alice Robinson, a 17-year-old from New Zealand who rallied to beat Mikaela Shiffrin in the very first race, a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Saturday.

Robinson overcame a .14 deficit after the morning run to edge Shiffrin by .06 after the afternoon run. Frenchwoman Tessa Worley was third. Full results are here.

Robinson, who was second to Shiffrin in the last giant slalom of the previous season in March, became the first skier from her nation to win a World Cup in 22 years and the youngest from any nation to do so since Shiffrin nearly seven years ago.

“It’s like a dream for me, and I’m still in shock,” said Robinson, the youngest Alpine skier at the PyeongChang Olympics who earned a place in last season’s World Cup Finals by winning the world junior title. “I had a feeling I was really going to like this slope.

“I was a bit nervous for the second run, but I just tried to hold it together. Just keep my nerves at bay and just try and enjoy it. Yeah, that’s what I did. I’m happy with it.”

Robinson denied Shiffrin her 61st World Cup win, which would have moved the American within one of fourth place all-time behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell.

Shiffrin said she made mistakes in her second run, but also that she wasn’t scared or nervous before the season opener for the first time in her career.

“For sure, there’s always disappointment when you come through the finish after the lead in the first run, you see the red light,” she said. “Alice skied just incredible today and just like she skied in Andorra [at the World Cup Finals] last year.

“This nothing-to-lose style, I can remember that in myself, so watching her is like taking a trip back in time.”

Earlier this week, Shiffrin said she has seen a “killer instinct” in the Kiwi. Robinson is coached by Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus, who formerly guided Lindsey VonnJulia Mancuso and the U.S. speed team.

“Alice is going to be a really strong competitor, and obviously she’s young, so for many years to come,” Shiffrin said Monday. “She has the ability to train a lot because all summer long, our summer, she’s in New Zealand, and she’s training. And then during our winter, she’s racing. So she has this opportunity to get massive amounts of volume in, and she’s motivated.

“Maybe it’s motivation for me as well because sometimes I do take my foot off the gas. To see somebody young coming up with sort of this fresh mindset and just be like, yeah, I can do this, I don’t need to be intimidated. That’s a cool, refreshing outlook.”

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, in four weeks. The men start in Soelden on Sunday (5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Also Saturday, Austrian Bernadette Schild went airborne and crashed in the second run, screaming once she came to a skidding halt.

The event was delayed nearly 15 minutes as several people tended to Schild, who has made seven World Cup slalom podiums. She was eventually helicoptered off.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

MORE: Noah Lyles details training near woods, dog walkers

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”