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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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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