Mikaela Shiffrin takes record for slalom victories with ‘lucky’ win in Finland

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Mikaela Shiffrin won her 41st World Cup slalom, breaking a tie with Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark for the career record, Saturday in Levi, Finland.

Rival Petra Vlhova had the lead after the first run but crashed out early in her second, providing an anticlimactic finish to the showdown between the top two slalom skiers in the world.

“I felt a little bit lucky with this win, but I also felt good with my skiing, so I’m happy,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin, who finished second in the season-opening giant slalom last month, also took the lead in her campaign for a fourth straight overall World Cup.

Vlhova was the only skier to beat Shiffrin in a slalom last season. The 24-year-old Slovakian, three months younger than Shiffrin, has steadily climbed up the World Cup standings each year and was second to Shiffrin in the slalom, giant slalom and overall last year.

With Vlhova’s crash, Shiffrin won by a comfortable margin of 1.78 seconds over Wendy Holdener. The Swiss skier, third in last year’s slalom and overall standings and second in each ranking the year before, was sixth in the first run but had a torrid second run. Holdener still has never won a World Cup slalom.

Austria’s Katharina Truppe finished third to reach the podium for the first time in her career.

Shiffrin now has momentum as the series heads to Killington, Vt., virtually her hometown race. Thanks to the unique awards in Levi, she also has a fourth reindeer, who showed a bit of feistiness in the award ceremony. She has not yet thought of a name for the animal who will join RudolphSven and Mr. Gru in her herd.

READ: Shiffrin chases fourth reindeer while mourning loss of grandmother 

While Shiffrin has become a threat in all events, winning her first giant slalom and super-G World Cup titles last season, the slalom has always been her go-to race. After her debut World Cup season in 2011-12, she has won six of the last seven World Cup slalom season titles and four straight world championships.

Under dark and foggy conditions in Levi, Shiffrin drew the first starting spot for the first run and finished in 58.78. The other contenders and top finishers also started early. Truppe, skiing fifth, finished in 59.64. Next up was Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson, the runner-up in last year’s world championships, who finished in 59.96. Vlhova was next, finishing in 58.65 for a lead of 0.13 seconds over Shiffrin. No other skier finished in less than one minute.

 

New Zealand teen Alice Robinson, who beat Shiffrin in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, is out of action until December with a bone bruise.

The men’s slalom from Levi will stream live on NBC Sports Gold at 4:15 and 7 a.m. ET Sunday. The Olympic Channel will broadcast the second run. The men’s and women’s World Cup circuits will diverge next week, with the men going to Lake Louise, Alberta, for speed events.

MORE: Alpine skiing TV schedule

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Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach