Mikaela Shiffrin, after ‘soul-healing’ break, moves to solo No. 2 on women’s wins list

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Mikaela Shiffrin earned her 63rd World Cup win on Saturday, moving to solo No. 2 on the women’s all-time list behind Lindsey Vonn (82) and ending her longest victory drought since the PyeongChang Olympics.

Shiffrin prevailed in a giant slalom in Lienz, Austria, by 1.36 seconds over Italian Marta Bassino. Austrian Katharina Liensberger was third. Full results are here.

Shiffrin led by .61 after the opening run, but that lead was down to .33 late in her second run before she gained 1.03 seconds on Bassino in a 14-second stretch.

“I knew it was dark, and I knew it was bumpy,” she said. “I was like, OK, today you’re going to push and see what happens.”

Shiffrin nearly arrived too late for the start of the opening run. Having misread the local start time of 10:15 a.m., she was preparing for a 10:30 start. Shiffrin had to interrupt her usual warm-up routine to make it to the gate in time.

Shiffrin had not won her previous five races — though four of those were speed events where she is not dominant — while she did make two podiums. But if ever there was concern, it came with her most recent start before Lienz, 11 days ago.

She finished 17th in a GS in Courchevel, France, her worst result since PyeongChang and her worst for a tech race outside of DNFs in more than five years.

A day later, Shiffrin tweeted that “forced me to re-evaluate the coming weeks.” She later withdrew from last weekend’s downhill and combined races in Val d’Isere, which ended up being canceled anyway due to heavy snow.

“We skipped Val d’Isere because I felt like I wasn’t doing my job,” Shiffrin said.

She stayed in Europe around Christmas, training slalom and giant slalom in Courchevel and Folgaria-Alpe Cimbra, Italy. Her mom, Eileen, who had stepped back from her coaching role earlier this fall, came over before Christmas and was on the hill Saturday, along with Shiffrin’s dad. Shiffrin called it “soul-healing.”

“It’s pretty hard to believe this right now,” she said of the victory. “I know that sounds strange, but it is. … It sounds a little bit stupid, actually, to say the last week was a tough time because I still have already an amazing season. One bad race, it’s stupid, really. It’s just ski racing. But I care.

“The big question in my mind was, when there’s the pressure of a race, can I do it? Can I actually do the good skiing? This season has been really, really difficult. I know I say it doesn’t matter what I did last season [record 17 World Cup wins]. … But when you go through every single race and people are saying, well this is what you did last year. This is how many points you had last year. By this time last year you had won in multiple disciplines and all these things, I’m starting to compare every step with what I did last season, a season that might never happen again. So this last week was a lot of learning, again, to put those expectations aside because the amount of hurt that I felt after Courchevel — not that I came in 17th, but that I skied to deserve 17th.

“So I had to change a lot of things this last week and also change my attitude and come into this race really not expecting to win and knowing that I don’t deserve to win. … Doing those two runs was really, really special, and it meant a lot more that you can’t sum it up on paper.

“I don’t think it’s a problem to compare this season with last season, but the problem is when I start to think, if I don’t win 17 races this season, then I’ve failed. That’s when the pressure is just too much because that’s an unreasonable expectation.”

She will be favored again in Sunday’s slalom in Lienz (NBC Sports Gold, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.) on the eighth anniversary of her first World Cup podium on the same track. A 43rd career World Cup slalom win would tie Vonn for the most victories in a single discipline for a woman. Vonn won 43 downhills.

Shiffrin increased her World Cup overall standings lead over Italian Federica Brignone but still trails Brignone in the giant slalom standings through four of nine scheduled GS events.

“So far, I’ve had an incredible season this year, too, but in a lot of ways, I’ve failed to compare to [last season],” she said. “The way that I’ve been feeling is I’m getting worse, even though I’m not. That’s the mental challenge, and that’s a new thing that I’m learning. It’s a difficult learning curve.”

Shiffrin had been tied with Austrian Annemarie Moser-Pröll on career World Cup wins since her last victory in Killington, Vt., on Dec. 1.

“The thing that makes me the most frustrated is if I don’t have a good race, and people say, oh, she’s just human,” Shiffrin said. “The biggest thing that motivates all of us is working hard enough to never feel that pain again.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Shiffrin among 10 dominant Winter Olympians of 2010s decade

World short-track speedskating championships will be moved, postponed or canceled

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The International Skating Union announced Tuesday that the world short-track speedskating championships will not proceed as scheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Seoul’s Mokdong Ice Rink, where the competition was set to be held March 13-15, held the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships earlier this month but closed on Monday.

The ISU left open the possibility that the championships will be postponed or relocated, but the window to do so may close rapidly.

“Taking into account the uncertain world-wide development of the coronavirus, the limited and uncertain available time slots during the coming weeks and the logistical challenges of potential organizers and participating teams, a postponement and/or relocation of the Championships would be difficult to achieve,” the ISU said. “Nevertheless, a postponement and/or relocation of this Championships might be considered if the circumstances would allow so in due time.”

South Korea is one of short-track speedskating’s traditional powers. Last year, the country dominated the world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, winning both relays and taking gold in all of the men’s individual races. South Korea also led the medal count on home ice in the 2018 Olympics.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced the cancellation of many events in China, where the illness was first found. The world indoor track and field championships were pushed back a whole year.

With the virus spreading to other regions, other countries’ sports schedules are being affected. Several soccer games are proceeding in empty stadiums in Italy and Iran.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games