Mikaela Shiffrin edged again by Petra Vlhova in Flachau slalom

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Mikaela Shiffrin was beaten in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017, relegated by Slovakian Petra Vlhova for a second straight time in Flachau, Austria, on Tuesday.

Vlhova, the giant slalom world champion, distanced third-place Shiffrin by .43 of a second combining times from two runs under the lights. Vlhova led by six tenths over Shiffrin after the first run.

Swede Anna Swenn-Larsson passed Shiffrin in the second run to finish runner-up, one tenth behind Vlhova. Shiffrin’s streak of 15 straight slaloms finishing first or second ends. Full results are here.

“I am happy to be on the podium again. I am disappointed with my skiing. But that’s ski racing,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “Her [Vlhova’s] skiing is the best.”

It came 10 days after Vlhova beat Shiffrin by 1.31 seconds in a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, marking the largest margin of victory by anyone over Shiffrin in a slalom since 2014 (excluding Shiffrin DNFs).

“The way I’ve been on top with my skiing for all these years is because I did more work, harder work and stronger work than everyone else,” Shiffrin said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “I worked smarter. I could come to the races and I had to push, I knew that, but I worked hard enough that confidence wasn’t a factor. I could ski even when I wasn’t confident, and my good skiing would be enough. Right now, it’s difficult to balance everything — to balance what I want to accomplish in the sport with everything and still be able to stay on top going against girls who are working really hard.”

Vlhova previously handed Shiffrin back-to-back slalom defeats in the last race of the 2016-17 season and the first race of the 2017-18 season. After that, Shiffrin reeled off wins in 18 of 20 traditional World Cup slaloms before Vlhova’s latest repeat victories.

The last time Shiffrin lost consecutive slaloms in one season was late 2014, soon after which her coach of four years, Roland Pfeifer, was reassigned. The last time she finished a slalom and was outside the top two was in Flachau three years ago.

Vlhova, who is 24 and three months younger than Shiffrin, has been the American’s only slalom rival the last few years. The duo combined to win the last 25 World Cup slaloms (19 for Shiffrin, six for Vlhova). Vlhova’s staff has been known to film Shiffrin’s training sessions.

“I know that she is angry because she wants to always win,” Vlhova said of Shiffrin, who hugged the Slovakian in congratulations immediately after Tuesday’s race and at the trophy presentation. “It’s good to have Miki close to me because she push me to more than maybe I have inside. I think it’s very important for skiing, for our sport, to have to girls like this.

“I want to have a friend relationship with her, but we can’t because we are on the top, and everybody wants to win.”

Shiffrin’s mom and longtime coach said in 2017 that the four-inches-taller Vlhova “skis like Mikaela more than Mikaela skis like Mikaela,” according to the Denver Post.

In Tuesday’s post-race press conference, Shiffrin first wanted to be clear that her coach Mike Day, who set the second-run course, did not align the gates to try and slow down Vlhova.

“Maybe the most important thing I wanted to say tonight is we don’t do that,” she said. “We don’t play those games. I think it’s bad karma. It’s a testament to Petra’s skiing that you can’t set a course against her right now because her skiing is the best.”

Shiffrin remains tied with Lindsey Vonn for the most World Cup wins in one discipline for a woman. Shiffrin has 43 slaloms, and the retired Vonn took 43 downhills.

The next World Cup slalom is Feb. 16 in Maribor, Slovenia. There are four World Cup slaloms left this season. Shiffrin leads the slalom season standings by 80 points, eyeing her seventh crystal globe for the discipline. If Vlhova wins the last four slaloms, with Shiffrin finishing second each time, Vlhova would take the title in a tiebreaker.

The women’s World Cup moves to Sestriere, Italy, for a giant slalom and parallel giant slalom on Saturday (8:05 a.m. ET) and Sunday (5:45 a.m.) on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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

Lindsey Vonn makes first trip to Kitzbuehel, still feeling some sadness of retirement

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Lindsey Vonn is back on the Alpine skiing World Cup tour this weekend, but not as a racer.

Vonn, who retired last year, is a spectator (and course inspector) at the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria, home to the biggest annual men’s race in the sport (full TV, live stream schedule here).

It’s her first time watching competition in person since a career’s worth of injuries forced her to retire last winter, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record total of 86.

“I feel like skiing is like a bad break-up, so I need to keep some distance and some space,” she said, according to sponsor Red Bull. “And I’m slowly getting back into watching it. It’s hard, because every time I watch it, it reminds me of what I’m missing. I find it easier to watch the men’s races obviously than the women’s, but of course I’m always cheering for my teammates and watching girls coming back from injury who’ve had a hard time.

“I kind of need some space still. But, as time goes on, I’ll be able to be more involved and it will be less painful for me, and I can kind of start to build a new relationship with ski racing.”

Vonn was a special guest at the podium presentation of Friday’s super-G won by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who like Vonn came back from major knee injuries to return to an Olympic podium.

Vonn long harbored ambitions of racing against men, but it never came to fruition, at least in part due to the International Ski Federation never signing off. In 2012, she was quoted saying she wanted to race at Kitzbuehel, the most challenging track on the men’s circuit.

“Before I was injured, I really wish I would have at least got a chance to ski down it,” she said this week. “I wouldn’t even mind if I had raced, but it would have been cool for me to one time go down it with a race suit on and see what it’s like. Being here as a spectator, I’m so jealous of the men.”

While Vonn keeps busy in retirement, including wedding planning with fiance P.K. Subban, emotional pain remains from being off the ski circuit.

“It’s not really about letting go as much as just not being able to do what I love anymore,” she said. “That’s like a bad break-up where I just miss it, and wish I could still do it, but physically I wasn’t able to, and it’s a hard reality to accept. No matter how many business deals I make or companies I start, it’s never going to replace the adrenaline and the speed and the thrill of ski racing.

“It’s something I have to learn to live with ,and I just thought it would be a little easier than it was, but when you wake up and your world’s totally different and the reality sinks in, it just makes you sad sometimes.”

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

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That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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