Mikaela Shiffrin fights fatigue as World Cup season hits turning point

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Mikaela Shiffrin has little free time these days — during the part of the season where she feels most fatigued — but she has noticed the reaction to her finishing second and third in her last two slaloms, sandwiched by a DNF in a combined race.

“It’s really funny to think that this would be what most people would consider like a bad season or poor results or something, but I’ve been on both [slalom] podiums [in 2020] and won multiple races [this season],” she said Thursday after getting edged in back-to-back World Cup slaloms for the first time since 2017. “It’s sort of like, OK, I’ll take that. … If this is what a bad season [is], then I’m going to take that and be grateful and keep working because the position I’m in is pretty incredible when you think about it.”

That position is a familiar one, leading the World Cup overall standings comfortably (by 273 points) as the season nears its midpoint. Shiffrin is on pace to become the second woman to win four straight overalls, joining Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll.

Competition continues this weekend. 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.

It marks the culmination of a monthlong stretch of technical races — Shiffrin’s specialties — at six stops among five different countries. The racing, the traveling left her short on training and resting, common for her at the turn of January given the World Cup calendar is similar from year to year.

“It’s hard to totally find that fire when I’m kind of beating my head against the wall,” she said.

A difference this year: the improvement of fellow 24-year-old Petra Vlhova, the Slovakian who won the last two World Cup slaloms. Vlhova previously beat Shiffrin in back-to-back slaloms at the end of the 2016-17 season and beginning of the 2017-18 season, but Shiffrin reasserted her dominance after finishing fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics.

“It just seems to me like [Vlhova] has been gaining more and more confidence in her skiing,” Shiffrin said. “It’s taken her a while to get to the point where she really has the confidence to throw down in that sense.”

Still, Shiffrin leads the World Cup slalom standings — 80 points — from winning the first three slaloms this season. If Shiffrin finishes second in the final four slaloms this winter, Vlhova would have to win them all to take the title on a tiebreak.

Vlhova’s team has been known to film other skiers’ training sessions, a practice that is not illegal in the sport (and common when athletes from different nations train together). Back in November, Shiffrin expressed concern about being filmed during training by those whose athletes weren’t present, but she clarified Thursday that she was not referring to Vlhova’s team in that interview.

“[Vlhova] has gotten her skiing to a really incredible point,” Shiffrin said Thursday. “I absolutely respect that, and that’s it.”

After Sestriere comes three straight weekends of speed races: downhills and super-Gs. Shiffrin plans to head to the first set in Bulgaria next weekend, then take it day by day from there. She’s looking forward to the next technical events in Slovenia in mid-February, which she likened to “a new season.”

“I was skiing at 100 percent of my ability [in recent races], knowing that my ability was maybe not as high as it has been when I’ve come off a really good training session or a block of rest,” Shiffrin said. “I feel like I’m going to be able to raise my level of skiing again, but it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”

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

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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