Katharina Liensberger ends Mikaela Shiffrin’s slalom reign at world championships

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Austrian Katharina Liensberger handed Mikaela Shiffrin her first defeat in a world championships slalom, notching the first top-level, outright win of her career in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

Liensberger, a 23-year-old who formerly had professional harpist aspirations, prevailed by one second over Slovakian Petra Vlhova combining times from two runs.

Shiffrin, who won a record four consecutive world championships slaloms from 2013-19, improved from fourth after the first run to take bronze.

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Shiffrin finished the world championships with four medals, including combined gold, the most medals for any skier at a single worlds since Swede Anja Pärson in 2007. She ran her career total to 11 world championships medals, tying Pärson’s female record for the most at standalone worlds since World War II.

Asked if she was happy with her performance over the two-week worlds, Shiffrin said, “That’s a huge resounding yes.”

“I never imagined that I could win four medals in one world championships,” Shiffrin said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “There’s not a lot of things left to accomplish on paper, but I still feel motivated to ski faster and, especially on days like today, when I see the level of skiing that’s possible … I want to go training tomorrow. Let’s keep pushing.”

In 2020, Shiffrin went 300 days between races after her father’s death last February. Coach Mike Day told NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino that he’s seen more healing over the last two weeks than over the prior months.

“Some days you feel like it’s good, I’m healed, I’m better now,” Shiffrin said. “And then the next day, it hits you like a train. What I’ve heard is that it’s like this for the rest of your life. … These two weeks have been a big step in my ability to focus and control my emotions during the day and still fight.

“I’m feeling pretty grateful to be able to smile a lot more often. Every day, I feel a little bit more excited for the next day to come.”

Shiffrin is the best slalom skier in history with 44 World Cup wins, but was overtaken on the World Cup in the last 13 months by Vlhova.

Liensberger, too, has been ascending. She owns eight World Cup podiums, including in every slalom this season, though no victories on the circuit.

“It was so often so near and so close,” Liensberger said. “In the race it felt like flying a little bit, just getting faster with every gate.”

Liensberger was 1.30 seconds faster than Shiffrin in Saturday’s first run, the American’s largest deficit in any slalom since Jan. 10, 2017.

“I was quite disappointed,” of the first run, Shiffrin said. “It’s not really any big mistakes, just slower every turn.”

Liensberger hadn’t won a race on the top level until Tuesday’s parallel giant slalom, when she was originally ruled the silver medalist despite finishing in a tie with Italian Marta Bassino.

She was upgraded to shared gold upon closer inspection of the rules, taking out the tiebreaker in the event that’s not on the Olympic program.

Worlds finish Sunday with the men’s slalom, where Austrian Marco Schwarz is the favorite. Austria last swept the men’s and women’s slalom world titles in 1936.

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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024

Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

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She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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