Chris Lillis honors ‘Speedy’ Peterson, joins Ashley Caldwell with aerials silver at worlds

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Chris Lillis honored Jeret “Speedy” Peterson in aerials at the world freestyle skiing championships as part of a double silver medal day for the U.S.

Earlier Wednesday, Ashley Caldwell also took silver, becoming the most decorated U.S. woman in her discipline at the biennial worlds.

Lillis became the first American since Peterson to perform a quintuple twisting triple backflip in competition — a back double full-full-double full for second place at worlds in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Peterson performed his signature quint, “the Hurricane,” to take silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Peterson killed himself a year and a half later. He was 29. The Speedy Foundation was established later in 2011 for mental health education and suicide prevention.

“Speedy was just a larger-than-life icon in my eyes growing up,” Lillis, 22, said. “It shows me that I’m jumping well enough to maybe have the same kind of success that he had in his career, but also a tremendous honor to be put in the same sentence as someone I grew up in awe of.”

Lillis, who missed the PyeongChang Olympics after an ACL tear, took silver with 133.5 points on Wednesday behind Russian Maksim Burov, who repeated as world champion with 135 points. Another Russian, Pavel Krotov, took bronze as all three men on the podium performed the same jump in the super final, the maximum degree of difficulty allowed under the current rules.

Lillis, who expects all six super finalists at the Beijing Olympics to throw a quint (including Chinese medal threats who didn’t compete this season), graded his effort on Wednesday an A.

“Considering where I was and the limited amount of experience with it that I have,” he said. “In general, I feel like I’ve got more in the tank. I feel like I can perfect it and do it better. I don’t feel like that was necessarily the best one I could have done, but given the moment, given the amount of pressure I was under and it being the first time I was competing it, I was really happy.”

Lillis did 100 of the jumps into a pool in offseason training.

“Definitely nervous to go do it,” he said before the season. “Kind of feels like jumping on a plane.”

Lillis’ older brother, Jonathon, won the 2017 World title. He has stepped away from competing, but the brothers still live together in Park City and conversed daily this season while Chris competed in Europe.

“The season as a whole has been a rough and interesting ride,” said Lillis, who suffered deep bone bruises and cracked ribs in January, when he caught an edge in training shortly before hitting the kicker, smacked his body into the face of it, shot off it and landed on a knoll. “I definitely have made a step up into that next echelon of jumping and just looking for that consistency. I made a large step to where I ultimately want to be. Now it’s just how do I live there, be more consistent and be more comfortable with these kinds of tricks.”

Caldwell, a three-time Olympian, landed a back full-full-full — a triple, in aerials lingo — for 101.74 points as the last competitor in the women’s super final. Caldwell decided last season to back off on triples, but brought them back this year.

“Being able to go out there and do my [high degree of difficulty] and do well is very gratifying,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with timing of the Olympics. I needed to do triples this season to feel good and confident about going in next year and doing triples, so that was a big push.”

Australian Laura Peel, the top aerialist this World Cup season, took gold with 106.46 points, landing the same trick. Russian Lyubov Nikitina earned bronze.

Caldwell added silver to her gold from the 2017 Worlds, surpassing 1998 Olympic champion Nikki Stone for the best medal record in women’s aerials for an American in world championships history.

Caldwell was the lone American to reach the six-skier super final. Four Americans, including Caldwell, follow Peel in the World Cup season standings, but the other three (Winter Vinecki, Megan Nick and Kaila Kuhn) did not compete in Almaty.

“Unfortunately COVID-19 protocols prevented several aerials athletes from participating,” a U.S. Ski and Snowboard spokesperson said when asked about their absences.

Caldwell noted her own stress from traveling across Europe during the pandemic.

“It’s one thing to be worried about getting sick in your own country, and it’s another to be worried about getting sick in a foreign country and doing a high-risk sport that might lead you to the hospital,” she said. “A lot of information that athletes really didn’t think about before. Now they have to actually make the decision about whether or not to take additional risks when you’re traveling abroad and competing.”

Caldwell, who was the youngest U.S. athlete at the 2010 Winter Olympics at age 16, said going into the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018 that they might be her final Games. Now she’s on the verge of matching 1998 Olympic champion Eric Bergoust‘s national record four Olympic starts in aerials.

“I also have a different perspective being older and seeing kind of the end of my career could be around the corner,” said Caldwell, trying to become the second American woman to win an Olympic aerials medal after Stone. “I definitely appreciate every event a lot more, even when the results aren’t as I wish.

“I definitely see myself wanting to do other things [after the 2022 Olympics], but I don’t know if that means that I will totally stop aerials or maybe just take a year or two off. I really don’t know yet.”

Freestyle skiing worlds continue with mixed team aerials on Thursday. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

NBC Olympics researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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