Mikaela Shiffrin just misses 70th World Cup win to finish season

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Mikaela Shiffrin finished second in the last race of the most difficult season of her career, just missing her 70th career World Cup victory while making a 10th consecutive podium.

Shiffrin was runner-up to New Zealand’s Alice Robinson, .28 of a second behind. Shiffrin had the fastest first run, when she was .77 faster than the 19-year-old Kiwi.

Shiffrin gave up a first-run lead for the third time in her last five races, yet finished in the top three for a 10th race in a row dating to the start of February (including world championships).

Full results are here.

“It’s been quite wild — a little bit beyond my hopes or dreams even,” she said of the season, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “There were a lot of moments I didn’t think we would do the season at all with the pandemic. I was also uncertain about myself personally. It’s quite incredible to be here now and have a good amount of success. It’s also a really big step to get back to this place to be fighting for the podiums in almost every race.”

Shiffrin had three wins among 10 podiums in 16 World Cup races this season, contesting strictly slaloms and giant slaloms in her lightest slate since an injury-shortened 2015-16 campaign.

At worlds, she won a record-tying four medals, including combined gold, cementing her as a contender for the same amount of medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Only one skier has earned four Alpine medals at a single Games — Croatian Janica Kostelic in 2002.

Shiffrin finished the winter ranked second in the world in slalom (behind Austrian Katharina Liensberger) and in GS (behind Italian Marta Bassino).

Shiffrin, while going 300 days between races following her father’s death on Feb. 2, 2020, questioned whether she could return to racing. She also suffered a back injury in preseason training. She called it “the first injury I’ve had that actually posed some threat to my career as a ski racer.”

“I feel like I had the most improvement this season, more than I ever had in my career,” she said on ORF.

ON HER TURF: Alpine skiers explain: ‘What Mikaela Shiffrin taught me’

Earlier Sunday, Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami made a curious exit in the opening GS run.

Gut-Behrami at first seemed to simply stop racing just a few seconds into her run, one day after she was confirmed as runner-up in the overall to Slovakian Petra Vlhova.

The Swiss star left broadcasters mystified when she skied out after the third gate.

Gut-Behrami, the overall World Cup champion in 2016, began to stand up straight approaching the gate, relaxed her arms and slowly skied back across the hill wide of the next gate.

It was a strange end to her impressive career revival in 2021. Since January, Gut-Behrami won six World Cup races — including four consecutive in super-G — plus two gold medals and a bronze at worlds.

“Lara didn’t have enough energy to give it all and didn’t want to take the risk to get injured and that’s the reason why she stopped,” Swiss team spokesman Jérôme Krieg said in a statement.

There was quick speculation that Gut-Behrami was making a protest against organizers after comments earlier in the week critical of the race week scheduling rules.

The downhill and super-G events — where Gut-Behrami is stronger than Vlhova — were canceled by difficult weather conditions on Wednesday and Thursday.

Krieg said fatigue was “the only reason [for stopping]. She’s happy about her season, that it is over now and that she is healthy.”

Gut-Behrami did not stop to speak with media in the finish area, and was due to return to the course for trophy presentations in the afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ON HER TURF: U.S. skier details eating disorder treatment

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”