Mikaela Shiffrin starts Olympic season with World Cup win No. 70

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SOELDEN, Austria — A friendly pat on the back from her rival Petra Vlhova and a long hug from boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde in the finish area were Mikaela Shiffrin’s rewards for excelling in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom on Saturday.

Shiffrin showed two runs of near flawless skiing on one of the toughest hills on the women’s circuit to earn her 70th career win.

The American Olympic champion’s performance was too much even for Lara Gut-Behrami, the reigning GS world champion from Switzerland.

With 2020 overall men’s champion Kilde looking on, Shiffrin sat .02 behind Gut-Behrami after the opening leg but put in another clean run in the second to edge her Swiss rival by .14 in perfect sunny conditions on the Rettenbach glacier.

“Starting off the season strong is important, so I am super happy,” Shiffrin said. “It’s a pleasure to ski today, they did so amazing with this (course) preparation, it felt so amazing to ski this hill.”

The pair finished well ahead of the rest of the field, with defending overall champion Vlhova of Slovakia trailing by 1.30 seconds in third.

Shiffrin became only the third skier in World Cup history to reach the 70-win mark, after Ingemar Stenmark and Lindsey Vonn achieved the feat before they finished their careers on 86 and 82 wins, respectively.

“I guess now it is,” said Shiffrin when asked whether the number of 70 meant something special to her. “It is a great achievement, I am proud. Seventy is incredible but the goal today was to ski well.”

And Shiffrin did just that on Saturday.

She opened race with a clean run, briefly shrugged her shoulders after finishing, but her time easily held up when other pre-race favorites came down.

Only Gut-Behrami, who had an aggressive run in perfect sunny conditions on the Rettenbach glacier, led Shiffrin’s time by a few hundredths throughout her run.

Gut-Behrami had the faster start and was .09 ahead at the first split but lost a fraction of her lead over Shiffrin at each of the following check points.

“It was a really super clean run. I felt really good in my skiing,” Shiffrin said after the first run. “Watching Lara, she is also super on point and maybe a little bit more active, like a little extra something.”

The battle for victory took an intriguing turn in the second leg.

After Shiffrin put pressure on Gut-Bahrami by posting the fastest second-run tun by far, the Swiss skier found herself .10 down at the first check point, but won time on Shiffrin entering the steep middle section, regaining the lead with an advantage of .24.

However, she failed to match Shiffrin on the bottom section.

“It doesn’t really matter, first or second,” Gut-Behrami said. “It’s just good for me to start the season like that, realizing that I am skiing fast.”

The Swiss skier, who won the overall title in 2016, used the summer preparation for “working on confidence, on little things. I am trying to get the best from each run and I am really happy I could bring that back in the race.”

Vlhova said losing 1.30 seconds didn’t hurt her too much.

“I don’t think that I am that far behind them,” the Slovakian skier said. “Today it was like this, but next race it can be completely different.”

Shiffrin’s 13th win in GS came seven years after she won her first race in the discipline at the same venue, sharing the 2014 victory with Austria’s Anna Fenninger.

Several of Shiffrin main challengers had a rough start to their seasons.

Most notably, Italian GS specialists Marta Bassino and Federica Brignone both skied out.

Bassino, who won the race a year ago and dominated the discipline with four wins last season, lost control of her right outside ski halfway through her first run, when she was already .57 behind then-leader Shiffrin.

Brignone was 1.52 behind after the first run in 15th before hooking a gate with her left arm in the second.

Other big names struggled as well, with French standout Tessa Worley finishing 2.06 behind in eighth and New Zealand’s Alice Robinson, who won the season opener in 2019, coming 2.41 seconds off the lead in 11th.

Coming so early in the winter season, the traditional season-opener in October is usually a race where many skiers fail to find their rhythm, seven months after the end of the previous season.

“Sometimes people are not pushing so hard, they just try almost to use it as training, but you really have to attack this hill,” Shiffrin said.

Shiffrin led a strong showing by the U.S. ski team, which had four of their five starters scoring World Cup points, including a career-best ninth place for Nina O’Brien. Also, AJ Hurt placed 20th, and Paula Moltzan finished in 23rd.

Amid tight anti-coronavirus measures, the race was attended by 9,000 spectators.

A minute’s silence prior to the race was dedicated to Gian Franco Kasper, the longstanding FIS president who died in July, just weeks after Johan Eliasch was elected as his successor.

The men’s World Cup starts Sunday with a GS on the same hill. The race will be streamed live on Peacock.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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