Petra Vlhova edges Mikaela Shiffrin in first World Cup slalom of season

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LEVI, Finland — Practice made perfect for Petra Vlhova on Saturday, beating Mikaela Shiffrin in the first World Cup slalom of the season.

The Slovakian overall champion had been training for three weeks in Finnish Lapland and skipped a parallel event in Austria last week to get ready for the first race in her strongest discipline.

The tactics paid off.

Vlhova posted the fastest time in both runs. She initially lost a few hundredths from her slim lead of .11 over Shiffrin but accelerated near the end of her final run to win by .31 as the pair continued their dominance in the annual event in Finnish Lapland.

Lena Dürr finished .84 behind in third for the German skier’s second career podium result, nearly nine years after winning a city event in Moscow.

No skier other than Vlhova or Shiffrin has won the traditional season-opening slalom since then-overall champion Tina Maze triumphed in 2014. Shiffrin and Vlhova have now each win it four times.

“Here on this kind of slope I like to ski, it’s something special to me,” said Vlhova, who won two slaloms in one weekend here last year.

It was Vlhova’s 21st career win and first since working with her Swiss coach Mauro Pini, who replaced Livio Magoni in the offseason.

Magoni had coached Vlhova for five years and the Italian helped her become the first overall champion from Slovakia, but he was forced to leave following unflattering remarks on Vlhova’s style of skiing reportedly made by him in an interview with an Italian newspaper.

“I feel more happy, more free. That’s it,” Vlhova said about working with Pini.

Having dealt with a back issue that hampered her training over the last few weeks, Shiffrin was made to wait at least one more day in her bid to match the 32-year-old record for most World Cup victories in a single discipline. Currently on 45 slalom wins, the American is one short of Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark’s best mark in giant slalom. Another slalom is scheduled for Sunday (4:30 and 7:30 a.m. ET on Peacock).

The American three-time overall champion was gracious in defeat.

“I think it was clear that Petra had, all together, better skiing and better consistency,” said Shiffrin, who regained the lead in the overall standings.

After three races, Shiffrin has 180 points and is followed by Andreja Slokar of Slovenia on 168 and Vlhova on 160.

“It was a quite successful day, especially when I look at the last three or four weeks,” Shiffrin said. “I had some good skiing and I had some sections that certainly weren’t perfect but still quite good. It’s always really great to start the season with a podium, so that’s awesome.”

Slokar, who won the parallel event last week, was 1.12 behind in fourth, followed by Anna Swenn Larsson, who was one-hundredth of a second further back in fifth. The Swede returned from a knee injury to compete in her first World Cup race in 21 months.

Austria’s Katharina Liensberger was 1.28 behind in sixth. Liensberger edged Shiffrin and Vlhova to win the World Cup slalom title last season, a few weeks after also winning the world title in the discipline.

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Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes, beach volleyball’s new sensation, win World Tour Finals

Kelly Cheng, Sara Hughes
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In just a few months since reuniting, Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have become not just the best women’s beach volleyball team in the U.S., but also, arguably, the world.

Cheng and Hughes, former partners who got back together for a 2024 Olympic run, won the World Tour Finals for the biggest title for a U.S. pair since April Ross and Alix Klineman took gold in Tokyo.

The 27-year-old Californians swept reigning world champions Duda and Ana Patricia of Brazil 21-18, 21-16 in Sunday’s final in Doha.

Cheng and Hughes have entered four tournaments since reuniting last fall and won all of them — once on the domestic AVP tour and now three international events.

They are rolling into the start of the 2024 Olympic qualifying window next week. It’s likely that the top two U.S. women’s pairs across international events over the course of the next 18 months qualify for the Paris Games.

Cheng and Hughes were previously NCAA champion teammates at USC, then the most promising, young U.S. pro team before splitting in 2018. Cheng made the Tokyo Olympics with Sarah Sponcil (lost in the round of 16), while Hughes’ Tokyo bid flamed out when partner Summer Ross suffered a back injury in 2019.

“It was a lot of the unknown and being young and kind of immature and listening to maybe outside forces and not really knowing how to deal with things as well,” Hughes said in October of their past breakup. “We’ve pretty much moved past that in our relationship. Moving forward with one another, we’re completely different players, and we’re a lot more mature. It feels like the right time. The past is past. We’re just moving forward.”

Cheng and Hughes have taken over from April Ross and Klineman as the top U.S. team. After winning Olympic gold, Klineman underwent shoulder surgery in January 2022 and last week announced she is pregnant and may return from childbirth for a “last-second” 2024 Olympic qualifying bid.

April Ross, a 40-year-old with an Olympic medal of every color, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.

The U.S. has won at least one beach volleyball medal at every Olympics that the sport has been on the program (since 1996). Eighteen months out from the Paris Games, Cheng and Hughes are the best hope to keep the podium streak going.

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Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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