Mikaela Shiffrin on brink of World Cup overall title after first downhill win in two years

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Mikaela Shiffrin moved closer to her fourth World Cup overall title by notching her first downhill victory in two years, prevailing at the World Cup Finals in Courchevel, France, on Wednesday.

Shiffrin, in her 15th career World Cup downhill start, earned her third career downhill win and 74th World Cup victory across all disciplines. She trailed at all but the last intermediate split, then crossed the finish line one tenth ahead of Austrian Christine Scheyer and Swiss Joana Haehlen.

WORLD CUP FINALS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin covered her mouth in an act of speechlessness. Moments later, she embraced boyfriend Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the Norwegian who won the men’s downhill season title two hours earlier.

“Are you kidding me? That was amazing,” Kilde told her. “How did you actually do that?”

Shiffrin said she benefited from talking downhill course strategy with Kilde earlier this week. Shiffrin, whose best finish in three previous downhills this season was 18th, said she considered not racing the event at Finals, where all four disciplines are contested in a five-days span.

Then she was fastest in Tuesday’s training run.

“I’m supposed to not be winning downhills,” she said. “I’m not a downhill skier right now. I mean, I have great pieces, but it takes a lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of effort. And some of the things that, for many of the other women comes natural, is not coming natural for me.”

Shiffrin upped her lead in the standings for the overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, from 56 points to 156 points over Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova. Vlhova, the Olympic slalom gold medalist, was 16th on Wednesday in her worst discipline, scoring zero points.

A race winner receives 100 points, with 80 for second, 60 for third and 50 for fourth on a descending scale through the 15th skier. Vlhova must average making up more than 50 points per race on Shiffrin in the final three races to overtake her, starting with Thursday’s super-G.

The overall title goes to the best racer by combining results from races in all disciplines over the 37-race season that started in October. Shiffrin is trying to tie Lindsey Vonn for second place in women’s history with four titles, trailing only Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll, who won six in the 1970s.

Shiffrin ranks third in World Cup history with 74 wins, trailing Vonn (82) and Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86). She also joined Anja Pärson, Marc Girardelli and Bode Miller as skiers to win at least three times each in the primary disciplines of downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom.

Wednesday marked Shiffrin’s first victory since the Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth among five races. Three times this season Shiffrin came back from significant adversity to top a World Cup podium, also including a back injury in October and November and a COVID quarantine over Christmas.

Earlier Wednesday, Swiss Marco Odermatt clinched his first overall title by finishing second in the downhill behind Austrian Vincent Kriechmayr.

Odermatt, 24, upped an already comfortable 329-point lead to an insurmountable 359 points over Kilde with three races left.

Kilde, by finishing fourth Wednesday, clinched his first downhill season title.

He came into the finals with a 23-point lead in the discipline standings over Swiss Olympic gold medalist Beat Feuz, who finished third, gaining 10 points on the Norwegian. Feuz would have passed Kilde with a second-place finish.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

Delta LA 2028
LA 2028

Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record was the product of pain, rain

Eliud Kipchoge

When Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record in Berlin on Sunday, he began his celebration near the finish line by doing the same thing he did upon breaking the record in Berlin four years earlier.

He hugged longtime coach Patrick Sang.

The embrace was brief. Not much was said. They shook hands, Kipchoge appeared to stop his watch and Sang wiped his pupil’s sweaty face off with a towel. Kipchoge continued on his congratulatory tour.

“It felt good,” Sang said by phone from his native Kenya on Thursday. “I told him, ‘I’m proud of you and what you have achieved today.'”

Later, they met again and reflected together on the 2:01:09 performance, chopping 30 seconds off his world record in 2018 in the German capital.

“I mentioned to him that probably it was slightly a little bit too fast in the beginning, in the first half,” Sang said of Kipchoge going out in 59 minutes, 51 seconds for the first 13.1 miles (a sub-two-hour pace he did not maintain in the final miles). “But he said he felt good.

“Besides that, I think it was just to appreciate the effort that he put in in training. Sometimes, if you don’t acknowledge that, then it looks like you’re only looking at the performance. We looked at the sacrifice.”

Sang thought about the abnormally wet season in southwestern Kenya, where Kipchoge logs his daily miles more than a mile above sea level.

“Sometimes he had to run in the rain,” said Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist. “Those are small things you reflect and say, it’s worth sacrificing sometimes. Taking the pain training, and it pays off.”

When Sang analyzes his athletes, he looks beyond times. He studies their faces.

The way Kipchoge carried himself in the months leading into Berlin — running at 6 a.m. “rain or shine,” Sang said — reminded the coach of the runner’s sunny disposition in the summer of 2019. On Oct. 12 of that year, Kipchoge clocked 1:59:40 in the Austrian capital in a non-record-eligible event (rather than a traditional race) to become the first person to cover 26.2 miles on foot in less than two hours.

Sang said he does not discuss time goals with his students — “Putting specific targets puts pressure on the athlete, and you can easily go the wrong direction,” he said.

In looking back on the race, there is some wonder whether Kipchoge’s plan was to see how long he could keep a pace of sub-two hours. Sang refused to speculate, but he was not surprised to see Kipchoge hit the halfway point 61 seconds faster than the pacers’ prescribed 60:50 at 13.1 miles.

“Having gone two hours in Monza [2:00:25 in a sub-two-hour attempt in 2017], having run the unofficial 1:59 and so many times 2:01, 2:02, 2:03, the potential was written all over,” Sang said. “So I mean, to think any differently would be really under underrating the potential. Of course, then adding on top of that the aspect of the mental strength. He has a unique one.”

Kipchoge slowed in the second half, but not significantly. He started out averaging about 2 minutes, 50 seconds per kilometer (equivalent to 13.2 miles per hour). He came down to 2:57 per kilometer near the end.

Regret is not in Kipchoge’s nature. We may never know the extent of his sub-two thoughts on Sunday. Sang noted that Kipchoge, whose marathon career began a decade ago after he failed to make the London Olympic team on the track, does not dwell on the past.

“If you talk to him now, he probably is telling you about tomorrow,” Sang joked.

The future is what is intriguing about Kipchoge. Approaching 38 years old, he continues to improve beyond peak age for almost every elite marathoner. Can Kipchoge go even faster? It would likely require a return next year to Berlin, whose pancake-flat roads produced the last eight men’s marathon world records. But Kipchoge also wants to run, and win, another prestigious fall marathon in New York City.

Sang can see the appeal of both options in 2023 and leaves the decision to Kipchoge and his management team.

‘If we can find the motivation for him, or he finds it within himself, that he believes he can still run for some time, for a cause, for a reason … I think the guy can still even do better than what he did in Berlin,” Sang said. “We are learning a lot about the possibilities of good performance at an advanced age. It’s an inspiration and should be an inspiration for anybody at any level.”

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