Mikaela Shiffrin nears World Cup wins record in year of nail-biters, tears, pinch-me moments

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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s first heartwarming experience of the season occurred far from TV cameras on an Austrian slope in November. It wasn’t the last.

After the first giant slalom was canceled due to weather, Shiffrin trained slalom in the Tyrolean village of Pitztal. One day, Marlies Schild, one of her ski racing idols, came out with her two sons. The next day, Schild toted her 3-year-old daughter, Magdalena, and slipped the course (a kind of preparation) for Shiffrin.

Shiffrin laughed hysterically at the contrasting sight of Schild, who retired in 2014, making beautiful turns while Magdalena’s skis were bent backwards. Schild’s husband, fellow Austrian star Alpiner Benni Raich, was at the bottom with their two boys. Shiffrin had tears in her eyes, her mom said.

Shiffrin called it “a fan-girl moment” in the first episode of her new YouTube series.

“[Shiffrin] said, ‘I just was thinking somebody pinch me,'” Shiffrin’s mom and coach, Eileen, remembered in a phone interview Tuesday. “You can’t make this stuff up. It’s just so cool.”

Shiffrin had a dream start to her 12th World Cup season once the racing began. For the first time in her career, she won the first two events, slaloms north of the Arctic Circle in Levi, Finland. She then won the four most recent races across three different disciplines, also a career first.

She is now two wins shy of Lindsey Vonn‘s female record 82 career World Cup victories, and four more from Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record 86. She can pass Vonn this week with slaloms in Zagreb, Croatia, on Wednesday and Thursday and giant slaloms in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on Saturday and Sunday.

ALPINE SKIING: Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin neither dwells on her number of victories nor considers herself a record chaser.

“Mikaela is kind of introverted, and they say that introverts tend to be very, very hard to read,” Eileen said. “If she is thinking about it much, I don’t see it.”

Eileen was there in December 2012 for Shiffrin’s first World Cup win in Åre, Sweden. Stunned, the 17-year-old reportedly said, “I don’t really like the success. … I like to sleep at night, and I like to hang around the hotel room with my mom. I’m afraid there might be a little hype with this. But I’ll take it. This is what I love to do.”

Asked which wins have stood out since, Eileen noted the two Olympic gold medals (slalom in 2014, giant slalom in 2018) and Shiffrin’s most dominant performance ever by the numbers, her 3.07-second victory in a slalom in Aspen, Colorado, in 2015.

She also has a special place for last week’s effort in Semmering, Austria. Shiffrin won on back-to-back-to-back days, exactly six years after she did the same thing at the same place.

This year’s races were much closer. All of Shiffrin’s six wins this season have come by a margin of fewer than three tenths of a second.

“Each race [last week in Semmering], the second run she came through,” Eileen said. “It’s really a testament to where she is at the moment, mentally.”

In an interview last week, Shiffrin said her perspective gained from last February’s Olympics — encompassed by that YouTube series title, “Moving Right Along” — may have played a role in her success so far this season.

Shiffrin spoke to a sports psychologist this summer.

“That has helped her learn to be more independent and figure out who she is,” Eileen said. “If any of us, say, give her some feedback, and she doesn’t agree with it, she’ll either just say right there, ‘Well, I don’t agree with that,’ or she takes it and processes it and spits it back out if she doesn’t like it. And I think that’s helping her.”

Eileen has absorbed since those races, too.

“There are times and places for feedback,” she said. “I’m trying to learn to read Mikaela better, but more importantly, err on the side of saying things in a way that can’t possibly put added pressure on her or can’t be construed as having expectations, because she’s a people pleaser.”

The forecast for Zagreb on Wednesday and Thursday is warmer than normal. That means the wear-and-tear on the slope may have greater impact on the results. Shiffrin knows how fine the differences can be. Her six wins this season came by a combined margin of 1.08 seconds (or 18 hundredths per race).

A little over a month ago, Shiffrin missed the podium at her favorite World Cup stop in Killington, Vermont, for the first time. She went four consecutive tech races without a win. Then she rattled off four in a row, capped by another pinch-me moment: her first World Cup one-two with another American, Paula Moltzan.

Maybe the streak continues this week. No matter what, “the fight,” how Shiffrin describes the battles she embraces not just with other ski racers but also the terrains of courses, is not even half over for a season that runs into late March.

“Momentum changes,” Eileen said. “We of all people know that just when you think things are going great, something catastrophic can happen in the next second. So we take our good times. Roll with the good times as much as we can. Right now, it’s really nice to see her smiling and just happy and feeling good about life. I just think that’s where she’s at.”

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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