Valerie Grenier wins Kranjska Gora giant slalom; Mikaela Shiffrin’s streak ends

Valerie Grenier
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KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia — The frustration on Mikaela Shiffrin’s face — mouth agape in apparent disappointment followed by pursed lips — lasted all of about 60 seconds.

By the time the cameras moved off Shiffrin and onto the next competitor, the American regained her smile and was quickly able to analyze the lofty expectations hanging over her — despite finishing in a tie for sixth in her first chance to match Lindsey Vonn’s all-time women’s World Cup wins record.

“Actually I don’t mind talking about it and I’m not tired of it,” Shiffrin said. “I’m just like, ‘It is what it is.’ Everybody is going to say, ‘You have the chance to win 82 races and equalize the record,’ every single race until I actually do it — if I do it.

“So it kind of doesn’t make a difference. I still want to go out and do my best skiing every day. And today that was the best I could do. But maybe I can make some improvements for tomorrow.”

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The giant slalom result Saturday ended a five-race winning streak for Shiffrin and left her with 81 career victories, one fewer than Vonn’s mark of 82.

Shiffrin, who finished 1.33 seconds behind Canadian winner Valerie Grenier, can still match Vonn in another giant slalom scheduled for the same course on Sunday.

“You always have to have patience accomplishing (anything),” Shiffrin said. “And I’m not maybe the most patient person, but in the key moments I have it because what are you going to do?

“Now the streak is over and we just go back to square one and keep fighting for the top step of the podium.”

Never one to seek too much attention, does Shiffrin just want to get the record done with and out of her way?

“I wouldn’t say it’s something that you just get done,” she said. “It’s hard to win races. And what I want to do along the way is feel really proud of my skiing and what I accomplished actually with my turns. And I think people get sick and tired of hearing that. But that’s the only thing that gives me something back in the sport, because the record talk doesn’t give anything to me except pressure.”

Grenier won by a comfortable margin for her first career victory by posting the fastest times in both runs. Marta Bassino finished second, 0.37 behind for her seventh straight podium result in giant slalom, and Petra Vlhova came third, 0.40 behind, for her seventh podium of the season — none of which have been victories.

Shiffrin stood fifth after the opening run but had only the 18th-fastest second run.

“The thing that stands out in my mind was just one turn. I went quite wide on this second run, but I don’t think that turn was what cost me so much,” Shiffrin said. “So I have to look at the final pitch and also just think about what I can do to be more aggressive. But the most important thing is also just to get some energy back.”

Already with seven wins this season, Shiffrin is also quickly approaching Ingemar Stenmark’s overall record — between men and women — of 86 victories.

Vonn retired four years ago when injuries ended her pursuit of Stenmark’s record.

Grenier’s best finishes in her 89 previous World Cup races were fourth in this race last year and fourth in a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, in 2019.

Grenier won three medals — a gold, a silver and a bronze — at junior worlds between 2015 and 2016. But she broke the tibia and fibula bones in her lower right leg a couple months after her then-best result in Cortina.

“I had four breaks and it just took a really long time to heal. So since the injury, I kind of focused more on giant slalom,” she said. “I feel like finally everything is coming together and I’m finally skiing at my best.”

A Canadian woman hadn’t won a World Cup giant slalom since Kathy Kreiner in 1974, while Kreiner went on to also win the event at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.

Canadian teammates mobbed Grenier in the finish area to celebrate.

Grenier’s helmet features a smily face sticker in the shape of an egg, because she’s sponsored by the Egg Farmers of Ontario.

“I love eggs. I eat eggs every single day. I’m obsessed,” she said. “So it’s the perfect sponsorship.”

While there were few, if any, Canadian or American fans lining the Podkoren 3 course near the Italian border, there were plenty of spectators waving Slovenian and Slovakian flags.

The upper section was foggy during the first run but visibility improved for the second leg and snow conditions were decent.

Nina O’Brien, another U.S. racer, fell midway down in the first run but did not appear to be seriously injured.

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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

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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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