Associated Press

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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Russian Olympic Committee triathlete is first Tokyo Olympics competitor to receive doping ban

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In the first formal disqualification of a Tokyo Olympics athlete for doping, Igor Polyanskiy has been banned for three years, World Triathlon said on Thursday.

Polyanskiy admitted doping with EPO, an endurance boosting hormone, ahead of the Olympics and is banned until during the 2024 Paris Games.

Polyanskiy represented ROC, the Russian Olympic Committee, in Tokyo as Russia is currently banned from competing with its name, flag or anthem at the Olympic Games or world championships.

World Triathlon added Polyanskiy did not dispute his positive test in a sample taken at a training camp in Vladivostock, Russia, five days before he began competing in Tokyo.

The positive test was notified after he placed 43rd in the men’s race and helped the Russian Olympic Committee quartet finish 14th in the mixed relay. He was 31st in the men’s event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

He and the Russia team were disqualified and their Tokyo results annulled, World Triathlon said.

Because the 31-year-old Polyanskiy admitted the charge, he got a one-year reduction from the potential four-year sanction by a World Triathlon tribunal.

He is cleared to compete again on Aug. 10, 2024, one day before the Paris Closing Ceremony.

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No foreign spectators, 21-day quarantine for unvaccinated at Beijing Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — A 21-day quarantine for non-fully vaccinated athletes, officials and workers at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Daily testing for vaccinated people. No tickets sold to anyone living outside China as Olympic venues open their doors again.

Restrictions imposed to control the Covid-19 pandemic at the next Winter Games in February were announced Wednesday by the International Olympic Committee.

While not imposing a vaccine mandate, organizers in Beijing plan stricter rules than applied at the Tokyo Olympics where vaccination was advised though not demanded within a strict regime of testing.

“Games participants who are not fully vaccinated will have to serve a 21-day quarantine upon arrival in Beijing,” the IOC said in a statement.

Olympic athletes can ask to avoid quarantine, the IOC said, for a “justified medical exemption” — a phrase that appeared to exclude ideological objections to vaccines.

It will be the second straight Olympics during the pandemic where families of athletes cannot visit the host country to watch the events.

The IOC acknowledged “all parties feel for the athletes and the spectators from around the world.”

Residents of the host country, however, should be able to attend the 109 medal events after spectators were barred from nearly all of the 339 events in Tokyo.

“Tickets will be sold exclusively to spectators residing in China’s mainland, who meet the requirements of the COVID-19 countermeasures,” the Olympic body said, though details were not given.

Guests of stakeholders such as sports bodies, sponsors and broadcasters will also be excluded again.

Olympic organizers plan to operate a health security bubble — called a “closed-loop management system” — even for vaccinated people from Jan. 23, almost two weeks before the Winter Games open Feb. 4.

It will stay in place for almost two months until after the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games close on March 13.

“Within the closed loop, participants will be allowed to move only between Games-related venues for training, competitions and work,” the IOC said, promising a “dedicated Games transport system.”

The Beijing plan should allow vaccinated people freer movement within the Olympic bubble than the 14-day restrictions that applied on arrival in Tokyo.

The rules were announced after a meeting between the IOC and International Paralympic Committee with organizers in China.

The Beijing Winter Olympics are being held from Feb. 4-20. The Paralympic Winter Games will be held March 4-13.

Preparing have been affected with nearly all international sports competitions at Games venues canceled since the COVID-19 outbreak spread from China in January 2020.

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