mikaela shiffrin

Mikaela Shiffrin stunned by New Zealand 17-year-old in World Cup opener

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A slew of big-name Alpine skiing retirements opened the door for a new generation to emerge this season. Enter Alice Robinson, a 17-year-old from New Zealand who rallied to beat Mikaela Shiffrin in the very first race, a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Saturday.

Robinson overcame a .14 deficit after the morning run to edge Shiffrin by .06 after the afternoon run. Frenchwoman Tessa Worley was third. Full results are here.

Robinson, who was second to Shiffrin in the last giant slalom of the previous season in March, became the first skier from her nation to win a World Cup in 22 years and the youngest from any nation to do so since Shiffrin nearly seven years ago.

“It’s like a dream for me, and I’m still in shock,” said Robinson, the youngest Alpine skier at the PyeongChang Olympics who earned a place in last season’s World Cup Finals by winning the world junior title. “I had a feeling I was really going to like this slope.

“I was a bit nervous for the second run, but I just tried to hold it together. Just keep my nerves at bay and just try and enjoy it. Yeah, that’s what I did. I’m happy with it.”

Robinson denied Shiffrin her 61st World Cup win, which would have moved the American within one of fourth place all-time behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell.

Shiffrin said she made mistakes in her second run, but also that she wasn’t scared or nervous before the season opener for the first time in her career.

“For sure, there’s always disappointment when you come through the finish after the lead in the first run, you see the red light,” she said. “Alice skied just incredible today and just like she skied in Andorra [at the World Cup Finals] last year.

“This nothing-to-lose style, I can remember that in myself, so watching her is like taking a trip back in time.”

Earlier this week, Shiffrin said she has seen a “killer instinct” in the Kiwi. Robinson is coached by Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus, who formerly guided Lindsey VonnJulia Mancuso and the U.S. speed team.

“Alice is going to be a really strong competitor, and obviously she’s young, so for many years to come,” Shiffrin said Monday. “She has the ability to train a lot because all summer long, our summer, she’s in New Zealand, and she’s training. And then during our winter, she’s racing. So she has this opportunity to get massive amounts of volume in, and she’s motivated.

“Maybe it’s motivation for me as well because sometimes I do take my foot off the gas. To see somebody young coming up with sort of this fresh mindset and just be like, yeah, I can do this, I don’t need to be intimidated. That’s a cool, refreshing outlook.”

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, in four weeks. The men start in Soelden on Sunday (5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Also Saturday, Austrian Bernadette Schild went airborne and crashed in the second run, screaming once she came to a skidding halt.

The event was delayed nearly 15 minutes as several people tended to Schild, who has made seven World Cup slalom podiums. She was eventually helicoptered off.

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Mikaela Shiffrin’s rivals don’t believe they can beat her for overall title

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — With Mikaela Shiffrin’s dominance in the Alpine skiing World Cup increasing each year, some of her main competitors don’t seem to hold out much hope of beating the American standout for the overall title.

Like Wendy Holdener, who was runner-up to Shiffrin two years ago and third last season.

“I don’t think about the overall at the moment. If it could be a battle, it would be great,” the Swiss skier told The Associated Press on Thursday before the season starts with a giant slalom on the Rettenbach glacier (Saturday, 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Or Sofia Goggia, who has finished in the top three overall a few times before a fractured ankle halted her challenge for most of last season.

“The goal is to confirm myself on the speed side. But I am not thinking about the overall,” the Italian said.

It will likely leave Petra Vlhova as Shiffrin’s main challenger again. The Slovakian technical specialist won five races last season and even beat Shiffrin once in the American’s strongest discipline, slalom. Vlhova ended the season as the runner-up, but trailed Shiffrin by 801 points.

That was the American’s biggest season-ending margin so far. Shiffrin led Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia by 274 points for her first big crystal globe in 2017, and the difference grew to 671 points over Holdener the next year.

What followed was a record-breaking season, including 17 World Cup wins to raise her career tally to 60, third on the all-time winners list of the women’s World Cup. While Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell is within reach with 62 career wins, Shiffrin probably won’t catch Lindsey Vonn this season. The retired four-time overall champions has 82 wins.

Apart from her third straight overall title, Shiffrin won the season titles in slalom, GS and super-G.

“Last season was huge and it was almost too much, so I think I have to be a little bit realistic, too,” Shiffrin said about replicating her achievement.

What separates the upcoming season from the previous three is the lack of a major medal competition. With no Olympics or world championships in February 2020, Shiffrin might choose to step up her efforts in super-G and downhill.

“It actually gives an opportunity to test out a little bit more what I am able to do in speed,” she said. “I feel more comfortable to push there because you don’t have to be safe for a world championship.”

While her build-up to the season has been similar to previous years and her team, led by head coach Mike Day, has remained unchanged, something will be different: mother Eileen, also one of her coaches, won’t travel the whole circuit this season as she is also taking care of her 98-year-old mother.

“But I selfishly asked her when she is able to come, to travel and be with me because she has been a huge piece of my success,” Shiffrin told the AP in a recent interview at the office of her equipment supplier, Atomic.

“Somebody who is so close to me, my mother is my best friend and also an incredible coach. I think that sets me apart from the other athletes,” Shiffrin said. “It sounds a bit selfish but I don’t want to let that go.”

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GOGGIA’S GOALS

Goggia, the Olympic downhill champion, saw her quest for last season’s overall title end before the first race. A broken ankle kept her out until late January, but she returned with a bang, winning super-G silver at the world championships and a World Cup downhill in Switzerland the following month.

“The first races last season were a surprise but when you start with no real expectations, everything can happen,” Goggia said. “When you have your back and your shoulders against the wall, you got one chance to do the right thing. So when it comes to being a shooter, I am a good shooter.”

Goggia’s injury forced her to sit out all but two giant slaloms last season, meaning she has dropped out of the top 30 in the discipline rankings and will get an unfavorable late start position in Saturday’s race.

“I am going to start far behind. I really have no expectations but I have been working a lot,” the Italian said. “In super-G and downhill I am OK, so I am pretty confident and solid.”

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HOLDENER’S HOPE

Having added a few extra days of speed training to her offseason schedule in Zermatt in her native Switzerland, Holdener might increase her number of starts in super-G and downhill.

“It’s difficult to have, like, five disciplines. We will see how the season is starting, which events I am doing in speed. Normally I won’t do a lot of downhills,” she said.

Make no mistake, slalom and GS remain her main events.

“In GS I am top seven but the best girls are still a little bit in front of me,” she said. “Last season sometimes I skied really good and then I took a step back. You shouldn’t do that. You should fight until the finish.”

One of Holdener’s biggest wishes is to finally get that first win in slalom. She amassed 22 top-three results but is yet to win a race.

No skier, male or female, has ever had more World Cup podiums in a single discipline without a win.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, after a wave of retirements, ponders her future as World Cup starts

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For so long, Mikaela Shiffrin, a ski racer who makes preparation paramount, has readied for World Cup slaloms and giant slaloms by grabbing a spot in front of a TV in the lodge or team hospitality.

She would watch the broadcast of a men’s World Cup race happening the same day at a different resort. The skier she would most often see winning was Marcel Hirscher, an Austrian who bagged a record eight World Cup overall titles before announcing his retirement on Sept. 4.

“Thirty minutes before I go out for my run, he gives me this inspiration to kind of pull out some athletic skiing and go for it,” said Shiffrin, who like Hirscher starred in the technical events of slalom and GS the last several years. “I’ve had countless races where I remember feeling like, just being able to see him crush it right before I went has given me the last little bit of energy and spark that I kind of needed before I went. I’m definitely going to miss that a lot.”

Shiffrin, if she wasn’t already, is the leading face of her sport following the retirements of Hirscher, Lindsey Vonn and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal since last winter. She is 24, six years younger than Hirscher. Vonn left at 34; Svindal at 36.

She is the favorite for most races she enters, starting with Saturday’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it until I’m 30, if I’m going to retire before that, if it’s going to be after that,” Shiffrin said. “I probably don’t see myself going well beyond 30, but at the same time, if I’m at that point and I’m still having an absolute blast and sort of still reaching my own standards of skiing, then I’ll keep going.”

That kind of career decision does not appear imminent. Shiffrin is coming off what she called her best season — a record-breaking 17 World Cup wins (in 26 starts), two more world championships gold medals and a third straight World Cup overall title.

This year, if she stays healthy (never a given in her sport), Shiffrin is widely expected to move to No. 3 on the World Cup career wins list (trailing only Vonn and Ingemar Stenmark) and become the first woman to win four straight overall crowns in 45 years.

What could get in her way? For one, the ascension of younger rivals.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who beat Shiffrin in consecutive slaloms in 2017, won as many giant slaloms as Shiffrin last season (four, when including the world champs). New Zealand 17-year-old Alice Robinson had the fastest second run in the world championships giant slalom (benefiting from an early start number) and then placed second in the World Cup Finals GS.

“Slalom, [Shiffrin] still holds a little bit of distance there,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said. “But in GS, I don’t think there is any sense of domination.”

Then there is a topic that Shiffrin first broached last season and brought up again this week: back soreness.

“With each year, my body is starting to complain to me,” she said in February, according to The Associated Press. “My back has been kind of nagging all season long. It’s something we’ve had to manage.”

Shiffrin has been fortunate in that in nearly a decade of racing World Cups, she hasn’t had any leg injuries serious enough to require major surgery. But that doesn’t hide the toll of mileage from competing (and, more so, training) at the highest level since she was 15.

“I’ve dealt with some back injuries and probably will maybe for the rest of my career a little bit, but that’s also the case for most ski racers,” she said Monday. “So it’s just a little bit like what’s my body going to allow me to do as well. I know I’m only 24, but at the same time I sort of feel like I’m already 24 [laughs], and I feel it.”

Which brings it back to Shiffrin’s calculated preparation and training. Porino said that what he’s most intrigued about this season is what Shiffrin doesn’t do.

With no Olympics or world championships, there are more than 40 World Cup races between Saturday and the end of the season in March. Shiffrin, even as she has picked up more downhills and super-Gs, has never started more than 30 races combined among the Olympics, world championships and World Cup in one campaign.

Is Shiffrin in for her busiest season of racing yet? Where will she be cautious? If she does limit the race schedule, it might make her even more dangerous, because it frees more time for training.

“You simply do not get better by racing in Alpine skiing,” Porino said. “That has to be intimidating. When she doesn’t show up, she’s getting better than you, and she’s already better than you.”

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