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Olympic medalists Kathleen Baker, Caeleb Dressel headline TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Des Moines

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The TYR Pro Swim series continues this week with a stop in Des Moines, Iowa. The meet marks the first time that Iowa has hosted a professional swimming competition.

The women’s field is headlined by a handful of Olympic medalists, including Allison Schmitt, Kathleen Baker, Leah Smith, and Olivia Smoliga.

Baker, a two-time Olympic medalist and backstroke specialist, will look to improve on her performance at the first stop of the series in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she finished third in the 50m back, eighth in the 100m back (an event in which she holds the world record), and scratched the 200m back.

Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist, is entered in her first meet of 2019. The three-time Olympian is slated to compete in six events, including the 200m free, where she holds a six-year-old American record. Schmitt originally planned to retire after the 2016 Rio Olympics, but she never officially took herself out of the drug-testing pool, and returned to competition in April 2018. The 28-year-old has been open in recent years about battling depression and says one of her goals is to destigmatize conversations surrounding mental health.

The men’s field features seven-time world champion Caeleb Dressel, who is entered in seven events: the 100m free, 100m breast, 200m free, 50m breast, 50m fly, 100m fly, and 50m free. The 22-year-old had a slow start to the meet on Thursday morning, finishing 15th in the preliminary round of the 100m free (an event in which he holds the American record). Given that it is still early in the season, it is hard to draw too many conclusions from results in Des Moines as most swimmers are currently in the middle of a heavy training period as they look ahead to this summer’s World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Michael Andrew, 19, is also expected to compete in seven events, including five that overlap with Dressel. At last summer’s U.S. National Championships, the two swimmers dueled in multiple events, with Andrew out-touching Dressel in both the 50m fly and 50m free, while Dressel secured the win in the 100m fly.

Live coverage of Thursday’s finals begins at 8:00pm ET on Olympic Channel, while Friday’s finals get underway at 8:00pm ET on NBCSN.

Mikaela Shiffrin could win historic world title, not that she’s keeping track

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Mikaela Shiffrin has spent her career breaking records.

When she claimed slalom gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, she became the youngest-ever Olympic champion in the discipline, as well as the youngest American to win gold in any alpine skiing event.

When she won the slalom at the 2017 World Championships, she became the first woman to win three consecutive world titles in the discipline in 78 years.

On Dec. 22, she notched her 50th World Cup victory, becoming the youngest skier – and also just the eighth all-time – to reach the mark.

One week later, she broke the women’s record for most career slalom wins on the World Cup circuit (she now owns 38).

So far at these 2019 World Championships, she has claimed super-G gold and giant slalom bronze.

For those who like discussing alpine skiing records, Shiffrin is a gift. With each win, we dig into the databases and comb through stats to find some new nugget of information, some fresh way of qualifying her level of success. It’s our way of providing historic context for the way a 23-year-old skier from Colorado carves turns down a snowy slope. Because while it seems obvious that what she is doing is historic, records are the result of asking the question, “Historic in what way?”

To discuss these records, we become fluent in qualifier words. Words like ‘youngest’ or ‘oldest.’ Phrases like ‘first woman’ or ‘first American.’ Qualifier words are what make records accurate, but if you add enough of them, anything can become a record.

Given Shiffrin’s age, the fact that the majority of her success has come in a single discipline (slalom), and that the United States does not boast the deepest alpine skiing team, most of her accolades and records are qualified by these terms.

But at the 2019 World Championships in Are, Sweden, there’s a different type of record on the line, a record that doesn’t have anything to do with age, gender, nationality, or discipline. That’s because no alpine skier has ever won four straight world championship titles in the same discipline.

Full stop.

Seven athletes, including Shiffrin, have won three straight world titles in the same discipline since the first world championships were held in 1931.

  • Christl Cranz of Germany won three straight in both the slalom and the combined in 1937, 1938, and 1939. Cranz won the combined again at the 1941 World Championships, but given that the competition only included Axis-friendly nations, the international ski federation cancelled the results three years later. The world alpine skiing championships then went on hiatus until 1948 due to World War II and Cranz wasn’t competing by the time they were held again.
  • France’s Marielle Goitschel also won three straight titles in the combined (1962, 1964, 1966), but she finished second behind Canadian Nancy Greene in 1968.
  • Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden claimed three straight slalom titles in 1978, 1980, and 1982. But in his attempt for a fourth straight, he instead placed fourth, 0.92 seconds behind the winner.
  • Switzerland’s Erika Hess won three straight combined titles in 1982, 1985, and 1987, but then retired from competition.
  • Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt claimed three straight in the combined (1997, 1999, 2001), but it was American Bode Miller who claimed gold in 2003, with Aamodt finishing third.
  • American Ted Ligety won three straight giant slalom titles between 2011 and 2015, but he didn’t have the chance to go for a fourth straight after injury caused him to miss the 2017 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Finally, there’s Shiffrin, who has claimed the last three world titles in slalom.

She’ll step into the start house on Saturday with the opportunity to become the first athlete to win four straight world titles in the same discipline. Not the first woman or the first American or the first in slalom. The first athlete. It’s a simple record, unencumbered by qualifier words.

But while Shiffrin is a goal setter, she isn’t a record chaser. The Colorado native has always insisted that she puts more emphasis on the way she skis than the result that appears next to her name.

“High standards, but low expectations,” she said in a media call in January. “That sort of mentality is what allows me to ski my best. If I think about the results first, I tend to kind of tighten up, and it’s not as easy.”

She emphasized this in a long Instagram post last Saturday, writing, “From the outside, people see the records and stats. As I have said, those numbers dehumanize the sport and what every athlete is trying to achieve… My goal has never been to break records for most WC wins, points or most medals at World Champs. My goal is to be a true contender every time I step into the start…”

Needless to say, Shiffrin likely isn’t entering Saturday’s slalom thinking about the historic implications of winning a fourth straight slalom title, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a significant accomplishment.

Of all the ‘firsts’ that Shiffrin has added to her resume – whether consciously or not – this one would mean something different. It would solidify her status not only as one of the greatest female skiers or greatest slalom skiers or greatest American skiers, but instead underscore the fact that she is, simply, just one of the greatest.

 

Coverage of the Women’s Slalom at the 2019 World Alpine Skiing Championships: 

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 1)* NBCSN
8:00 a.m. Women’s Slalom (Run 2) NBCSN NBCSN/NBC Sports Gold
1:00 p.m. Women’s Slalom* NBC

*Same-day delay

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From Squaw Valley to Are, Bryce Bennett is still taking it one step at a time

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American alpine skier Bryce Bennett has seen the best results of his career in recent months, recording three top-five finishes in downhill since the start of the World Cup season. The 26-year-old is currently seventh in the downhill rankings and is expected to be an outside contender in the world championship downhill on Saturday in Are, Sweden.

“I think people are surprised because it seems like [the results] came out of nowhere, but for me, there was a huge process behind where I am now that’s hard to see. It’s actually impossible to see if you’re not living it,” Bennett said in a phone interview at the end of last month.

Bennett’s ‘process’ began in his hometown of Squaw Valley, California, the host of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games. The region has produced a long lineage of talented American skiers, including Julia Mancuso and Travis Ganong. Bennett’s mother worked at Alpine Meadows Resort and his dad was a telemark racer. He was skiing by age two and quickly joined the ski program at Squaw Valley.

“Ski racing is about taking steps. You start out at your club near your home. And then you race kids around your region in California – and then against [kids in] the western part of the United States, and then against all of the United States. And each level you step up, you have to start from the beginning and figure out how to be competitive at that higher level.”

That step-by-step process has continued on the World Cup circuit. The discipline of downhill, in particular, requires experience to find success. Athletes typically spend several seasons competing on the World Cup circuit before making their breakthrough. Lindsey Vonn, who has won more World Cup downhill races than anyone in history, made her downhill debut on November 29, 2001, but 26 months would pass until she reached her first downhill podium. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who is retiring after Saturday’s downhill, spent over three-and-a-half years on the World Cup circuit before recording a downhill podium finish. He’ll conclude his career with 32 – in addition to two Olympic medals in the discipline.

Bennett, who made his World Cup debut just over four years ago, says the experience he has gained the past few seasons has played a large role in his recent success. “In the past, I’d show up to a venue and the first training run would be very daunting… and now with more experience, [I’m] ready to go. You can attack or bring intensity to the first training run and refine it from there.”

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