Shiffrin’s slalom streak is snapped at Flachau World Cup

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After finishing second to American Mikaela Shiffrin in the first five World Cup slaloms of the season, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova finally made her breakthrough at today’s World Cup stop in Flachau, Austria. Competing under the lights and amid heavy snowfall, Shiffrin led the field by 0.27 seconds after the first run (with Vlhova sitting in third, 0.31 seconds back). But Vlhova attacked the course in the second run, going on to finish 0.15 seconds ahead of Shiffrin. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger placed third, marking the 21-year-old’s first-ever World Cup podium finish. (Anna Swenn Larsson of Sweden initially seemed to have claimed the final spot on the podium, but she was later disqualified for not correctly passing through one of the gates.)

The other American competing in Flachau, Paula Moltzan, finished 12th, marking her best-ever World Cup finish. Moltzan was in 27th place after the first run, but she skied the second-fastest time (behind only Vlhova) in the second run to catapult herself up the standings. Full results are here.

It has been nearly two years since a woman other than Vlhova or Shiffrin stood atop a women’s World Cup slalom podium. Sweden’s Frida Handotter won the Flachau slalom on January 10, 2017, but in the 17 World Cup slaloms since, Shiffrin has notched 13 victories, while Vlhova has won four.

Vlhova is one of the only athletes who has seriously challenged Shiffrin in recent years. The two athletes are close in age (Shiffrin is exactly three months older). At the start of the 2017-18 season, it seemed like a real slalom rivalry was developing after Vlhova outpaced Shiffrin by 0.10 seconds at the World Cup in Levi, Finland. But then Shiffrin finished ahead of Vlhova at the Killington World Cup. And then Shiffrin won again, and again, and again, all while Vlhova’s slalom results slowed.

Vlhova has been gaining on Shiffrin since the start of the current season and she even managed to outpace the American slalom star at the city event in Oslo earlier this month. But today’s win was even sweeter. “This is my best day ever.” Vlhova said in her post-race FIS interview. “Finally I beat Mikaela, but she’s also really strong and I have big respect [for her].”

A few minutes later, Shiffrin told the crowd of cheering fans, “It’s motivation for me so we’ll see you in Maribor,” a reference to the next slalom on the World Cup calendar, which is scheduled for February 2.

Shiffrin entered Flachau having won the last seven World Cup slaloms (a streak that in March 2018 in Ofterschwang, Germany). Today’s race offered her a chance to tie the women’s World Cup record for most consecutive slalom victories (eight), which was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1989 and equaled by Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2001, but her second-place finish means it will be at least another year before she another shot at that specific record.

In December, Shiffrin broke Austrian Marlies Schild’s record for most career World Cup slalom wins by a woman. Despite her second-place finish today, Shiffrin still has the opportunity to tie the overall record for most World Cup slalom wins (by a man or woman) before the end of the season. The current record (40) is held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who competed in the 1970s and 80s. Shiffrin currently owns 37 career World Cup slalom wins, with three more races scheduled this season.

France World Cup star eyes 2024 Paris Olympics

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Antoine Griezmann, a star striker on France’s World Cup team, sounds like he wants an over-age spot on France’s 2024 Olympic soccer team.

“I would really like that, and that could be a dream. I experienced the Euros in France [in 2016] and it was the ultimate blast,” Griezmann replied to a question from five-time French Olympic biathlon champion Martin Fourcade, according to an ESPN translation of Le Figaro report. “To experience that in 2024 at the Paris Games, I’d sign up for that now. It would be magnificent. Honestly, it could be one of the objectives for the end of my career.”

France hasn’t qualified for an Olympic men’s soccer tournament since 1996, but it should receive automatic entry into Paris 2024 as the host nation.

Current Olympic men’s soccer rules would allow three players per nation born before Jan. 1, 2001.

Host nations recently used those spots on Neymar for Brazil in 2016 and Ryan Giggs for Great Britain in 2012.

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Sunny Olympic host Sochi turns into World Cup playground

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Warm weather, beaches, amusement parks.

It’s not exactly what Australian fan Adam McKinley expected to find when he decided to make the trip to Russia for the World Cup.

But that’s exactly what he got in Sochi, the city introduced to the world as a winter destination during the Olympics four years ago, with its coastal location on the Black Sea and its majestic snow-capped peaks a short distance away.

“Whenever I think of Russia, I picture something like cold Siberia. I picture, like, real cold stuff,” McKinley said. “I’ve been blown away by this. We even went for a swim and it was lovely. It was just nice and warm. We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Sochi wasn’t so cold during the Olympics, either, with temperatures frequently climbing into the mid-50s in the Olympic Park. The chillier mountains are roughly an hour’s drive away.

But in the summer, the snow is replaced by sun, lots of it, as Russia’s seaside playground explodes into a scene more akin to Southern California or Miami Beach than Siberia.

“The moment we saw Peru was going to play in Sochi, we wanted to come here,” said Peru supporter Luis Medina, one of the thousands of World Cup fans who have come to the city. “We knew this was going to be the place to be.”

Even the teams based in Sochi were taking full advantage of the region’s attractions. Brazil was feeling right at home, enjoying the warm temperatures and a private beach at the team’s hotel in possibly the closest setting to what it had back home before traveling to Russia.

“We are having lunch and breakfast with a view of the sea. That’s a plus for us,” goalkeeper Alisson said shortly after Brazil arrived.

The Brazilians fought hard to secure Sochi as their base. The Austrian federation initially picked the five-star hotel where Brazil is staying, but luckily for the Brazilians, Austria did not end up qualifying for the World Cup.

Germany stayed in Sochi during the Confederations Cup last year, but this time it chose a different location in part because it said it couldn’t secure a proper private training field. After the opening loss to Mexico, some local media questioned whether the decision not to return to Sochi played a part in the team’s disappointing performance.

Poland also is based in Sochi. On a day off, the team visited the city’s dolphin park, one of the most famous in the region.

The micro-district of Adler, where the Olympic Park sits and the World Cup matches are played, is a hub of activities catering to tourists of all ages and tastes.

Many gather at the rock-covered beach by Fisht Stadium, which is hosting six World Cup matches, including one in the round of 16 and another in the quarterfinals.

But if sunbathing isn’t high on the agenda, there is plenty more to do.

Sochi Park, known as the Russian Disneyland, is walking distance from the stadium. Based on local fairy tales, it’s the country’s first modern theme park — and one of the biggest.

It was mostly empty during the Olympics, but four years later it has been popular among World Cup fans. Officials estimate the tournament has added about 2,000 people a day to the park, which annually receives 1 million visitors.

“It’s a shame we can’t stay longer and enjoy more of the park because we have to go to the game,” Panama supporter Nathalie Nielsen Atencio said.

The park includes a “roller-coaster” restaurant, with orders sliding down to customers on metal tracks. It’s believed to be the only restaurant of its type in Russia, and one of nine in the world.

Also near the park is the Sochi Autodrom, which hosts Formula One races but is open to people wanting guided tours and even a chance — for a price — to drive the circuit.

“There are so many things to do in Sochi,” said Alexey Titov, who is in charge of the company that organizes the Russian Grand Prix and operates the track. “It has developed greatly in the past four years since the Olympics have gone. You can see it has changed massively. This place went from a swamp in 2008 to a thriving park with restaurants, food, activities, things to do.”

By the track there’s also a go-karting circuit, and the remaining Olympic venues offer indoor sports like tennis, skating and hockey.

Sochi’s downtown is some 20 miles from the Olympic park, but activities there also revolve around the waterfront, including a lengthy promenade of storefronts, souvenir stands and water-related activities connecting the heart of the city with the seaport where the Fan Fest is taking place.

Beach clubs playing a mix of pop hits from Europe and the United States are mixed with more family-oriented places to enjoy the sun, like waterparks with slides and splash-pads on the shore of the Black Sea.

The train line connecting Adler and Sochi runs mostly along the shore and is filled with small pockets of land teeming with beachgoers.

All those waterfront activities don’t include the resorts of the Krasnaya Polyana mountain cluster 30 miles inland, where the Alpine events of the Winter Olympics were held. They offer a summer attraction for those not as interested in the beach.

Martin Fasth was visiting from Sweden for the World Cup and was impressed with all the options.

“We kind of expected something better than Sweden,” he said, “but not something this nice.”

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