HIGHLIGHTS: Shiffrin dominates in Bulgaria; Chen storms to fourth straight U.S. figure skating title

World Champion Nathan Chen of the U.S. (Photo: ISU)

Headline results of noteworthy competitions around the world:

ALPINE SKIING ● If you somehow thought American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin was off-stride, with a slow start to 2020, forget it.

While she had won three medals in her five races to start 2020, she hadn’t won since a Slalom in late December, That all changed in Bansko (BUL), where she won the Downhill on Friday and the Super-G on Sunday, with a fourth in the Saturday Downhill in between. She was a clear winner on Friday, taking the Downhill by 0.18 over Federica Brignone (ITA), then missed a medal on Saturday, finishing fourth by 0.21 with Brignone third and then sailed past the field on Sunday, winning by a convincing 0.29 over Marta Bassino (ITA) with Swiss Lara Gut-Berhami third.

Saturday was an Italian sweep, with Elena Curtoni winning ahead of Bassino (+0.10) and Brignone, with Shiffrin fourth and teammate Breezy Johnson fifth.

Shiffrin now has 66 career World Cup wins, just one behind now-retired Marcel Hirscher (AUT) for third all-time. She also has 96 World Cup medals and will certainly reach the century mark later this season. Better known as a technical skier, this was her second career Downhill win and fourth in the Super-G. Her overall World Cup lead is now up to 1,225-885 over Bassino after 21 of 40 races scheduled this season. Full results here.

The men were skiing at Kitzbuehel (AUT), with Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud winning the Super-G on Friday (his 23rd World Cup gold), home favorite Matthias Mayer taking Saturday’s Downhill and Swiss Daniel Yule winning the Sunday Slalom. Mayer moved into third place in the overall standings with 692 points, behind Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen (741) and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (700). Full results here.

ATHLETICS ●The World Athletics World Indoor Tour opened in Roxbury, Massachusetts with the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday and a historic performance from 800 m World Champion Donavan Brazier.

He took off from the start in the men’s 600 m, passed 400 m in 49.62 and the sailed to the win in the no. 2 performance of all-time in 1:14.39. Second-place Michael Stigler finished in 1:20.21. Only Brazier’s world-record performance of 1:13.77 from the U.S. Nationals last season has ever been faster.

In the men’s 1,000 m, American Bryce Hoppel, last year’s NCAA champ from Kansas, won in 2:17.41, making him the no. 3 performer in U.S. history. He out-leaned Jake Wightman (GBR), who set a national indoor record of 2:17.51 in second.

World 100 m hurdles champion Nia Ali impressed with a win in the 60 m hurdles in 7.94, just ahead of fellow American Christina Clemons (7.98). Full results here. The World Indoor Tour continues next Friday in Karlsruhe (GER).

BADMINTON ● The Thailand Masters in Bangkok had winners from five different countries across the five events, with Ka Long Angus Ng (HKG) taking the men’s Singles title and top-seeded Akane Yamaguchi winning the women’s Singles event. The other top seed to win was in women’s Doubles, with China’s Qingchen Chen and Yifan Jia. Full results here.

BIATHLON ● The last stop on the IBU World Cup tour ahead of the World Championships in mid-February was in Pokljuka (SLO), with impressive performances from Norwegian star Johannes Thingnes Boe.

Trailing a resurgent Martin Fourcade (FRA) in the overall standings, Boe won the 20 km Individual race on Thursday (23rd), then came back with a third in the 15 km Mass Start event. He only made up a few points, however, as Fourcade was second in the 20 km and fifth in the Mass start event. So at the World Champs break, Fourcade continues with the overall lead at 601, trailed by teammate Quentin Fillon Maillet (532) and Boe (482).

Germany’s Denise Herrmann (15 km Individual) and Hanna Oberg of Sweden (12.5 km Mass Start) were the women’s winners. Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff continues as the overall leader at 524, with Dorothea Wierer (ITA: 509) second and Oberg (456) third. Full results here.

BOBSLED & SKELETON ● World Cup stop no. 6 on the eight-leg tour was in Koenigssee (GER) with a full schedule, but the usual result: two wins for double Olympic champ Francesco Friedrich of Germany.

He and Thorsten Margis won the two-man over 2018 Olympic co-gold winner Justin Kripps of Canada by 1:38.66-1:39.17 for their fourth straight win in five races this season, In the four, Friedrich’s crew won for the fourth time in seven races over teammate Johannes Lochner and Kripps.

American Kaillie Humphries, driving with Sylvia Hoffmann, won her third victory of the season in the two-woman bob, 1:41.57-1:42.60 over German Laura Nolte with Stephanie Schneider (GER) third. Friedrich continues as the seasonal leader in both of the men’s events, while Humphries regained the women’s lead by just 1,259-1,211 over Schneider.

In Skeleton, Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov won again, his third victory in six races in 2019-20, and Germany’s Tina Hermann won her second race in a tight finish with teammate Jacqueline Loelling, 1:42.79-1:42.97. Tretiakov and Loelling now lead the seasonal standings, but with plenty of competition for the rest of the season Full results here.

CYCLING ● The first event of the 2020 UCI men’s World Tour finished on Sunday with home favorite Richie Porte, 34, winning his second Santos Tour Down Under in Australia. He won the key, hilly third stage and then finished second in Sunday’s hilly finale to overtake South Africa’s Daryl Impey and won the overall title. Italy’s Diego Ulissi finished second (-0:25), with Simon Geschke (GER) third; Impey was sixth. American Joey Rosskopf won the King of the Mountains classification. Detailed results here.

The sixth and final UCI Track Cycling World Cup was held in Milton, Canada, with two Dutch stars winning two golds each. Dutch sprinter Laurine van Riessen won the women’s Sprint and Kierin, and Jan Willem van Schip won the men’s Omnium and teamed with Yoeri Havik to take the men’s Madison.

The U.S. had a busy meet, with Jennifer Valente taking the women’s Omnium, joining Megan Jastrab for third in the women’s Madison and then as part of the winning Team Pursuit, with Chloe Dygert, Emma White and Lily Williams. Valente won three of the four Omniums she entered and was the seasonal World Cup winner. Madalyn Godby won bronze medals in the Sprint and the Kierin.

Poland’s Mateusz Rudyk won the men’s Sprint and the overall World Cup title. Although she didn’t compete in Milton, Hong Kong’s Wai Sze Lee won the women’s World Cup Sprint title. Full results here.

FENCING ● The Epee Grand Prix in Doha (QAT) saw Russian Sergey Bida score a surprise win over Alexandre Bardanet in the men’s division. It was Bida’s third career Grand Prix gold, but first in three years!

The women’s final had two familiar faces, with Ana Maria Popescu (ROU) defeating Mara Navarria (ITA) in the final, 13-9. It was Popescu’s eighth career Grand Prix win and her second G.P, final this season. She now has a remarkable total of 17 career Grand Prix medals and 24 World Cup medals! Full results here.

FIGURE SKATING ● Although his training had been hampered by the flu recently, World Champion Nathan Chen absolutely dominated the 2020 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships held in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He led Jason Brown after the Short Program by 114.13-100.99 and then won the Free Skate, scoring 216.04-191.89 over Brown for a 330.17-292.88 victory, with Tomoki Hiwatashi (278.08) third. “Needless to say, I’m really thrilled with the results,” Chen said. “I was happy I was able to get to this event, happy I was able to skate as much as I wanted to. I was able to stay pretty much consistent throughout the week, and was able to perform pretty well today.”

It was Chen’s fourth straight national title, matching the feat of a handful of others; the last to do it was Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Alysia Liu, still just 14, won her second consecutive women’s title, scoring 235.52 and rising from second after the Short Program to sail past Mariah Bell (225.21) and Short Program leader Bradie Tennell (220.86).

The Pairs title went to Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim, their third career American national title, scoring 216.15 to edge Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (213.57, also winning the Free Skate).

Madison Chock and Evan Bates won a hotly-contested Ice Dancing competition, taking the honors in both the Rhythm Dance and Free Dance to score 221.86. That was just good enough to win a second career national title over Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (217.19).

Full results here.

FREESTYLE SKIING ● In Ski Cross Canada’s Ryan Regez won gold and bronze in the two races held in Idre (SWE), with German Daniel Bohnacker winning the second event. He finished ahead of the ultra-consistent Kevin Drury (CAN), who has now won five medals in nine races this season. The women’s races showcased Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund, who won silver and gold in the two events, and continues the lead the seasonal standings. Swiss Fanny Smith won Saturday’s race, but finished second on Sunday.

Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury extended his own World Cup record for career wins to 58 by taking the Moguls title in front of home fans in Mont-Tremblant (CAN). He and Japan’s Ikuma Horishima have now finished 1-2 or 2-1 in all three events this season; Horishima won silver this time, with Ben Cavet (FRA) third for the second straight race. France’s Pierre Laffont kept her record perfect, with her third straight win this season in the women’s Moguls. Yuliya Galysheva (KAZ) finished second for the second straight time. Links to results are here.

JUDO ● The first event on the IJF World Tour for 2020 was a Grand Prix in Tel Aviv (ISR) and the hosts did not disappoint the home crowd. Peter Paltchik won the men’s 100 km division and Or Sasson took gold in the +100 kg class.

Korea led all nations with three golds, from Won Jin Kim (men/60 kg), Baul An (men/66 kg) and Dongham Gwak (men/90 kg). Japan won two golds, from Natsumi Tsunoda (women/48 kg) and Chishima Maeda (women/52 kg), and Britain won two classes, by Sally Conway (women/70 kg) and Natalie Powell (women/78 kg). Full results here.

LUGE ● The FIL World Cup was in Latvia at the famed Sigulda track and the home fans had plenty to cheer about in the Doubles events. Andris and Juris Sics took an upset win over German stars Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt (second) and Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken (third) in the regular Doubles race, then Kristens Putins and Imants Marcinkevics won the Doubles Sprint, with Sics/Sics tying for second with Emanuel Rieder and Simon Kainzwaldner of Italy.

The Singles titles went to Johannes Ludwig (GER) and Semen Pavilchenko (RUS-sprint) for the men and Julia Taubitz (GER) swept both events in the women’s division. That gives Taubitz five wins in nine races this season; Russia’s Tatyana Ivanova has won the other four! Full results here.

NORDIC SKIING ● Russia’s Alexander Bolshunov and Norway’s Therese Johaug continue as the kind and queen of distance skiing right now, and Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo and Natalia Nepryaeva were the stars of sprinting at the Cross Country World Cup stop in Obertsdorf (GER). Bolshunov won his third straight distance race, this time a 30 km Skiathlon, ahead of Norwegians Simen Krueger and Sjur Roethe, and Johaug won the women’s 15 km Skiathlon, beating teammate Ingvild Flugstad Ostberg.

Klaebo won his fifth Sprint title of the season – a Classical – edging countrymen Pal Golberg and Erik Valnes, while Nerpyaeva won ahead of teammate Anamarija Lampic and American Jessica Diggins. For Diggins, it’s her fifth medal of the season (0-1-4)! Bolshunov and Johaug continue to have large leads in the seasonal standings; Diggins in fourth in the women’s overall list. Full results here.

After a week off, the FIS Nordic Combined World Cup continued in Obertsdorf (GER), but the results didn’t change. Norway’s Jarl Magnus Rieber won for the eighth time this season in 10 races, this time leading a 1-2 for his country with Jens Luras Oftebro second. Rieber now leads the seasonal standings with 960 points to 621 for Jorgen Graabak (NOR) and 595 for Vinzenz Geiger (GER). Wow! Full results here.

The men’s ski jumpers were in Zakopane (POL) on a 140 m hill and the home faithful had plenty to cheer for as triple Olympic champ Kamil Stoch logged his 35th World Cup win, finishing ahead of Austrian star Stefan Kraft and countryman Dawid Kubacki. Full results here.

The women’s jumpers had two events off the 97 m hill in Rasnov (ROU), with Austria’s Chiara Holzl winning for the second time this season on Saturday (25th) and seasonal leader Maren Lundby taking Sunday’s win. Austria’s Eva Pinkelnig, who had won three straight events, finished 3-2 and Lundby’s points edge is tenuous: she has 655, with Pinkelnig at 649 and Holzl at 630. Full results here.

RUGBY ● New Zealand’s All Blacks delighted the home fans in Hamilton (NZL) with a stirring 27-5 victory over France in the final of the HSBC men’s Sevens Series. Australia defeated England in the bronze-medal match, 35-21. The All Blacks have finished 2-1-1 in the three tournaments this season and have 63 points and a big early lead in the standings over South Africa and France (both 48). Full results here.

The New Zealand women – the Black Ferns – weren’t far behind, winning the women’s tournament, with a 24-7 score in the final against Canada. France won the bronze medal, defeating Australia by 19-14. The New Zealand women have now won the last three tournaments on the season and lead the standings at 76 points, clear of Australia (64), Canada (62) and the U.S. (60). Full results here.

SNOWBOARD ● It’s been a good season for unheralded Lorenzo Sommariva of Italy in the Snowboard Cross division, as he won his second race of the season on Sunday (26th) at Big White in British Columbia (CAN). Teammate Omar Visintin won the Saturday race, but Sommariva’s win places him – for now – atop the season standings, with two more races remaining (both in March). Americans won bronze medals on both days, by Alex Deibold and Senna Leith.

The women’s SnowCross races at Big White were won by Italian star Michela Moioli over Belle Brockhoff (AUS) on Saturday and then Brockhoff won on Sunday with Moioli second. American Faye Gulini was third on Sunday. Moioli now has a 3,600-2,900 lead over Brockhoff on the season.

Austria’s Andreas Prommegger won his first World Cup medal since the first race of the season in the men’s Parallel Slalom in Piancavallo (ITA), disappointing the home crowd as Ronald Fischnaller (ITA) won his fourth medal in seven races on the circuit. Fischnaller continues to lead in the overall Parallel standings.

Swiss Julie Zogg won the women’s Parallel Slalom over Germans Selina Jorg and Ramona Hofmeister, but Hofmeister continues to lead the seasonal standings by 5,760-4,000 over Zogg.

In the Slopestyle World Cup held mid-week in Seiser Alm (ITA), Russian Vlad Khadarin out-pointed Japan’s Ruki Tobita and Hiroaki Kunitake on the men’s side and Australia’s Tess Coady won the women’s division over Britain’s Katie Ormerod. Links to results are here.