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Shiffrin already in love with 2026 Olympic skiing venue in Cortina

CORTINA D'AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Two years after a disappointing Winter Olympics in Beijing, Mikaela Shiffrin couldn’t be happier about where she’ll be competing in two years at the Milan-Cortina Games.

Women’s skiing in 2026 is slated for Cortina, and the resort known as the “Queen of the Dolomites” is where Shiffrin won four medals in four events at the 2021 world championships.

Shiffrin also made a breakthrough in Cortina back in 2017 when she cracked the top five of a speed event for the first time by finishing fourth in a super-G.

In all, Shiffrin has recorded six podium results in 13 career races in Cortina. So she has good reason to be optimistic after she didn’t medal in any of her six races in Beijing — and didn’t finish three of her five individual events.

“I love Cortina in general,” Shiffrin said ahead of three speed races on the Olympia delle Tofane course starting with a downhill on Friday.

“It’s been a place where I’ve had a really good feeling on my skis, and I feel comfortable on the track. That’s really helpful because it takes a little bit less mental energy to memorize all the bits and pieces of the course," Shiffrin added. "For me, the hardest thing with downhill and super-G — just with speed in general — is the factor of memorizing all of the terrain pieces.”

It’s not just Shiffrin who loves Cortina, though.

Weaving its way down the mountain through jagged peaks and chutes and usually bathed in sunshine, the Tofane course is a joy to ski for all.

“It’s a natural course through the forest,” said Federica Brignone, a three-time Olympic medalist and the 2020 overall World Cup champion. “It moves in sync with the mountain, so you don’t need to worry about the gates; it’s more about following the twisting path of the course.”

Fellow Italian Sofia Goggia, the circuit’s leading downhill skier, added that Cortina hosting the Olympics will represent the “the apotheosis of skiing.”

LEDECKA’S APPEAL

Ester Ledecka, the Czech skier and snowboarder, has mixed emotions over the venue plan for 2026 — which spreads competitions over a wide swath of northern Italy.

Cortina is home to not one but two of her favorite hills. She finished third in a downhill ski race on the Tofane in 2022 and has won five parallel giant slaloms in World Cup snowboarding across the valley in the Faloria area of Cortina.

But snowboarding for the Milan-Cortina Games will be held in Livigno, which is a 4 1/2-hour drive from Cortina.

“I would like to convince them to make it here because it’s a really nice hill, and it would be easier for me,” said Ledecka, who became the first competitor to win gold in two different sports at the same Winter Games when she triumphed in super-G and parallel GS at Pyeongchang in 2018. She then won another gold in snowboarding in Beijing.

Not expecting a change, Ledecka instead plans to rely on her sponsor for transport.

“I have Red Bull, so it’s OK,” she said. “They have some helicopters.”

SHIFFRIN'S NEXT MILESTONE

Last season, Shiffrin broke Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 wins to become the most successful skier in World Cup history. Now with 95 victories, she’s approaching the century mark.

Yet, having seen Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, her boyfriend, and Petra Vlhova, her biggest rival, go down with season-ending crashes over the past two weekends, Shiffrin isn’t looking too far ahead.

“I don’t take it for granted,” she said. “The only guarantee I can make is that I already have 95 wins. I cannot guarantee another. I can't guarantee a 96th win let alone 100.

“It’s closer than I would have thought if you asked me at the beginning of last season, or even at the beginning of this season, but it’s still far enough away and five wins is no small task.”

OLYMPIC VILLAGE QUESTIONS

While skiers are more than familiar with Cortina, questions remain for 2026 amid a standoff between local organizers and the International Olympic Committee over where to host sliding events.

The original games plan called for rebuilding the century-old bobsled track in Cortina. But the IOC wants an existing track in Innsbruck, Austria, or St. Moritz, Switzerland, to be used instead.

And if bobsled, luge and skeleton are held abroad, it might not make sense to build a planned Olympic Village in Cortina, which would be left with only women’s skiing and curling — since men's skiing is slated for Bormio.

So U.S. ski team women’s coach Paul Kristofic hasn’t pinned down yet where to house Shiffrin and the rest of his squad for 2026.

“We haven’t quite figured that out yet,” Kristofic said. “There’s quite a few unknowns still around it.”

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AP Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games