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Ted Ligety poised to win third gold at worlds

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With two gold medals already in his pocket, Ted Ligety is the star of the 2013 Alpine World Ski Championships. And he hasn’t even skied the giant slalom yet; his best event.

If the 28-year old Utah native manages to notch a win in that event Friday, he’ll become only the fifth man to win three gold medals in a single world championships or Olympic Games, joining legends Jean-Claude Killy of France (the last man to do so in 1968), Emile Allais of France, Toni Sailer of Austria, and Stein Eriksen of Norway.

Heady company indeed, but even before Ligety lit up the worlds with his flawless skiing, he’d been dominating World Cup giant slaloms all season, winning four out of five races.

Even more impressive than this near perfect record is the manner in which he’s won. Back in October at the opening round of the World Cup in Sölden, Austria, Ligety bested the field by nearly three seconds, the biggest margin of victory in over 30 years. Subsequent wins have been similarly impressive.

The key has been a critical equipment change. New for the 2012-13 season, the FIS mandated that all giant slalom skis be longer and straighter, effectively pushing ski technology back to the 1980s. As a result, giant slalom racers are no longer able to charge straight at gates and jam on their edges to make quick line adjustments.

That’s fine by Ligety. Despite being one of the most vocal objectors to the change, the giant slalom specialist stood the most to gain. As one of the most gifted and technically sound skiers on the circuit, Ligety has always skied a cleaner, rounder line than his competitors, preferring to arc complete, edge-to-edge turns down an entire race course, instead of muscling his way around gates and drifting through turns.

So while other skiers have struggled to adjust to the new equipment, scrubbing speed every few gates in order to get back on line, Ligety has just kept on trucking, generating speed from turn-to-turn the entire way down the hill.

His one challenger could be current overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher, the only man to beat Ligety in giant slalom this season. The 23-year old Austrian, winner of four giant slaloms last season, as well as the discipline title, is finally adapting to the new equipment and would have beat Ligety in Adelboden, Switzerland last month had it not been for a crash right before the finish line. With host nation Austria uncharacteristically starved for medals, Hirscher will be hungry to dethrone “Mr. G.S.” in front of a home crowd.

But Ligety has momentum on his side. His gold medals in the super-G and combined came as complete surprises (he’d previously never won a super-G and hadn’t won a combined race since 2006), meaning that despite being the defending giant slalom World Champion, he’ll go into Friday’s race without any pressure.

Unless, of course, he starts thinking about records. Should he stay calm and win Friday’s giant slalom, however, Ligety will be propelled into the pantheon of all-time greats.

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened