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What to Watch at this weekend’s Figure Skating Worlds

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The Figure Skating World Championships kick off in London, Ontario Wednesday, with the pairs short program first thing in the morning, and the men’s short program later in the afternoon. Here’s a quick rundown of who and what you should be watching this weekend.

American upstarts: Taking a cue from The Cutting Edge, hockey player turned U.S. figure skating champ Max Aaron will highlight the men’s team with at least a few quad jumps in his repertoire. Ross Miner is also a contender after finishing second to Aaron in January for his third straight podium finish at nationals. The two will need to combine for thirteenth place or better to assure the U.S. team a third spot in Sochi.

U.S. Women’s rivalry: Ashley Wagner may have won nationals for the second straight year, but Gracie Gold might be the American to beat after she earned the second highest free skate score in U.S. Championship history, roaring back from ninth to second after a poor short program. She’ll need to be solid on both nights to prove she has what it takes to compete against the world’s best in Sochi next year.

America’s Hat: Speaking of rivalries, things are heating up between Ice Dancing teams Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and Meryl Davis and Charlie White from the U.S. The Canadians already have an Olympic gold, two world titles, and home ice advantage this weekend, but the five-time U.S. champs are constantly on their heels and would love to even things up with a second world title.

Sochi Stories: Russia’s chances at a medal aren’t looking good at next year’s hometown Games after Yevgeny Plushenko was sidelined with back surgery. He says he’ll return in time for the Olympics, but for now the country’s hopes rest on the skates of 17-year-old Maxim Kovtun, who only has a year at the senior level under his belt. Russia’s best chance at a Sochi medal is probably in pairs.

Vancouver Queen: Yuna Kim took a couple years off after winning gold at the 2010 Games, but she’s already won two events this season and has Australian star Hugh Jackman rooting for her, so she’s likely to be a favorite again this weekend. Aside from the American ladies, Kim’s best competition will come from Vancouver silver medalist Mao Asada and defending world champ Carolina Kostner of Italy.

Canadian King: Patrick Chan has already won back-to-back world titles, and plans to make it three-in-a-row on his home Canadian ice. If he can pull it off, he’ll be the first since Russian star Alexei Yagudin more than a decade ago, but Quad King Javier Fernandez of Spain (who also trains in Canada) and 2012 worlds silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi should have something to say about it.

Adam Rippon has quads, Boston, special T-shirt in sight

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NEW YORK — Adam Rippon hopes to bring more quadruple jumps and a special T-shirt to the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston next month.

Rippon, who won his first U.S. title two weeks ago, pulled out of the Four Continents Championships in two weeks, a Worlds tune-up event, in part to bolster the option in training of making major changes to his programs.

He will possibly add a quadruple toe loop and a quadruple Salchow to his quadruple Lutz, the hardest four-revolution jump being attempted.

“I’d be adding one [quad] to the short [program] and, ideally, I would love to add another one or two to the free skate,” Rippon said at the Winter Carnival at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park in Manhattan on Friday night. “I have eight weeks, so I’ll see what I can get done.”

In his two Grand Prix series starts and the U.S. Championships this season, Rippon attempted a combined four quadruple jumps over six programs, all Lutzes, and fell each time. Three times, judges downgraded the jump. Once, at Nationals, it was under-rotated.

Rippon captured his first Nationals crown in his eighth attempt on the strength of his spins, footwork and overall performance.

But, as is the case in skating these days, focus centered on the jumps. Rippon attempted one quad over two programs at Nationals, a free skate quad Lutz, while second-place Max Aaron landed three quads overall and third-place Nathan Chen put down six.

Afterward, an emotional Rippon told NBC’s Andrea Joyce, “I’m like a witch, and you can’t kill me.”

His costume designer gave Rippon a T-shirt with the phrase printed on the front, and the skater plans to bring it to Worlds in Boston next month.

Rippon, the only man to win two World Junior titles (in 2008 and 2009), finished sixth, 13th and eighth in his three previous senior Worlds appearances.

“My goal is to skate my best, and I feel that if I skate my best, a good result will follow,” Rippon said. “I can’t control the results.”

Rippon, along with Aaron and U.S. fourth-place finisher Grant Hochstein, will hope to skate well enough to keep three spots for the U.S. men at the 2017 World Championships.

To do that, the placements of the top two Americans must add up to no more than 13 (such as Jason Brown‘s fourth and Rippon’s eighth last year).

The 2014 U.S. champion Brown and 16-year-old phenom Chen are out with injuries, putting onus on Rippon to lead the way.

“I’m confident that I can pull my own weight and do my own share,” he said.

In Boston, Rippon will return to the scene of the worst U.S. Championships performance of his career — in 2014, when Rippon entered with a shot of making the two-man Sochi Olympic team, finished eighth and considered quitting at age 24.

He recently spoke with two champion U.S. skaters about competing at Worlds on home ice — Evan Lysacek, gold medalist in Los Angeles in 2009, and Michelle Kwan, gold medalist in Minneapolis in 1998 and Washington, D.C., in 2003.

“I’m ready to go back to the TD Garden and rip it up,” Rippon said.

MORE: Nathan Chen to miss Worlds after exhibition injury

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Lindsey Vonn wins No. 76 in biggest rout of comeback

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Lindsey Vonn gapped the field like never before during her comeback, and never before away from her favorite course in Canada, running away with a World Cup downhill by 1.51 seconds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday.

Vonn notched her 76th World Cup victory, moving 10 behind the record held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

“Every win for me is more special than the last,” Vonn said.

She’s won by larger margins three times in her World Cup career — by 1.95, 1.73 and 1.68 seconds, all at her favorite downhill course in Lake Louise, Alberta, and all before her February 2013 World Championships crash and two major right knee surgeries that kept her from defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

Swiss Fabienne Suter was second Saturday, followed by German Viktoria Rebensburg. Full results are here.

Swiss Lara Gut placed 14th, which meant Vonn increased her lead from 45 points to 127 points in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize in the sport this season with no World Championships or Olympics.

That race will likely not be decided until the World Cup Finals in a little more than one month.

Vonn won her ninth World Cup race this season, matching her total from 2008-09, the campaign that set her up to be the Alpine skiing star of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic season. Her best total was 12 from the 2011-12 season.

Vonn has won 11 of her last 12 World Cup starts in speed races (downhill and super-G) and can clinch her eighth World Cup downhill season title in the next downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next Saturday.

That would break her tie with Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll for most titles in one discipline by a female skier. It would match the record for all skiers with Stenmark, who took eight giant slalom and eight slalom titles.

But first Vonn will try to inch closer to Stenmark’s wins record in a Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G on Sunday (4:45 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: U.S. Olympian podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course