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.

Lindsey Vonn gets bad luck, Mikaela Shiffrin misses gate in super-G

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Neither Lindsey Vonn nor Mikaela Shiffrin made the podium, but Swiss Lara Gut notched her first victory Sunday since a major knee injury.

Gut, the 2016 World Cup overall champion who tore an ACL in February, topped a World Cup super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, by .14 over Italian Johanna Schnarf.

Austrian Nicole Schmidhofer was third. Full results are here.

Vonn dropped to sixth, .37 behind, dropped a couple of expletives in the finish corral and posted on social media afterward that she caught her strongest wind gust in more than 400 career starts.

“I’m not mad; I’m just a little bit frustrated,” Vonn said. “Sometimes this happens in ski racing where the races aren’t really fair. The wind comes. The light comes. The clouds come. But I tried my best. I’m happy with my skiing. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t very lucky today. Hopefully I can get some of this luck and take it with me to February [and the Olympics] and get some better conditions.”

Vonn placed second and first in downhills in Cortina on Friday and Saturday, confirming she’s a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist next month.

Shiffrin was off her line early in Sunday’s run and eventually missed a gate, screaming out of frustration.

She is still cutting her teeth in the speed events of downhill and super-G and was third and seventh in the previous two races.

“The problem was with my [pre-race course] inspection, and I’m not exactly sure what we can do for me to be better prepared for super-Gs,” Shiffrin said, according to The Associated Press. “One of my biggest issues right now is still switching from the timing of downhill turns to super-G turns.”

Laurenne Ross became the sixth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for the Olympic team thanks to a previous top-10. Ross, the second-best U.S. speed racer behind Vonn last season, came back from blowing out her right knee in a March 27 crash.

The World Cup moves to Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday for a giant slalom, where Shiffrin will be favored (full Alpine season broadcast schedule here).

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2018 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team General Manager Jim Johannson dies at 53

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Jim Johannson, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, has died on the eve of the Pyeongchang Games. He was 53.

Johannson passed away in his sleep Sunday morning, according to USA Hockey. Executive director Pat Kelleher said the organization is “beyond shocked and profoundly saddened” by the loss of the Rochester, Minnesota native.

“As accomplished as Jim was in hockey, he was the absolute best, most humble, kind and caring person you could ever hope to meet,” Kelleher said in a release. “His impact on our sport and more importantly the people and players in our sport have been immeasurable. Our condolences go out to his entire family, but especially to his loving wife Abby and their young daughter Ellie.”

Johannson’s role in selecting this year’s Olympic team was his most high-profile job in a career spent in hockey. He also played for the U.S. in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

The United States faces Slovenia in its Pyeongchang opener on Feb. 14.

“There are few like Jimmy,” said Ron DeGregorio, chairman of the board of USA Hockey. “Our sport was so lucky to have him. He was as good of a person you’ll meet and he played such a significant role in helping move our sport forward. Today is a tough day for everyone.”

Johannson began working for USA Hockey in 2000 after spending five years as the general manager of the Twin Cities Vulcans in the United States Hockey League. He was promoted to assistant executive director of hockey operations in 2007, overseeing the organization’s efforts in fielding teams for international competition.

He played college hockey at Wisconsin and helped the Badgers win the NCAA championship as a freshman. He was selected by Hartford in the seventh round of the 1982 draft, but never played in the NHL.

“When we heard of JJ’s passing, we are reminded of what an enjoyable person he was to be around, and also what he meant to USA Hockey and hockey worldwide,” Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who have a strong connection to USA Hockey, said in a release.

“We should all strive to do our jobs and treat people as JJ did. Jim Johannson, you have moved on, but you will not be forgotten. We will miss you.”

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