Benjamin Raich

Alpine skiing injuries, retirements pile up

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The Alpine skiing World Cup season doesn’t start for more than a month, but several notables are already sidelined.

Start with Austrian Benjamin Raich, the four-time Olympic medalist from 2002 and 2006. Raich, 35, is attempting to make his fourth Olympic team in 2014. He’ll have to come back from a motorbike accident to do so.

Raich’s 175-pound bike landed on his right leg in an early August crash, tearing a muscle in his thigh, according to The Associated Press. He didn’t join the Austrian team for preseason training in Chile, a decision he said was made before the accident.

Raich, the overall World Cup winner in 2006, said he considered retiring and that the Sochi Olympics will be his last, should he make the team.

Austria, long an Alpine power, is home to the world’s best slalom skier, Marcel Hirscher, and medal threats in speed events Klaus Kroell and Hannes Reichelt. But its depth is not too much that Raich couldn’t make it at his advanced age, if fully recovered.

Raich’s longtime girlfriend is three-time Olympic medalist Marlies Schild, not to be confused with Martina Schild, who announced her retirement this week.

Martina, 31, won silver in the 2006 Olympic downhill but had not made the podium in a World Cup or a World Championship race since before the 2010 Olympics. She missed all of last season with a back injury, the same pain forcing her retirement.

“Mentally, I’m no longer ready to push myself to the limit,” she said, according to the Swiss Ski Federation.

Canada’s Kelly VanderBeek, 29 and fourth in the 2006 Olympic super-G, also retired, citing knee problems stemming from tearing her MCL and PCL in a December 2009 crash.

France’s Marion Rolland, the reigning downhill world champion, was set to have an MRI this week after injuring her right knee in a training fall in Chile on Sunday. Rolland, 30, had surgery on her right knee in 2007 and 2010.

Though Rolland won the world title, she may not be among the biggest threats to reigning Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn in Sochi. Rolland has never finished better than sixth in the World Cup downhill standings, a better indicator of Olympic prospects than the World Championships.

Finally, there’s Swede Jens Byggmark, the 2011 World Championships silver medalist in the slalom. Byggmark tore knee ligaments in a training fall earlier this month and announced he would miss the Olympics. The 28-year-old’s best World Cup season came six years ago, but he was top 10 in the slalom the last two years.

Rent out Bode Miller’s house

Chinese pair holds on for first world title

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Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong needed a personal-best score by nearly five points to avoid a silver medal for a third straight year.

They delivered.

Sui and Han beat Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot by 1.76 points at the world championships in Helsinki on Thursday.

They tallied the highest short-program and free-skate scores, including 150.83 in the free Thursday, despite Sui falling on a triple Salchow. Their previous best free skate was 144.28 points.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov earned bronze as the top three after the short program stayed that way after the free skate.

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Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who had been seeking the first pairs three-peat in 39 years, finished seventh.

Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim finished 10th in their second competition this season after she came back from three abdominal surgeries last summer and fall.

“I am not as confident as I was before I got sick, but I think that’s 100 percent normal when you’re off the ice for so long and you have to re-learn things and start from the bottom,” Scimeca Knierim said. “I’ve only been back at my elite level for a month or two, so I think it’s OK that my confidence is a little shaken. I’m confident that my confidence will grow.”

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were 20th in the short program, failing to qualify for the free skate.

Based on those results, the U.S. earned one entry for pairs at the PyeongChang Winter Games, according to NBC Sports research in Helsinki. The only time that fewer than two U.S. pairs competed at the Winter Olympics was at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

Just about every star pairs team dealt with serious injury problems this season.

Sui and Han missed the autumn season due to Sui’s right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring, after they squandered the 2016 World Championships short program lead.

They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted then-personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Savchenko, who earned her 10th career worlds medal, and Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament.

Tarasova needed 10 stitches in her left leg after slicing it on Morozov’s skate in a Wednesday practice accident, hours before the short program. Their bronze medal meant Russia avoided a three-year world pairs medal drought. Soviet and Russian pairs have never missed the worlds podium three straight years since their run of dominance started in the 1960s.

Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the only Sochi medalists competing together at worlds, missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury. They finished fifth on Thursday.

Duhamel and Radford suffered more recent injuries. Duhamel said after the free skate she may have a stress fracture in her left foot, according to the Associated Press. Radford suffered a hip injury in the week before worlds that led to thoughts of withdrawing.

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MORE: Playing the Beatles, North Korean skaters aim for Olympics in South Korea

Pairs Results
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 232.06
Silver: Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 230.30
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 219.03
10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 202.37
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Playing The Beatles, North Korean skaters aim for Olympics in South Korea

AP
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HELSINKI (AP) — North Korea’s figure skaters are aiming for the Olympics — and they’re using The Beatles.

Ryom Tae Ok and her partner Kim Ju Sik impressed observers by finishing 15th of 28 pairs at the world championships on Thursday. That’s the latest step on a road to next year’s Olympics, which would mean a politically tricky journey to South Korea.

Skating to The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and music by Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ryom and Kim soared above expectations in only their third major competition outside their homeland.

Star-struck Ryom said the competition was “very difficult” because she wasn’t used to the large crowd, in comments translated by a team official following Wednesday’s short program. Kim said he was “excited because this is a big competition.”

The pair gave away little more than basic personal data. They’ve skated together for two years and train in the capital Pyongyang. Skating isn’t very popular there, but they’d like to change that, they said.

Asked how they’d feel about competing at the Olympics, Kim said he and Ryom are keen to take part in “a big competition,” but didn’t say how he’d feel about visiting South Korea. A North Korean team official led the pair following a question about how they chose The Beatles’ music. Foreign cultural influence is tightly restricted by the North Korean government.

To qualify for the Olympics, Ryom and Kim will need a good performance in September to take one of four places on offer for pairs at a competition in Germany.

North Korea has a patchy record at the Winter Olympics – it won speed skating medals in 1964 and 1992, but didn’t send any athletes to the Sochi Games in 2014.

When they have gone to the Olympics, North Korean figure skaters have failed to impress. The last time the country sent a pair to the Olympics in 2006, they placed 20th and last in the short program, then withdrew.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate