Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn says she’s almost all the way back from injury

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Lindsey Vonn may have missed the first race of the season, but the Olympic downhill champion said she feels no trepidation about her surgically repaired right knee and can’t even tell which knee is injured anymore.

“I work hard, that’s what I do,” Vonn told Matt Lauer on TODAY on Monday morning. “I fall. I get back up. It’s who I am. Obviously, this is the biggest setback I’ve ever had, but I’m skiing really well. I’ve only been on snow for a few days, but I’m already almost right back where I was. So things are looking up.”

Vonn hasn’t competed since tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee and breaking her tibia in a crash at the World Championships super-G in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 5. She’s expected to return for races in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Thanksgiving weekend.

The 29-year-old said retirement wasn’t an option.

“I don’t want that to be the final moment of my career,” Vonn said. “Obviously, I could have retired, and I have a lot to be proud of. There’s a lot more I want to do. Sochi is a huge goal of mine. I had plenty of motivation. I wasn’t going to just sit there and accept what I had already done.”

Video: Vonn films first crash since return to skiing

One of the people who helped her get through rehabilitation was her boyfriend, Tiger Woods. Vonn pointed out one of Woods’ attributes that has really helped her.

“Patience,” she said. “I’m not a very patient person. … He’s very patient, and he’s very mentally tough. He’s a grinder. He works extremely hard.”

Woods had left ACL surgery five years ago.

“He knew what I was going through,” Vonn said. “He said, ‘Just be patient. Keep working hard, and everything’s going to turn around.’ It really helped me get through it. It’s tough. You’re sitting there, grinding away in the gym, and it’s like is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to get back on the slopes?”

Asked if she would make the podium in Sochi in a little over 100 days, Vonn said, “You better believe it.”

Vonn hoped to race in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday but opted out of it Wednesday. She expects, instead, to make her season debut in Beaver Creek.

“To be honest, Soelden was never really in my goals,” Vonn told USA Today. “But then (September training in) Chile went so well I was really hoping to race. I’m very, very antsy to get going. … My knee felt great, but the fact is I only trained five days (in Soelden) … and it’s tough to go into one of the most difficult giant slalom races of the season having only trained five days. I thought I was going to be able to do it, but in the long run it has no effect on my season and my main goal is the Olympics.”

Sorenstam, King weigh in on Vonn racing men

Video: Ligety wins season opener; skis into camera

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order