Lara Gut

Lara Gut takes Beaver Creek downhill; Americans struggle (video)

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Switzerland’s Lara Gut won the first downhill of the World Cup season, while the Americans and international stars struggled at Beaver Creek, Colo., on Friday.

Gut, who also won the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 26, sped down the new Raptor course in 1 minute, 41.26 seconds, which was .47 of a second better than Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather. Italian Elena Fanchini was third, another half-second back (full results at bottom).

Gut won two World Championships silver medals in 2009 at age 17. She missed the 2010 Olympics after dislocating her right hip in a September 2009 training crash. This is her best form since returning for the 2010-11 season.

“When I came into the World Cup, I was 17, and I was fast; everything was so easy,” Gut said on NBCSN. “The last two years, I was really working hard on my skiing. … Now, I think, it’s working.”

The Beaver Creek World Cup continues with a super-G on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Live Extra) and a giant slalom on Sunday (2:30, NBC, NBC Live Extra).

The U.S. contingent, without injured Lindsey Vonn, surprisingly struggled after a stellar 2012-13 downhill season.

Stacey Cook, who won one of the training runs Wednesday, was the top American in 19th. Three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso was 20th, her worst World Cup downhill finish in nearly two years.

“It’s a really steep and tricky downhill for the start of the season,” Mancuso said on NBCSN. “I really feel like I just need a little bit more time. Downhill’s been tough for me the last few years.”

Laurenne Ross, who made one World Cup podium last season, was 22nd. Leanne Smith missed a gate late in her run and did not finish.

The world’s best all-around skiers didn’t fare too much better.

German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall champion, was seventh. Reigning World Cup overall champion Tina Maze was 16th, continuing her slow start to the season with her worst downhill in nearly one year.

Beaver Creek Downhill

1. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:41.26
2. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:41.73
3. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:42.24
4. Fabienne Suter (AUT) 1:42.30
5. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:42.39
6. Fraenzi Aufdenblatten (SUI) 1:42.46
7. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:42.49
8. Andrea Fishbacher (AUT) 1:42.55
9. Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:42.75
10. Regina Sterz (AUT) 1:42.92
19. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:43.49
20. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:43.71
22. Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:43.86
42. Julia Ford (USA) 1:45.09
44. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:45.39
DNF. Leanne Smith (USA)

Vonn optimistic for Lake Louise after super-G training

Canada names Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearers

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Figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are Canada’s flag bearers for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

It’s the first time Canada will have multiple flag bearers at an Opening Ceremony.

Virtue and Moir won ice dance gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and silver in Sochi in 2014.

After a two-year break, they went undefeated last season and won their third world championship.

They lost for the first time in their comeback at last month’s Grand Prix Final to French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Canada finished in the top three in the total medal standings at the last three Winter Olympics, including topping the gold-medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record 14.

Recent Canadian Winter Olympic flag bearers
2014 Opening: Hayley Wickenheiser, Hockey
2014 Closing: Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, Bobsled
2010 Opening: Clara Hughes, Speed Skating
2010 Closing: Joannie Rochette, Figure Skating
2006 Opening: Danielle Goyette, Hockey
2006 Closing: Cindy Klassen, Speed Skating
2002 Opening: Catriona Le May Doan, Speed Skating
2002 Closing: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Figure Skating

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MORE: Canada’s Olympic figure skating team roster

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cover Super Bowl LII, Olympics for NBC

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will cover Super Bowl LII and the PyeongChang Olympics as a contributor for NBC.

Earnhardt will spend the first weekend in February covering the outdoor activities in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl Pre-Game Show (NBC, Feb. 4).

Then he will travel to South Korea for the Winter Games.

From NBC Sports PR:

“Earnhardt will travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea, and experience Olympic competitions first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the short track speed skating oval, which so closely mirror Earnhardt’s racing days and nights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Following a recent invite on social media from his new friends on the U.S. bobsled team, including U.S. bobsled team pilot Nick Cunningham, Earnhardt will also travel to Alpensia Sliding Center, where he will test the true speed of the bobsled track and live out his post-retirement dream of riding in an Olympic bobsled.”

Earnhardt, 43, retired last year after 19 NASCAR seasons, which included Daytona 500 wins in 2004 and 2014.

He is now a NASCAR on NBC analyst.

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