Sochi Olympics Figure Skating

Hanyu leads short program, Plushenko retires; Jason Brown of U.S. in sixth

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Yuzuru Hanyu earned a world-record short program score to take the lead in the men’s figure skating competition going into tomorrow’s free skate – an event that will also begin with Jason Brown of the U.S. in contention to win a medal in his first Olympics.

Hanyu became the first man to ever score more than 100 points in a short program and also eclipsed the previous top mark that he himself set in December, a 99.84 in the Grand Prix Final that took place on his home ground.

In that event, Hanyu was able to defeat three-time reigning world champion Patrick Chan, who finds himself looking up at the 19-year-old Japanese phenom in second place.

VIDEO: “Fireworks” for Hanyu’s skate

However, with a short program score of 97.52, Chan is well within striking distance for tomorrow’s free skate.

Third-place Javier Fernandez of Spain is farther back after a score of 86.98 and finds himself in a dogfight for bronze that has Brown right in the middle of it.

MORE: NBCOlympics.com photo gallery of today’s short program

The Highland Park, Illinois skater and YouTube star is one of three skaters within a single point of Fernandez going into the free skate, and one of five skaters within two points of the Spaniard.

Brown’s strong short program, set to Prince’s “The Question Of U”, netted a new personal-best score of 86.00 that eventually put him sixth.

The night got off to a dramatic start when Russian star Yevgeny Plushenko was forced to withdraw after an apparent injury in warmups.

Shortly afterwards, the 2006 Olympic men’s champion announced his retirement after helping Russia gain the gold last week in the inaugural team competition.

VIDEO: Misha Ge plays air guitar while waiting his turn

More drama unfolded when Jeremy Abbott of the U.S. fell hard on his opening jump, staying on the ice for several seconds.

Spurred on by the crowd inside the Iceberg Skating Palace, Abbott got back up holding his side but then went on to finish out his program cleanly and with vigor.

The gritty display triggered waves of applause from the fans, who were seemingly revitalized after having gone into silence following the announcement of Plushenko’s withdrawal.

Abbott sits 15th going into the free skate.

MORE: Slopestyle skiers not fazed by falling pants

FIGURE SKATING – MEN’S SHORT PROGRAM (TOP 10)
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN), 101.45
2. Patrick Chan (CAN), 97.52
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP), 86.98
4. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN), 86.40
5. Peter Liebers (GER), 86.04
6. Jason Brown (USA), 86.00
7. Brian Joubert (FRA), 85.84
8. Han Yan (CHN), 85.66
9. Denis Tan (KAZ), 84.06
10. Alexander Majorov (SWE), 83.81

15. Jeremy Abbott (USA), 72.58

Ajee’ Wilson learned from sitting out World Championships

Ajee' Wilson
AP
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NEW YORK — Ajee’ Wilson, the world’s fastest female 800m runner in 2014, could only watch the 2015 World Championships 800m final.

“It was hard,” Wilson, 21, said Saturday. “I really wanted to be there.”

But she couldn’t, not after a stress reaction in her left tibia. It was announced that she withdrew from the Worlds team on Aug. 10, the same day U.S. men’s 800m champion Nick Symmonds was left off the team due to a contract dispute that gained many more headlines.

At Worlds, the final proved a surprise. Kenyan Eunice Sum, the favorite and top rival of Wilson based on times in 2014 and 2015 (before Wilson’s injury), took bronze. Maryna Arzamasava grabbed upset gold for Belarus.

“It gave me hope for this year because anything can happen,” Wilson said. “I’m just hopeful that this year will be my time.”

Wilson is off to a promising start. She won the 800m at the indoor Armory Track Invitational in Manhattan on Saturday by .03 over Laura Roesler.

Roesler, the 2014 NCAA champion from Oregon and runner-up to Wilson at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missed most of 2015 due to a partial right Achilles tear.

Wilson said she raced through her shin injury last June, from a victory at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 13 through the U.S. Championships final June 28.

At Nationals, Wilson memorably lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).

Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.

Wilson said that while she was injured before the U.S. Championships, she never considered not competing at the meet.

“I was still kind of in denial that it was a problem,” Wilson said, adding that while the final didn’t aggravate the injury, “after USAs, it kind of just got to a point where you had to shut it down so I would be ready for this year.”

Wilson took about three weeks off from training completely and was back to normal.

“It was just poor timing,” said Wilson, a New Jersey native who turned professional after high school and placed sixth at the 2013 World Championships before elevating to fastest woman in the world in 2014 and second-fastest in 2015 before she shut down.

This summer, Wilson is among several threats to break a 44-year drought of U.S. Olympic titles in track races longer than 400 meters.

She may be the best hope to do so, that is if she can prevail at the Olympic trials. Not only is Roesler back, but she’ll also have to contend with veterans Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez.

The latter duo finished directly in front of Wilson at the 2013 Worlds and the 2015 Nationals, but neither made the final at Worlds last year (Montaño fell in her first-round heat).

The Olympic trials final is July 4 in Eugene, Ore., with the top three in line to make the Olympic team. Wilson will hope to be there with a stronger left tibia and a more secure right shoe.

“Ever since I started running, it’s been really deep in the 800m,” she said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”

MORE: Rio Olympics six months out: Burning Questions

Lindsey Vonn’s winning streak snapped

Lindsey Vonn
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For the first time in 13 World Cup speed races, Lindsey Vonn crossed the finish line and saw a number other than “1” next to her name.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I saw [the scoreboard],” Vonn said. “I knew that I didn’t ski my best, and I knew that I didn’t risk everything.”

Vonn was beaten by Swiss Lara Gut and German Viktoria Rebensburg in a World Cup super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday.

Gut was .15 faster than Rebensburg and .23 better than Vonn, who still broke Renate Götschl‘s record with her 42nd World Cup super-G podium. Full results are here.

“It’s a good day at the office,” Vonn told media. “I’m older and wiser now and to get to the finish healthy and to be in third is still a pretty darn good day.”

Vonn had a clear error near the end of the course, losing balance and lifting her right ski off the snow, but she was already behind Gut in the two most recent split times. The mistake may have cost Vonn second place, though.

“Today was just not one of those days where I really felt like putting it all on the line,” Vonn said. “I’ve had a great season so far, and I want to keep it going.”

Gut earned the victory, one day after she was a disappointing 14th in a downhill won by Vonn.

“It’s not true that Lindsey is unbeatable,” Gut said, according to The Associated Press. “All of us just have to step on it.”

Vonn had won 11 of her previous 12 World Cup downhill or super-G starts, including five straight super-Gs. In the only non-victory in that stretch, she skied off course and recorded a DNF in a downhill.

On Sunday, Gut cut into Vonn’s standings lead for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships. Vonn now leads Gut by 87 points through 25 of a scheduled 41 races.

Vonn remains on 76 World Cup victories, 10 shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record.

The World Cup resumes with a downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Saturday.

MORE: American podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course