Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud’s celebrates ‘unreal’ comeback

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – This Alpine skier suffered a torn ACL at the World Championships super-G last February.

This skier underwent surgery, rehabbed and returned to skiing on snow in August.

This skier came back to World Cup racing in Lake Louise, Alberta, and posted improving results in December.

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That’s where Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud’s story splits from that of American Lindsey Vonn.

Jansrud placed fourth in the Olympic super combined Friday, five days after winning a bronze medal in the downhill.

“It’s almost unreal being one year away from an ACL injury, and get to hold a medal in my hand,” he told The Associated Press after the downhill.

Vonn can’t describe that feeling.

To be fair, there are more differences between the two skiers.

Most importantly, Jansrud suffered a comparatively simple left ACL tear when he lost his balance, spun and fell to the snow in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 6, 2013.

The day before, Vonn tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee and had a lateral tibial plateau fracture.

“Her injury was worse,” said Aksel Lund Svindal, another Norwegian Alpine skier. “He tore his ACL, but it was super clean. Everything else was OK. Lindsey’s, that was worse. That was way worse.”

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The early worry for Vonn was that she would miss the Olympics. Though Vonn admirably worked her way back into top-five form, she suffered a setback racing Dec. 21 and ended her season, needing another knee surgery.

The noted Liverpool supporter Jansrud never lost sight of Sochi, even in the seconds after falling down in Schladming.

“I knew I was out of the World Champs and out of the season,” Jansrud said. “The goal was always being back at the Olympics. I never doubted that at all.”

On Friday, Jansrud led the super combined after the morning downhill portion. He is a better speed event skier and wasn’t expected to keep his lead after the afternoon slalom.

He finished .59 of a second behind the bronze medalist and matched his best career World Cup super combined finish.

His fourth place was impressive, not only as part of his comeback, but also because he again beat fellow Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, the world’s second-best all-around skier.

Norway has a proud Alpine tradition.

Jansrud, 28, may be taking his turn in the spotlight at these Games, a spot passed from legends Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus to the triple 2010 medalist Svindal, who is 31.

Svindal, a disappointing fourth and eighth in Sochi so far, isn’t surprised that Jansrud is performing so well.

“I’ve skied with him since August, and he’s been good,” Svindal said. “Our job as a team is not to question if he can come back and win races. Our job is to believe in that like it’s the most natural thing.”

Jansrud takes momentum into the super-G on Sunday and the giant slalom Wednesday.

His best event in the 2012 and 2013 seasons was the super-G, before he fell in the race in Schladming.

He won 2010 Olympic giant slalom silver, ahead of Svindal and American Ted Ligety, who is seen as the favorite for gold this year.

Ligety, too, is not surprised at Jansrud’s quick recovery.

“ACL surgery in ski racing is a dime a dozen,” said Ligety, who suffered MCL and PCL damage in 2009. “Every single guy basically out there does that and comes back eight months and is normally just as strong. He’s an awesome skier.”

Ashley Wagner leads U.S. 1-2 at Skate America

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Ashley Wagner bolstered her international reputation again, winning Skate America on Saturday in her first top-level full competition since her world championships silver medal in April.

Wagner totaled 196.44 points over two programs in Hoffman Estates, Ill., holding off countrywoman Mariah Bell by 4.85 points. U.S. champion Gracie Gold was fifth. Full results are here.

“The short program was definitely one of my world-class programs,” Wagner said on NBC. “Long program, I left a little bit out on the table.”

Wagner, who led by 3.75 points after Friday’s short program, was flawed in her free skate, including singling the back end of a jump combination and under-rotating two more jumps.

Still it was enough to overtake Bell, who had the highest free skate score by 3.73 points but was sixth in the short program.

It marked the first U.S. women’s one-two in a Grand Prix event since 2012 Skate America (Wagner and Christina Gao).

“I’m starting to realize my own potential and believe in myself,” Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, said on NBC. “I’m very excited for the future.”

Gold fell in both of her programs as she tries to bounce back from dropping from first to fourth at last season’s world championships. Gold had her lowest Grand Prix finish (excluding Grand Prix Final) since her debut at 2012 Skate Canada.

Wagner notched her fifth career Grand Prix series win (only Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen own more among U.S. women). Wagner joined Kwan as the only women to bag multiple Skate America and U.S. Championships titles.

The women Wagner must be compared with are Russian teens. Wagner ended a 10-year U.S. medal drought at worlds last year, but Russia still rules women’s skating.

None of the top Russians competed at Skate America. Wagner is slated to face 2015 World gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova at her next event, Cup of China, in four weeks.

The reigning world champion, Yevgenia Medvedeva, makes her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada next week. Medvedeva and Wagner could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, in December.

Earlier Saturday, Japan’s Shoma Uno topped the men’s short program with 89.15 points, landing one of his two quadruple jump attempts.

Uno, 18, was followed by the last two U.S. champions, Adam Rippon (87.32, no quads) and Jason Brown (85.75, fall on single quad attempt).

The men’s free skate is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC and NBC Sports app).

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Simone Schaller, oldest living Olympian, dies at 104

FILE - In this July 15, 1936, file photo, Simone Schaller, lower right, waves with members of the United States women's Olympic track and field team as they depart for Europe on the SS Manhattan. Schaller, an American hurdler who competed at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Games and was believed to be the oldest living Olympian, died of natural causes Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016,  in the Arcadia, Calif., home she and her husband built when they married in the 1930s, her grandson Jeffrey Hardy said, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. She was 104. (AP Photo/File)
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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Simone Schaller, an American hurdler who competed at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Games and was believed to be the oldest living Olympian, has died. She was 104.

Grandson Jeffrey Hardy said Saturday that Schaller died of natural causes Thursday in the home she and her husband built when they married in the 1930s.

Schaller tied Babe Didrikson Zaharias for the world record in the first round of the 80-meter hurdles at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Schaller finished fourth in the final behind Didrikson, who set another record. According to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Schaller had taken up hurdling only three months earlier.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Schaller made it to the semifinals.

She won the hurdles at the 1933 U.S. Championships. She was also an avid tennis player.

Schaller had three children, seven grandchildren, a dozen great-grandchildren and numerous great-great-grandchildren.

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