Maria Hoefl-Riesch

Maria Hoefl-Riesch has no second thoughts about retirement

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HARRISON, N.J. — Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn were both in the New York City area on Thursday. The longtime friendly rivals had only exchanged emails and texts since Vonn’s last race in December.

Hoefl-Riesch was in town as part of German champion soccer club Bayern Munich’s U.S. tour. Vonn spoke at an Under Armour launch for women’s apparel.

“Hopefully tonight we can have a drink at the hotel bar,” Hoefl-Riesch said from a suite at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, where Bayern played a Mexican club.

There would be plenty to catch up on. Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn, born six weeks apart in 1984, were the world’s two best Alpine skiers from 2008 through 2012, before major injury struck Vonn.

But it’s Hoefl-Riesch who never plans to ski again. She retired after crashing at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in March, one month after winning Olympic gold and silver in Sochi.

She left the sport near the top of her game. She entered that final race in the Alps leading the World Cup overall standings, seeking her first title since she nipped Vonn by three points in 2011.

Then she fell (video here), landed into netting, screamed and was helicoptered off with shoulder injuries in Lenzerheide. Hoefl-Riesch missed the final three races of the season, and Austrian Anna Fenninger passed her for the overall crystal globe.

“[Retiring] had nothing to do with that [crash],” Hoefl-Riesch said, citing a lack of motivation to continue tiring training beginning before seasons in the summers. “Of course, that was not a very nice ending for me because if you do your last race, you actually want to know it before. But on the outside maybe it was better like this, because when you’re in the start gate at your very last race and know it’s your very last time, then you might be more emotional.”

She decided in the first few days after the crash to hang up her ski boots for good. Now, seeing other skiers’ tweets about going to South America to train in the southern hemisphere’s winter only reinforces her decision.

“In winter maybe I will miss something because it was my passion,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “My whole life was about skiing.”

Soccer has been a big part of her life the last few months, being a German married to the manager of World Cup legend Franz Beckenbauer.

She originally planned to attend the World Cup in Brazil, but watched the final while in Italy instead (Beckenbauer was suspended by FIFA near the start of the tournament and, even after it was lifted during the World Cup, didn’t fly to Brazil).

The reception in Germany for the victory dwarfed any celebration for an Olympic gold medalist.

“It’s not comparable to anything,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It was always that way that skiing had less attention, but I’m not jealous. That’s the way it is. Soccer has so much money and sponsors. It’s great for the economy in Germany.”

Hoefl-Riesch will still stay connected to Alpine skiing. Her younger sister, Susanne Riesch, is still active on the World Cup circuit, and she plans to work for German TV at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., near Vonn’s home.

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Yevgenia Medvedeva wins season opener in rout

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Olympic figure skating favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, imperfect by her standards, still won her first international competition of the season by a whopping 36.74 points on Saturday.

The Russian tallied 146.72 points in her free skate at Nepela Trophy in Slovakia — lower than her median score over her two-year winning streak — and 226.72 points overall. 

Video is here. Full scores are here.

Medvedeva had a wrong edge call on her triple Lutz, stepping out of the landing. 

Judges gave her a negative grade of execution for it, snapping a streak of more than 60 straight jumps with positive grades dating to December.

No matter, the 17-year-old still had the highest free skate by 23.23 points.

It was 13.72 points shy of her world record set at the last competition of the 2016-17 season.

She distanced Japanese Rika Hongo and countrywoman Yelena Radionova, the only woman to beat Medvedeva in senior international competition in November 2015.

Medvedeva entered the free skate with a 13.51-point lead in the low-level event. That was via recording the second-highest short program tally under a 13-year-old judging system on Thursday.

Her flawed free skate still earned more points than any of her rivals racked up last season. 

All of her jumps except a double Axel were in the second half of her program to earn bonus points.

However, another Russian posted a higher free skate score last week.

That’s 15-year-old training partner Alina Zagitova, who was .45 better at a low-level event in Italy. 

It’s not entirely fair to compare scores from different judging panels at these early season competitions, though.

The first of six Grand Prix series events is Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in four weeks, featuring Medvedeva and Radionova.

Medvedeva and Zagitova could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in December and should definitely both be at the Russian Championships later that month.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. 

North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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