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Ted Ligety recovers for fifth place in return from torn ACL

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — For once, Ted Ligety could live with finishing fifth in an event he had won four times in the previous five years.

At least he’s back racing again.

The Olympic and world giant slalom champion returned to the Alpine skiing World Cup on Sunday, nine months after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a training accident.

In 14th place and 1.49 seconds off the lead after the opening run, Ligety vastly improved in the second and climbed nine spots in the traditional first race of the season on a mountain glacier in the Austrian Alps.

“I am not here to get 10th place. Even though that wouldn’t be a horrible result for the first time back, I like to be challenging for a podium,” Ligety told The Associated Press between runs.

He came 1.65 behind the dominant winner, Alexis Pinturault of France, but the result made him smile.

“I’m definitely happy with fifth place to start it off with,” Ligety said. “In the second run I charged a little harder. I skied well, for sure. I definitely felt a little bit more confident than in the first run where I was on the conservative side.”

The knee injury occurred in Germany in January. By that time, “my season was already messed up from smaller injuries, anyway” as he dealt with back and hip ailments.

After his season got off to a strong start by winning in Soelden and coming runner-up in a super-G in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in early December, the physical troubles took their toll and he failed to finish most races.

The training crash then caused the first season-ending injury in his 13-year-old career.

“During the first couple of weeks, watching races on the couch was less than fun, and a couple of weeks later watching races on the spinning bike was even less fun,” Ligety said. “But it makes you hungry to race again, too.”

The American called himself “lucky that there was no more damage” because “an ACL is a pretty straight forward thing” which many skiers have to deal with in their careers.

“You’re more likely to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing if you have had an ACL so I am joining a better statistical group now,” he joked.

Physically fit again but with less training on snow than usual, Ligety returned to the mountain in Austria where he won a record five times in total, most recently a year ago for the last of his 25 World Cup victories.

“My knee doesn’t bother me at all skiing, it’s just about finding that next high speed gear. I am not there yet but I am happy to race.”

Usually an all-round competitor, Ligety will first try to regain his old strength in GS before getting other disciplines back onto his schedule.

He planned to do some super-G races but could well stay away from what used to be his strongest discipline when he entered the World Cup in 2003 — the slalom. This summer, he trained in that discipline only for one day.

“The last couple of years, slalom has not been such a good return on investment for me so I’m not really putting too much into that,” he said. “I’ll ski some slaloms if it works out schedule-wise and training-wise.”

Though his chances to win an overall World Cup title one day are decreasing, the 32-year-old double Olympic champion has enough ambitions left.

“Like every year, the giant slalom globe is the big goal,” said Ligety, who won the prize for the best skier in the discipline five times. “Obviously this year I don’t have the same awesome prep period and miles as I would normally. The world champs (in Switzerland in February) is coming up also and it would be nice to defend the GS title again.”


Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

MORE: World Champs TV Schedule

Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Mirai Nagasu enters worlds motivated by Olympic finish, future undecided

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A sense of validation coursed through Mirai Nagasu. Probably in PyeongChang, when she became the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics. Definitely two weeks ago, when she attended the Academy Awards.

“It felt like I had really made it,” she said in an interview with NBC Sports Research. “The Oscars was open bar, so I had a little champagne there.”

The 24-year-old had earned at least that much, but somewhere in the back of her mind on March 4 had to be Milan, where she would be in two weeks for the world championships.

“It’s hard to [train] programs when you want to go on vacation and sip a mimosa,” Nagasu said, “but something about alcohol and training doesn’t mix well.”

Most of the other big-name U.S. Olympic figure skaters — including Adam Rippon and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani — withdrew from worlds, along with many international medalists, after the Olympics. For some, there were simply too many off-ice opportunities to fit in training. Others, exhaustion. Or retirement.

None of the above for Nagasu.

“Part of the reason I want to go to worlds [is] because I know I’m capable of performing better than I did in the long,” she said.

MORE: World Figure Skating Championships TV Schedule

Nagasu wasn’t referring to her memorable long program from the Olympic team event, where she helped the U.S. secure a bronze medal with that triple Axel.

Rather, she meant the individual free skate.

A fatigued Nagasu popped her planned triple Axel for zero points and singled a triple Lutz. She finished 10th overall, part of the worst U.S. women’s results in Winter Olympic history (but not completely unexpected given the pre-Olympic world rankings).

Nagasu knew that she was a dark-horse bronze-medal pick after her personal-best free skate in the team event. She scored nearly 18 fewer points in the individual long program.

So Nagasu decided to compete at worlds after making the U.S. team outright for the annual event for the first time since 2010.

She hopes to land the triple Axel in both programs Wednesday and Friday. That might be necessary to challenge for the podium. Most of the top women from the Olympics are in this week’s field, except silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, sixth in PyeongChang.

It could be the last competition of Nagasu’s career. She has not decided if she will compete in the fall.

“Some days I want to throw my skates in the trash, and other days I’m like, I still love this and I want to kill myself doing programs every day,” she said. “Right now I want to do my best at worlds, and that’s what I’m focused on. … I can’t even really think about competing next season.”

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang