Lindsey Vonn
Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn returns to World Cup, boost to Mikaela Shiffrin

Leave a comment

FLACHAU, Austria (AP) — With Lindsey Vonn‘s return to the World Cup this week, Mikaela Shiffrin is looking forward to leaving the limelight to her American teammate.

Nursing a knee injury and a broken arm for the past 11 months, Vonn will take part in official downhill training in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, on Thursday and Friday, and a downhill race Saturday (5:15 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app; 3 p.m. ET, NBC), according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Vonn earned two of her record 76 victories at the Austrian resort a year ago.

Shiffrin can’t wait for the four-time overall champion to return to the start gates.

“For sure, when she is around, I feel like I am less the one that people want to talk to, and that is definitely nice. I am generally a quiet person,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press after finishing third in a night slalom on Tuesday.

“She is really good at the spotlight, I have to say that,” Shiffrin said. “She knows how to put on a show. I don’t even think she is trying to, she is just like skiing fast and doing her thing and everybody wants to see that.”

Vonn hasn’t raced since fracturing her left knee in a super-G crash in Andorra last February (video here). Two weeks before her planned comeback at speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November, she broke her right upper arm during a fall in training.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion returned to skiing last week in Vail, Colorado, and traveled to Europe after the weekend to join the U.S. speed team.

Another American standout, Julia Mancuso, was also closing in on her comeback to World Cup racing. A winner of nine medals at major championships, Mancuso sat out the entire last season to have surgery on a persistent hip problem.

Like Vonn, Mancuso planned to start in this week’s training runs in Austria before deciding about racing over the weekend.

“They both have been amazing athletes in the sports. For ski racing in the U.S. they have been huge,” Shiffrin said. “I am crossing my fingers that they can get back in the starting gate and ski fast because everybody loves watching them.”

The races in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee consist of a downhill on Saturday followed a day later by a combined event, with a super-G and a slalom run.

A winner of 24 slaloms and three GS races, Shiffrin has been tiptoeing into speed races as well. The Olympic slalom champion was planning to start in Sunday’s combined event but was reluctant to put too many super-G and downhill races on her schedule.

Her head coach, Mike Day, said Shiffrin “is a racer who puts in a lot of volume into the training and is looking for a specific feeling to be confident going into the races.”

Shiffrin has done 13 technical events and three speed races so far this season.

“With that high-volume approach, fatigue is obviously an issue,” Day said. “We are monitoring fatigue to make sure she wouldn’t be going into a speed race with mental or physical fatigue. She needs to be sharp.”

With Tuesday’s third-place finish, Shiffrin passed the 1,000-point mark for the season as she extended her overall World Cup lead over defending champion Lara Gut of Switzerland to 365 points.

Not chasing the overall title, Shiffrin said she will stick to her initial goals for the season: Winning the slalom title again and improving in GS.

“(Gut) has already won the overall. I am sure it’s a big, big thing in her head so she will be going into every single one of these races looking for 100 points,” Shiffrin said. “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she takes that lead very quickly.”

However, with Vonn back, Gut will have to face another strong competitor for World Cup points in the speed races.

“It’s definitely a thought on my mind, I have to admit,” Shiffrin said. “Lindsey comes back and obviously she wants to win, so I am like, ‘Go right ahead.'”

MORE: Vonn sees embarrassment, but not for her, in bid to race men

NBC Sports broadcast schedule (all ET)

Friday
Downhill training 
6 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
Saturday
Downhill race
4:45 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
5:30 p.m., Universal HD
Sunday
Super combined race
3:30 a.m., super-G, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6:15 a.m., slalom, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6 p.m., Universal HD

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen trail at world championships

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nathan Chen fell in competition for the first time since December. Yuzuru Hanyu messed up a jumping combination. Neither of the world championships favorites is in the top four after the short program in Helsinki on Thursday.

Instead, two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain catapulted to a comfortable lead with a personal-best short program. Fernandez landed his jumps clean, with two quads, for 109.05 points.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is second with 104.86, followed by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 100.45 and China’s Jin Boyang at 98.64.

Fourth-place Hanyu put his knee down on the opening jump of his planned quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and then doubled the toe loop. He ended up with 98.39 points, more than 12 points off his world record.

Chen is fifth after falling on a triple Axel and totaling 97.33 points, hurting his hopes to become the youngest men’s world champion.

The free skate is Saturday morning, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chen last fell in the Grand Prix Final short program in December. He then outscored the field, including Uno, Fernandez, Hanyu, in the Grand Prix Final free skate to jump from fifth to second.

Chen then won the U.S. Championships in record fashion and beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships in February, landing a record five quads in the free skate at both events. He has landed 20 straight quads in competition.

Chen has indicated he may attempt six quads in the worlds free skate on Saturday. He may need them to challenge for gold.

The last U.S. man to earn a world championships medal was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2009.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate

Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 109.05
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.86
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 102.13
4. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 98.64
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 98.39
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 97.33

8. Jason Brown (USA) — 93.10

U.S. women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

2 Comments

Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Stanley Cup-winning goalie joins U.S. women’s coaching staff