Lindsey Vonn finishes 13th in first race in 11 months

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ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria (AP) — Christine Scheyer of Austria upset the prerace favorites to win a women’s World Cup downhill Sunday, while Lindsey Vonn placed 13th in her first race in nearly 11 months.

Not being able to push out of the start gate as usual, the American was more than half a second off the lead at the first split and finished 1.54 behind the Austrian.

“I have a little start routine with my poles and I couldn’t really do that with my right hand,” Vonn said. “I also kind of lost grip on my pole after the last jump.”

RACE REPLAY | RESULTS

The four-time overall champion, who holds the women’s record of 76 victories, was out nursing a knee injury and a broken arm since February last year.

The fracture in her right upper arm also damaged nerves, which was still limiting mobility of her hand.

After announcing a few days ago that she had come to win, Vonn still saw the positives of her comeback race after 322 days.

“All things considered it’s about what I would expect,” she said. “I felt like I was skiing pretty well, just maybe not quite on the limit yet.”

Vonn had three weeks left, including speed weekends in Germany and Italy, to find her best form for the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“That’s definitely a huge goal of mine,” she said. “For now I am happy. It’s not really a matter of results. It’s a matter of just being happy to be racing again. Of course I had higher expectations of myself but considering the conditions and the fact that we had a training run and the race today, I think it was pretty good.”

Scheyer, whose previous best was ninth in last month’s downhill in Val d’Isere, became the unusual winner of an unusual race.

After heavy snowfall had canceled the program for the past three days, the mandatory training session had to be held just hours before the race.

Scheyer impressed in training as she posted the second fastest time, but went one spot better in the race.

In only her fourth World Cup downhill start, she beat Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein by 0.39 seconds. Jacqueline Wiles of the United States was 0.54 behind in third for her first career podium.

Defending overall champion Lara Gut of Switzerland finished fourth, while Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia, who had won all three previous downhill races this season, came fifth.

“It’s hard to describe,” said Scheyer, who started in speed racing this season after recovering from two severe knee injuries. “I just wanted to have a good training run. After that, I was hoping for a top-10 finish.”

In her training run, Vonn held back and got out of her tuck well before finishing 2.71 seconds off the fastest time, posted by Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic.

“It was definitely getting a lot faster from the training run to the race,” Vonn said. “I had a hard time pushing the limit with the flat lights and the bumps.”

While the podium remained far out of reach for Vonn, teammate Wiles stepped in to grab her second career top-10 result.

A late starter with bib No. 26, Wiles beat Gut by 0.01 to bump the Swiss overall champion, who was sitting in third, off the podium.

“I try to always have confidence in myself,” Wiles said. “For me to be able to come out today and have a successful run the way I did, is pretty awesome.”

Wiles’ win also felt like a victory for Vonn, whose foundation starting financially supporting Wiles this season.

“I am very happy for Jackie,” said Vonn. “This is an incredible result for her. I am super happy.”

In training, Nadia Fanchini of Italy and Edit Miklos of Hungary crashed and were airlifted to hospital. Austria team doctor Anton Wicker said Fanchini broke her right upper arm and had a fracture of the spinous process, while Miklos suffered a right-knee injury.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

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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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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