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Lindsey Vonn’s comeback delayed as Alpine races canceled

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ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria (AP) — Lindsey Vonn‘s return to World Cup skiing has been delayed for at least a day after snowfall forced the cancellation of downhill training and the race itself on Saturday.

Organizers moved the program to Sunday, with the race set for a 6:15 a.m. ET start (NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app). A combined event, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, was canceled. Weather was forecast to improve overnight.

Also, a World Cup men’s downhill scheduled in Wengen, Switzerland, was canceled Saturday due to heavy snowfall and fog. A slalom is scheduled Sunday.

Vonn, a four-time overall champion, and American teammate Julia Mancuso planned to make their World Cup comebacks this weekend after extensive injury layoffs.

Saturday’s program was initially delayed for at least an hour as course workers were still busy moving fresh snow off the course at the scheduled start time for training, but conditions failed to improve. The snowfall would also have limited visibility for the skiers.

To shorten the distance to be cleaned, the start gate for the downhill had been lowered, which stripped the Kalberloch course of its trademark steep pitch from the initial start.

“Unfortunately the weather is not helping us,” Vonn said shortly before the race was called off for the day. “The snow is very soft. Hopefully the course workers can do something.”

Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, who won all three races so far this season to lead the downhill standings, said she “would love to race.”

“But there is a limit when you shouldn’t race anymore but stay healthy instead,” the Slovenian said.

Bad weather also canceled training for the last two days, prompting organizers to reschedule the mandatory session two hours before the race. A downhill race cannot be held without prior training.

It’s the second straight season that the event has been affected by poor weather conditions. Last year, the downhill took place on a shortened course in an unusual two-run format, which was won by Vonn.

If Sunday’s program was canceled as well, the next opportunity to race for Vonn and Mancuso will be in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where a downhill and a super-G are scheduled for next weekend.

There will be one more speed event ahead of next month’s world championships, in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Jan. 28-29.

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

Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

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Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition

Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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