Surprise winner as Lindsey Vonn skis out of world championships super-G

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Lindsey Vonn‘s first race of the world championships lasted about 40 seconds, as she nearly lost a ski pole, and ended with a DNF.

Vonn, showing she’s still recovering from breaking her right upper arm in November, struggled to hold onto her right ski pole early in her super-G run and skied off course, but didn’t crash, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

She was .02 behind Austrian winner Nicole Schmidhofer at her last split time before skiing out.

“I was definitely distracted for about five gates there, I couldn’t get my pole back,” Vonn said on NBCSN, adding that she’ll duct tape her hand to her pole for her final two races this week. “I didn’t know whether I should just drop it or keep trying to get it, but I kind of had a little bit of a grip on it.”

Schmidhofer was the surprise gold medalist by .33 over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, who both earned their first Olympic or world medals. Pre-race favorite Lara Gut of Switzerland took bronze, .36 behind.

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Vonn, who bagged super-G bronze at the 2010 Olympics and 2015 Worlds, isn’t 100 percent back from breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. She called it the most painful injury of her career and said Sunday that her right hand movement was so limited that she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail.

“I was attacking, and at world championships only a medal counts,” Vonn, who returned to race three weeks ago, said on NBCSN. “I’m still in a good mood, I’m still smiling, because I attacked.”

Vonn will next compete in the super combined on Friday, but her best medal shot is in the downhill on Sunday. Vonn said she’s had about four days of super-G training since September, with more recent experience in downhill in that time, including a World Cup win Jan. 21.

Austrian Anna Veith, the reigning Olympic and world super-G champion, also failed to finish Tuesday, skiing out about one minute into her run after being .17 back at her last split time. Veith is coming back from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash.

Winner Schmidhofer and silver medalist Weirather share a bit of history. At the 2007 World Junior Championships, they also went one-two in the super-G.

Both Schmidhofer and Weirather were at the Sochi Olympics, but neither raced.

Schmidhofer was passed over for Olympic downhill and super-G selections after training runs, as nations can enter no more than four racers per event and Austria’s team is very deep. Schmidhofer also made the Vancouver Olympic team and failed to finish her only race there. The 27-year-old has never won a World Cup race in 106 starts, but owns two podium finishes.

Weirather, the daughter of Olympic and world champion ski racers, crashed in a Sochi Olympic downhill training run, suffering a right knee injury that ended her season. She tore her right ACL three times but has somehow won six World Cup races.

Gut has won three of the four World Cup super-Gs this season, and is Switzerland’s biggest skiing star as the reigning World Cup overall champion. She came to worlds with five previous Olympic or world championships medals, but none of them gold. The super-G was her best shot, but she’s also a medal threat in the super combined, downhill and giant slalom.

“I couldn’t really ski the way I wanted,” Gut said. “I had a little bit of a fight on the slope.”

The World Championships continue with the men’s super-G on Wednesday (6 a.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

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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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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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