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Lindsey Vonn set to race at PyeongChang Olympic venue, live in primetime

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Lindsey Vonn says this weekend’s World Cup races at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea aren’t so much about winning as they are about gaining confidence.

“My goal is just to try and get as much experience on the track as possible, to get a good feeling on it and really analyze it, remember it for next year,” Vonn said Thursday. “The pressure will come next year, not so much this year.”

Nevertheless, Vonn posted the fastest time in training in Jeongseon on Thursday, .17 ahead of the top downhiller this season, Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia.

The women’s field is set for one more training run before a World Cup downhill race on Friday at 9 p.m. ET (live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

They will race again in a super-G on Saturday (also 9 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

The World Cup stop doubles as a 2018 Olympic test event.

It’s a rare chance to watch Vonn live in primetime in the U.S. Most World Cup races are held in Europe in the late morning or early afternoon, making for early wake-ups for American viewers.

South Korea is 14 hours ahead of New York.

Vonn arrived in South Korea on Tuesday and said at the airport that she was 70 percent fit and getting better, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Vonn, who won 2010 Olympic downhill gold but missed the 2014 Olympics due to crash-related injuries, is once again fighting neck whiplash from a race crash last Saturday. And food poisoning from earlier that week.

She returned to racing in January after suffering three knee fractures in a Feb. 27, 2016, race crash and breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash.

Vonn is also fighting age. She turns 33 in October. The oldest female Olympic Alpine skiing medalist ever was 32 years old.

“Most females retire before 33, so, yeah, I’m pretty sure PyeongChang will be my last Olympics,” Vonn said.

Vonn has three goals left in her career. The biggest is to break the record for World Cup wins of 86 held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark. She is at 77 wins.

A year ago, it looked as if Vonn could break Stenmark’s record before the 2018 Olympics. But those crashes and injuries limited her to one victory since Feb. 6, 2016 after averaging 8.5 wins per season the last two years.

“I’m not sure how many World Cups I’ll have won before the Olympics, but hopefully more than 77,” Vonn joked Thursday.

As for the Olympics, Vonn said in previous interviews that she wanted to reclaim the Olympic downhill title in PyeongChang. She was more modest on Thursday.

“I hope to win a medal, hopefully one or two, one would be great,” said Vonn, whose third goal is to race against men at some point after the 2018 Olympics. “My main focus before PyeongChang is to stay healthy.”

In 2008, Vonn finished second in the downhill at the 2010 Olympic test event in Whistler, B.C., missing the victory by one-hundredth of a second.

No matter, Vonn broke out that season by bagging six wins, her first of four World Cup overall titles and the status as biggest American star going into Vancouver Winter Games.

Two years later, Vonn won the Olympic downhill by more than a half-second over Julia Mancuso, who is also in Jeongseon this week and may race for the first time since March 2015.

Vonn has company in this Olympic cycle in the form of Sochi slalom gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin, who is poised to win this season’s World Cup overall title as world’s best all-around skier. She would be the first American to claim the crown since Vonn.

Though Shiffrin has victories this season in slalom, giant slalom and super combined, she is not expected to race in the downhill and super-G on Friday and Saturday. Shiffrin planned to fly back to the U.S. early to prep for next weekend’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif.

So the focus is again on Vonn, who on Thursday was once again the fastest on an Olympic track, albeit in training.

“It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good first training run,” she said. “It’s not necessarily whether I win these test events or not, so much as how confident I am on the track.”

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Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.