Aksel Lund Svindal wins first race in nearly 2 years (video)

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Aksel Lund Svindal returned from a career-threatening injury to win in Beaver Creek. It’s a familiar script.

Svindal, who bagged a medal of every color at the 2010 Olympics, captured the Birds of Prey World Cup downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., by .15 of a second on Saturday.

It’s his 33rd World Cup victory but the first since Jan. 22, 2016, one day before he tore his right ACL in a spectacular crash at the famed Hahnenkammm downhill in Kitzbuehel, Austria (video here).

“I’ve had two knee surgeries, so that’s a lot of rehab,” Svindal said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “Just patience, I guess. Looking forward to moments like this. … Comeback was kind of a no-brainer. I really wanted it. When it works out like this, it’s perfect.”

Austrian Beat Feuz was second on Saturday, followed by Thomas Dressen, the first German man to make a World Cup downhill podium in nearly 13 years.

The U.S. failed to put a man in the top 15 of a seventh straight World Cup race, its longest drought since 2000. Bryce Bennett was 21st.

Full results are here.

Svindal, who turns 35 on Dec. 26, suffered his most harrowing crash at Beaver Creek a decade ago (video here). The result: facial fractures, an eight-inch deep laceration caused by his ski and several missing teeth. A four-hour, emergency medical procedure involved opening him up further to ensure his internal organs had not become infected.

Svindal spent two weeks in a Vail hospital and lost 30 pounds of muscle mass in a five-month recovery period.

“If I was going to crash anywhere, then I think this would be the best place in the world to do it,” Svindal joked Saturday. “Best hospital I’ve ever been to.”

Svindal returned to Beaver Creek the following fall and won both the Birds of Prey downhill and super-G en route to his second World Cup overall title.

“I’ve been here before, so I felt pretty confident,” Svindal said Saturday. “It worked out.”

Svindal has struggled staying healthy since early 2014. He went medal-less in Sochi while slowed by allergies and fatigue.

The Norwegian then missed most of the 2014-15 season after rupturing an Achilles tendon playing soccer eight days before the World Cup opener.

Then came that Kitzbuehel spill, which also caused meniscus and cartilage damage.

Svindal raced just four times last season (making three podiums) before calling it off due to persistent right knee pain that required more surgery.

Svindal showed his mettle upon return this season, finishing third in his debut in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend. He’s a bona fide Olympic medal favorite in the downhill and a super-G contender.

The World Cup season continues in Beaver Creek with a giant slalom Sunday featuring Olympic champion Ted Ligety (Olympic Channel, 2:30 p.m. ET).

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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