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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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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