Mikaela Shiffrin wins first downhill; Lindsey Vonn 12th (video)

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Mikaela Shiffrin owned Lake Lindsey on Saturday.

Shiffrin won her first World Cup downhill in her fourth career start in the discipline, while a sore Lindsey Vonn was 12th in Lake Louise, Alberta.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion racing her least comfortable discipline, clocked 1:27.55 and won by .13 over German Viktoria Rebensburg.

“I’m not under the impression that, like, I can just go in and win downhills now,” said Shiffrin, adding that she plans to skip the next two World Cup downhills and the Olympic downhill. “Maybe on courses where I have a little experience and if I have some luck with the lighting.”

Vonn, who owns a record 18 wins at Lake Louise (leading fans to name it after her), was .93 behind, one day after crashing en route to a possible 78th World Cup win. She shrugged after crossing the finish line.

“I had a hard time trusting my [right] knee today,” Vonn, whose right knee surgeries forced her to miss the 2014 Olympics, said, according to media in Lake Louise. “It’s definitely pretty swollen and wasn’t very happy with me. I’ll go ice it now, and hopefully it settles down a little bit more.”

Full results are here.

The race start was pushed back 75 minutes after a power outage stranded skiers on the chair lift for about 45 minutes (including Shiffrin and Vonn). The start was also moved down, which Shiffrin believed played to her advantage.

The victory wasn’t a complete shock.

That’s largely because the 22-year-old was third in Friday’s downhill at the same venue, her first podium finish in the discipline.

“I felt Lake Louise was a really good opportunity for me just because I have some experience on the track,” said Shiffrin, who is racing at the Canadian resort for a third straight season. “I wasn’t planning to win, but I was planning to come here and do my best, see what happened.”

Shiffrin has 33 World Cup victories — 27 in slalom, four in giant slalom and one each in super combined and downhill.

She is an Olympic gold favorite in slalom, a medal favorite in giant slalom and would be a contender in downhill, super-G and super combined. One Alpine skier captured four medals at one Olympics — Croatia’s Janica Kostelic in 2002.

But Shiffrin said after Saturday’s win that she probably will not race the Olympic downhill in three months. Racing all five individual events at the Olympics might be “a little ambitious.”

She doesn’t plan on racing either of the next two World Cup downhills (Dec. 16 in France and Jan. 13 in Austria). The focus remains on her favored slalom and giant slalom.

“We’ll just play it by ear,” she said of racing more downhills later in the season (all four of her World Cup downhill starts have come at Lake Louise). “I have a good balance. It’s sort of like dangling candy in front of a baby when I feel like I have a chance to make real waves in speed [events].”

Shiffrin’s stock can rise higher with a strong finish in Sunday’s super-G at Lake Louise (1 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA). Shiffrin can become the seventh woman to notch World Cup wins in every discipline (Vonn has done this).

Shiffrin openly expresses hesitation about racing the fastest and riskiest discipline of downhill.

She flirted with danger early in Saturday’s run, bobbling her outside ski in an area where teammate Breezy Johnson later crashed.

“I took some risk,” Shiffrin said. “I had a pretty close, almost run-in with the fence.”

She recovered to become the first U.S. woman not named Vonn to win a World Cup speed race (downhill or super-G) in more than four years.

In that span, Vonn won 18 speed races.

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Lake Louise Downhill
1. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) — 1:27.55
2. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) — +.13
3. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +.17
6. Stacey Cook (USA) — +.61
12. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — +.93
23. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) — +1.45
35. Alice McKennis (USA) — +2.02
37. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.20
DNF. Breezy Johnson (USA)

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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