Ted Ligety, back from injuries, notches first podium in two years

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Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety ended the longest U.S. men’s podium drought in 19 years and a personal drought of more than two years on Sunday.

Just in time with the Olympics in two weeks.

Ligety, who ended his last two seasons early due to injuries, finished third in the last World Cup giant slalom before the Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Austrian Marcel Hirscher won by 1.57 seconds over countryman Manuel Feller. Ligety was 1.69 back.

Full results are here.

Hirscher, the overwhelming Olympic favorite, has won four of the five traditional GS races this season and made all 13 World Cup GS podiums since the start of the 2016-17 season.

“The only thing I can do there [at the Olympics] is losing,” Hirscher, the six-time World Cup overall champion whose only missing prize is Olympic gold, laughed after his 10th win this season, “because everyone is expecting that I’m going to win there.”

Hirscher also won his 55th career World Cup race, passing countryman Hermann Maier for solo second all-time on the men’s list behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86 victories).

It was Ligety’s first podium since Dec. 5, 2015.

Ligety dealt with myriad injuries since winning his second Olympic gold in Sochi and a third straight world title in the giant slalom in 2015.

The 33-year-old suffered three herniated disks in his back and tore a hip labrum in 2015. Then he tore his right ACL in training on Jan. 27, 2016. He underwent season-ending back surgery on Jan. 25, 2017.

The last U.S. man to make a World Cup podium was Travis Ganong, who won a downhill in Garmisch on Jan. 27, 2017. Ganong is out for the season due to a December torn ACL.

“There’s still some things to do,” Ligety said, according to U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “It’s nice that we have a couple of weeks here before the giant slalom at the Olympics, so we can figure out those next steps. We’re still a little bit off, and I have to find that next step and be really fast. I’m not going to sit here and be psyched on this — I’m going to move forward and keep working.”

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Top curling video and social media moments

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For nearly three straight weeks, curling dominated the Olympic airwaves, and while the U.S., Sweden and Canada all came away with gold medals, there were still plenty of highlights away from the ice.

In the mixed doubles tournament, fans were introduced to Team USA’s #HamFam, Matt and Becca Hamilton, who became instant sensations. Matt was even confused for some other celebrities, as people tried to nail down exactly who he looked like.

And he got to “meet” his hero, Aaron Rodgers… of course only through Twitter (for now!)

 In the women’s tournament, fans were introduced to Japan’s “sunshine team,” who were all all smiles on the way to their bronze medal win.

Three Stars from men’s hockey at the Olympics

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NBC Olympics staff selected three special performers from the enitre men’s tournament at the Olympics.

FIRST STAR
Eeli Tolvanen, Finland: The 18-year-old winger was the undisputed breakout star of the men’s tournament. Even though Finland was eliminated in the quarterfinals, Tolvanen’s tally of nine points still ranked second overall as he averaged nearly two points per game. He scored in his Olympic debut and also tallied two assists against eventual silver medalist Germany. He followed that up with two scores against Norway. Tolvanen paced his team past an energized South Korean team in the qualification playoffs, assisting in Finland’s opening three goals. After a sizzling Olympic performance, Tolvanen could be on his way to the NHL to help the Nashville Predators chase the Stanley Cup once again.

NBCOlympics.com: OAR defeat Germany to win hockey gold 

SECOND STAR
Nikita Gusev, Olympic Athletes from Russia: The Vegas Golden Knights prospect tallied four goals and eight assists in just six games throughout the 2018 Winter Games. He also struck twice when it mattered most, helping OAR force OT in the gold-medal game. Trailing 3-2 in the final frame and playing shorthanded, Gusev was able to sneak a backhanded shot into the back of the net to knot the score with less than a minute remaining. Then, in the extra session, it was Gusev who made a beautiful cross-ice pass to set up the golden goal by Kirill Kaprizov.

NBCOlymipcs.com: Canada claim bronze with 6-4 over Czech Republic

THIRD STAR
Ryan Donato, United States: The 21-year-old Boston Bruins prospect was bright spot for Team USA despite the disappointing finish. The sniper lifted his team to a crucial preliminary-round victory over Slovakia, grabbing both goals in a 2-1 victory. He came back to haunt Slovakia again with two more scores in the qualification playoffs, and though the United States’ tournament came to an end in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic, Donato notched one last goal in the 3-2 loss to finish with a team-leading five goals and six points. Donato, along with fellow collegiate athletes Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, surprised many with their contributions on the ice. If management had known of their game-changing impact in advance, the American roster might have included more NCAA players.