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Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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MORE: Bode Miller off U.S. ski roster, but has invitation to race

Grand Prix figure skating assignments announced; Olympic champions absent

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Nathan ChenAshley WagnerKaren Chen and Maia and Alex Shibutani headline Skate America in November, highlighting this fall’s Grand Prix assignments announced Friday.

Gracie Gold is at Cup of China and Internationaux de France, also in November.

U.S. champion Nathan Chen and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will both debut at Rostelecom Cup, the first of six Grand Prix events, in late October.

That will mark an early season test for Chen, an 18-year-old who beat Hanyu at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February but fell to sixth at worlds won by Hanyu in April.

Chen’s top challengers at Skate America in Lake Placid, N.Y., are world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and training partner and 2016 U.S. champion Adam Rippon.

Grand Prix Assignments: Men | Women | PairsIce Dance

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion coming off her least successful season in six years, and the surprise U.S. champion Karen Chen are both entered in Skate Canada in October and Skate America.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, the two-time reigning world champion, is entered in Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy in Japan. She’ll face Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy in both events, as well as Mariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu, who finished three-four at the U.S. Championships in January.

The two-time U.S. champion Gold, who changed coaches after a disastrous season, will get an up-close look at Russian world junior champion Alina Zagitova at her two events in China and France.

Polina Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports at the Sochi Olympics at age 15, is entered in France as well. Edmunds hasn’t competed since the January 2016 U.S. Championships due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

Sochi Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova is not entered in any Grand Prix events.

She has not competed since placing sixth at the December 2015 Russian Championships but recently hired four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko as a new coach.

Also absent from the Grand Prix lists are Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov after Volosozhar gave birth to their daughter Feb. 16.

The Russian pair hasn’t competed since finishing sixth at the 2016 World Championships, their first time outside the top two in 19 top-level international competitions together.

Sotnikova and Volosozhar and Trankov could still be added to Rostelecom Cup as there are open spots for Russians in each discipline at that event.

Skate America, the biggest annual international event in the U.S., is one month later in this season’s calendar, taking place Thanksgiving weekend.

Here’s the full Grand Prix schedule:

Rostelecom Cup (Moscow) — Oct. 20-22
Skate Canada (Regina) — Oct. 27-29
Cup of China (Beijing) — Nov. 3-5
NHK Trophy (Osaka) — Nov. 10-12
Internationaux de France (Grenoble) — Nov. 17-19
Skate America (Lake Placid) — Nov. 24-26
Grand Prix Final (Nagoya, Japan) — Dec. 7-10

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Bode Miller off U.S. ski roster, but has invitation to race

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Bode Miller‘s name no longer appears on the roster of the U.S. ski team. That doesn’t mean he’s retiring or won’t ever race again or that his chances of making a sixth Olympic squad have ended.

The situation is just hazy.

“I’m not going to say [Miller won’t be at the Olympics], because it’s Bode Miller,” U.S. men’s coach Sasha Rearick said by telephone. “Who knows? But my expectations of that aren’t high.”

The team announced its nominations Thursday for the 2017-18 World Cup season. The familiar names are all there — Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety — with the official roster set to be released closer to November when the season starts.

But Miller is now listed as “alumni,” with his chances of making the Pyeongchang Olympics in February very much uncertain. He turns 40 in October and hasn’t competitively raced since severing his right hamstring tendon during a super-G crash at the world championships in February 2015 (video here).

To have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic squad, Miller will have to demonstrate his speed at World Cup races. There are no automatic spots.

“We’ve proposed to Bode several options for training and racing through the last year and especially this summer … in terms of trying to get him going again. The moving parts never lined up in the right way,” Rearick explained. “Bode and I have had a tremendous run over the years and when we commit to something together, we’ve been able to have a lot of fun working hard and trying to make the impossible happen.

“Right now, with where he’s at with his family, where he’s at with his equipment, where he’s at with other aspects of his life, we both didn’t have that same commitment to making a big run at this together.”

The door is always open, though. Should Miller want to step into a World Cup starting gate again, Rearick said he would give Miller that chance “without hesitation.”

“Bode Miller’s career has definitely earned him that opportunity,” Rearick said.

His resume includes 33 World Cup win, two overall titles, four world championships and six Olympic medals, including gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the super-combined.

These days, Miller certainly has a full plate. He’s big into horse racing, with Fast and Accurate — a horse he bought a stake in — finishing 17th at the Kentucky Derby. He has four kids, two with professional beach volleyball player Morgan Miller, and other business endeavors.

One thing behind him is a public spat with ski manufacturer Head. Miller ended his nearly 10-year partnership with Head in 2015 and signed an agreement to not use other skis in World Cup or world championship races for two years. He was attempting to get out of the remainder of the deal so he could race on skis by New York-based Bomber, which he helped develop.

At a fundraiser in Aspen, Colo., two months ago, he told the crowd his chances of a return this season were around “60-40.” But he quickly cautioned he would have to be the “most-fit guy on the hill. If I could do it and make it through the prep period, that’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Seeing Miller return to racing wouldn’t surprise Rearick. Seeing him step away wouldn’t, either.

After all, this is Miller.

“Bode’s self-expression on the hill inspired millions and millions to love him and love U.S. skiing and love ski racing,” Rearick said. “I hope we can all remember those great moments.”

NOTES: Ligety (back) and Steven Nyman (knee) are quickly mending from surgery this year. Ligety should be full speed ahead by August and Nyman closer to October. … Rearick is looking forward to working again with John “Johno” McBride, who rejoins the U.S. squad as the men’s speed team head coach. Alex Hoedlmoser, who had the role, switches to the women’s side and will support Chris Knight in working with Vonn. Chip White also returns as the head women’s speed coach.

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MORE: U.S. skier grapples with fear, doubt after latest, most difficult injury