Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud’s celebrates ‘unreal’ comeback

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – This Alpine skier suffered a torn ACL at the World Championships super-G last February.

This skier underwent surgery, rehabbed and returned to skiing on snow in August.

This skier came back to World Cup racing in Lake Louise, Alberta, and posted improving results in December.

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That’s where Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud’s story splits from that of American Lindsey Vonn.

Jansrud placed fourth in the Olympic super combined Friday, five days after winning a bronze medal in the downhill.

“It’s almost unreal being one year away from an ACL injury, and get to hold a medal in my hand,” he told The Associated Press after the downhill.

Vonn can’t describe that feeling.

To be fair, there are more differences between the two skiers.

Most importantly, Jansrud suffered a comparatively simple left ACL tear when he lost his balance, spun and fell to the snow in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 6, 2013.

The day before, Vonn tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee and had a lateral tibial plateau fracture.

“Her injury was worse,” said Aksel Lund Svindal, another Norwegian Alpine skier. “He tore his ACL, but it was super clean. Everything else was OK. Lindsey’s, that was worse. That was way worse.”

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The early worry for Vonn was that she would miss the Olympics. Though Vonn admirably worked her way back into top-five form, she suffered a setback racing Dec. 21 and ended her season, needing another knee surgery.

The noted Liverpool supporter Jansrud never lost sight of Sochi, even in the seconds after falling down in Schladming.

“I knew I was out of the World Champs and out of the season,” Jansrud said. “The goal was always being back at the Olympics. I never doubted that at all.”

On Friday, Jansrud led the super combined after the morning downhill portion. He is a better speed event skier and wasn’t expected to keep his lead after the afternoon slalom.

He finished .59 of a second behind the bronze medalist and matched his best career World Cup super combined finish.

His fourth place was impressive, not only as part of his comeback, but also because he again beat fellow Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, the world’s second-best all-around skier.

Norway has a proud Alpine tradition.

Jansrud, 28, may be taking his turn in the spotlight at these Games, a spot passed from legends Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Lasse Kjus to the triple 2010 medalist Svindal, who is 31.

Svindal, a disappointing fourth and eighth in Sochi so far, isn’t surprised that Jansrud is performing so well.

“I’ve skied with him since August, and he’s been good,” Svindal said. “Our job as a team is not to question if he can come back and win races. Our job is to believe in that like it’s the most natural thing.”

Jansrud takes momentum into the super-G on Sunday and the giant slalom Wednesday.

His best event in the 2012 and 2013 seasons was the super-G, before he fell in the race in Schladming.

He won 2010 Olympic giant slalom silver, ahead of Svindal and American Ted Ligety, who is seen as the favorite for gold this year.

Ligety, too, is not surprised at Jansrud’s quick recovery.

“ACL surgery in ski racing is a dime a dozen,” said Ligety, who suffered MCL and PCL damage in 2009. “Every single guy basically out there does that and comes back eight months and is normally just as strong. He’s an awesome skier.”

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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