Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin lead World Alpine Skiing Championships women’s preview


Lindsey Vonn will ski for medals for the first time in two years next week, following two crashes, two major knee surgeries and one missed Olympics.

She won’t be alone in the spotlight at the first World Alpine Skiing Championships in the U.S. since 1999. Mikaela Shiffrin is a gold-medal favorite, like Vonn, but specializing in different events. Julia Mancuso will look to extend her record of global championship success, unmatched among American women.

The world’s best skiers will invade Beaver Creek, Colo., a group that includes the last two World Cup overall champions — Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger.

Here’s the schedule (all ET):

Tuesday, Feb. 3 — Super-G, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Friday, Feb. 6 — Downhill, 1 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 12:55)
Monday, Feb. 9 — Super Combined Downhill, noon (Universal Sports)
Monday, Feb. 9 — Super Combined Slalom, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Thursday, Feb. 12 — Giant Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Thursday, Feb. 12 — Giant Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN, Live Extra at 4)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — Slalom Run 1, 12:15 p.m. (Universal Sports at noon)
Saturday, Feb. 14 — Slalom Run 2, 4:15 p.m. (NBC, Live Extra at 4:30)

Full broadcast schedule

Here are five skiers to watch:

Lindsey Vonn
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Five wins in 10 races (all downhill and super-G); leads downill and super-G standings
2014 Olympics: Did not compete (injury)
2013 World Championships: DNF in super-G (crash)

Vonn hasn’t come out of a World Championships healthy since 2005. In 2007, she crashed in a slalom training run and suffered a season-ending ACL sprain. In 2009, she sliced open her right thumb on a broken champagne bottle after winning the downhill. In 2011, she ended her Worlds after two races due to post-concussion effects. In 2013, that crash in the opening super-G.

So Vonn will hope for better at home, with Tiger Woods slated to appear amid a busy golf schedule. Vonn is the favorite in the opening super-G and the downhill, especially having trained on the course much more than top rivals Tina Maze, Anna Fenninger and Lara Gut (though Vonn has yet to *race* there).

She hasn’t raced anything other than downhill and super-G in more than two years, so her chances in the giant slalom and, possibly, the super combined aren’t clear.

Vonn talks fear, risk, future ahead of World Championships

Mikaela Shiffrin
Possible events: Giant Slalom, Slalom
2015 World Cup: Three wins in 10 races (all giant slalom and slalom); second in slalom standings, third in giant slalom standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in slalom, fifth in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in slalom, sixth in giant slalom

Also skiing at home, Shiffrin will be very familiar with her schedule. It’s the same two races she’s done exclusively on the World Cup and at the World Championships and Olympics the last two years.

The 19-year-old overcame an early season slump and won two of her last three races going into Worlds. That affirmed her favorite status in the slalom, barely over a group that includes the World Cup slalom standings leader Frida Hansdotter of Sweden. Shiffrin will try to become the second woman since World War II to successfully defend a World title in that event, joining the Croatian legend Janica Kostelic.

Shiffrin is also a medal threat in giant slalom, with the last two World Cup overall champions Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger. Italian Deborah Compagnoni is the only woman to sweep the slalom and giant slalom at a World Championships in the last 30 years.

As with the Olympics, we won’t see Shiffrin race until the second week of the competition.

Video: Shiffrin comes up just short in last race before Worlds

source: Getty Images
Tina Maze won three medals at the 2013 World Championships. (Getty Images)

Tina Maze
Possible events: Everything
2015 World Cup: Three wins in 20 races; overall standings leader, top five in every discipline
2014 Olympics: Gold in downhill, giant slalom; fourth in super combined; fifth in super-G; eighth in slalom
2013 World Championships: Gold in super-G; silver in super combined, giant slalom; fifth in slalom, seventh in downhill

These may be the final World Championships for the Slovenian who fancies singing. Maze, 31, has said she will not ski at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and will decide after this season whether to continue competing at all.

She would be leaving at or near the top of the sport. Maze, two years removed from perhaps the greatest season in World Cup history, will likely win the World Cup overall title again this season.

It wouldn’t be a shock if she collects medals in all five World Championships races, which no woman has ever done (one man has, Norway’s Lasse Kjus in 1999).

Anna Fenninger
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: Seven podiums in 14 races; second in overall standings
2014 Olympics: Gold in super-G; silver in giant slalom; eighth in super combined; DNF in downhill
2013 World Championships: Bronze in giant slalom; 11th in downhill; DNF in super-G, super combined

Fenninger is five and six years younger than Vonn and Maze. She is the future of the speed events along with Swiss Lara Gut. Fenninger hasn’t won since the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but she finished second in each of the last three races.

Austria is the most successful nation in ski racing history, and she is its female star following the retirement of slalom ace Marlies Schild. She has more Twitter followers than Shiffrin and Maze but is certainly not as recognized, especially among the U.S. audience.

Julia Mancuso
Possible events: Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined
2015 World Cup: One podium in 13 races
2014 Olympics: Bronze in super combined; eighth in downhill, super-G; DNF in giant slalom
2013 World Championships: Bronze in super-G; fifth in downhill; eighth in super combined; 22nd in giant slalom

Incredibly, Mancuso has more combined Olympic and Worlds medals (nine in 36 races) than World Cup wins (seven in 392 races). Even though she isn’t in the top five of any World Cup discipline this season, Mancuso is a definite medal threat in multiple events at Worlds. Bode Miller is the only U.S. skier with more combined Olympic and Worlds medals, with 11.

World Championships men’s preview

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 19, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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