Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn eyes crystal record; World Cup Finals preview, schedule

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Lindsey Vonn recently ordered a new, second trophy case to store her crystal globes, the prizes awarded to the best skiers per discipline and overall for an entire World Cup season.

Vonn has collected 17 crystal globes during her career.

“Should we only make it for 17?” the builder asked Vonn.

“No, we need to make it bigger,” replied Vonn, relaying the story to French media Monday. “I have room for 23. … I hope I can fill it up at some point.”

Vonn, who won six times this campaign, breaking the women’s World Cup career victories mark following two major knee surgeries, can match another record at the season-ending World Cup Finals in Meribel, France, this week.

She’s in position to add to her trophy case this season’s crystal globes for the downhill and super-G. That would give her 19 career season titles, matching the record held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.

Stenmark also holds the overall race victories record of 86, which Vonn may also one day take down. She’s at 65 right now.

“To be back in this position at finals is pretty damn good,” Vonn said Monday.

Here’s the World Cup Finals schedule (all times Eastern; all events streamed live on UniversalSports.com):

Wednesday — Men’s Downhill — 4:30 a.m.
Wednesday — Women’s Downhill — 6 a.m. (Vonn)
Thursday — Men’s Super-G — 4:30 a.m.
Thursday — Women’s Super-G — 6 a.m. (Vonn)
Saturday — Women’s Slalom — 4 a.m./6:30 a.m.
Saturday — Men’s Giant Slalom — 5 a.m./7:30 a.m.
Sunday — Men’s Slalom — 4 a.m./6:30 a.m.
Sunday — Women’s Giant Slalom — 5 a.m./7:30 a.m.

UniversalSports.com also has the full standings in each discipline here.

Vonn was fastest in downhill training runs Monday and Tuesday and enters the official downhill Wednesday with a 35-point lead over Austrian Anna Fenninger for the crystal globe.

If Fenninger wins the downhill race Wednesday, Vonn must finish in second place to keep the season title. Vonn won six straight downhill globes from 2008 through 2013 and is seeking to tie Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record of seven globes in one discipline.

The super-G is closer. Vonn leads Fenninger by eight points going into Thursday’s race. If both Vonn and Fenninger finish in the top four, whoever has the higher finish will take that crystal globe.

Fenninger is trying to become the first woman since Vonn to repeat as World Cup overall champion. She overtook Tina Maze in the overall standings last weekend and has a 30-point edge on the Slovenian going into this week’s four races.

Both Fenninger and Maze are strong in downhill and super-G, so the overall competition could come down to the weekend’s giant slalom and slalom. Vonn is mathematically eliminated from that race but hopes to be a factor in the overall next season.

Mikaela Shiffrin will enter the picture starting with Saturday’s slalom. The 20-year-old will clinch her third straight slalom season title if she finishes in the top 15. That shouldn’t be a problem.

Shiffrin is in third place in the giant slalom season standings and could finish as high as second Sunday. She’s shown continued improvement in her complementary discipline after finishing 19th in the standings in 2013 and seventh in 2014.

The men’s competitions for crystal globes are not as compelling.

Ted Ligety will cede his giant slalom crown to Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher, who clinched it last weekend.

Hirscher also holds a 164-point lead in the overall standings above Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud, meaning the Austrian is very likely to become the first man to win four straight World Cup overall titles.

Hirscher trails German Felix Neureuther by 55 points in the slalom standings. If Hirscher wins the slalom race Sunday, Neureuther could finish fourth and still walk away with that crystal globe.

Jansrud already clinched the super-G globe, but the downhill is very much in play. He leads Austrian Hannes Reichelt by 20 points, but Reichelt would take the globe if he wins Wednesday’s race.

Julia Mancuso in Maui for World Cup Finals

Nathan Chen, from flu-ridden on the floor, fights for 4th U.S. title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Rafael Arutunian showed me a photo on his phone of Nathan Chen sleeping on the floor in a dressing room at Great Park Ice Arena when he was supposed to be practicing earlier this month.

Arutunian said he could have taken the same picture on eight days in the 2 1/2 weeks they spent together at his Irvine, Calif., training base during Chen’s semester break from Yale.

Arutunian would see the flu-ridden and feverish Chen curled up asleep, turn off the light, leave the room and wait until Chen woke up before trying to have him do any training.

In the past, Arutunian said, Chen could train through sickness. This time it was futile.

“He couldn’t move,” Arutunian said.

It wasn’t until about 10 days ago, after Chen returned to college on the East Coast, that he was able to do anything resembling training.

At that point, the coach knew he had to be more hands-on than usual, or as much as he could be from 3,000 miles away.

“This time, I was managing everything, calling every day to give him exactly what he needed to do to get ready for the U.S. Championships,” Arutunian said.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

What Chen did on the ice Saturday and Sunday left Arutunian shaking his head in admiration.

He landed six clean quads in six attempts, two in the short program Saturday, four in the free skate Sunday. The short program was of the surpassing excellence that forces writers to exhaust the superlatives in our language for accurate portrayals of his skating.

The free skate did not require consulting a dictionary for new ways to say extraordinary. That was not unexpected, given how diminished fitness figured to take a toll over the length of a free skate, four minutes, compared to the two minutes, 50 seconds in the short.

Yet Chen’s overall skating still drew superlatives from Arutunian, not a coach given to gushing.

“I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” Arutunian said.

This time, his performance was one for historians more than lexicographers, making it one for the ages from a different perspective.

Chen, 20, became the first U.S. man to win four straight U.S. titles since Olympic champion Brian Boitano in 1988. Others who have done that since World War II include Olympic champions Scott Hamilton, David Jenkins, Hayes Jenkins and Dick Button, the last a winner of seven straight.

Chen was fifth at his only Olympics so far, in 2018.  He has won 10 straight events since, including two world titles, two Grand Prix Final titles and the third and fourth U.S. titles.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to not necessarily being one of the legends but to sort of follow their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things, well beyond what I have accomplished. It’s amazing to have that inspiration in front of you, to see how far I can take myself.”

For the fourth straight year, Chen was far ahead of his contemporaries, even if his winning margin of 37.29 points was less than any of the previous three: 58.21, 40.72, 55.44.

That smaller gap owed less to Chen’s flaws in the free skate than to Jason Brown’s having done what his coach, Tracy Wilson, thought was the best skating of Brown’s career, especially for its interpretive maturity.

Chen finished with 330.17 points to 292.88 for Brown and 278.08 for Tomoki Hiwatashi, who had a breakthough performance. World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, who has had only a few weeks of good training after taking a leave from Brown University and moving to Toronto, was fourth at 275.23.

“A couple jump landings were a little shaky,” Chen said. “I wasn’t as controlled and calm as I was in the short program.”

Chen, Brown and Zhou were named to the U.S. team for the March world championships in Montreal. Better results over the past year, notably the world bronze, gave Zhou the third spot over Hiwatashi.

Brown, 25, once again failed to land a quadruple jump, with his quad toe attempt ending in a downgrade and two-footed landing. But he did everything else so brilliantly in a mesmerizingly beautiful performance to music from “Schindler’s List” that his individual grade of execution marks were higher than Chen’s. This was a Brown at a level he had not approached since his 2014 Olympic season.

“I think that was just a glimpse of what’s to come,” Brown said. “One hundred percent, it’s probably the best skating I have done. I think I still have a long way to go as far as the technical aspect as well as the skating skills, but as far as being strong and confident, I really feel things coming together.”

Chen, on the other hand, felt as unprepared as he ever had been for a nationals because of the illness. So he was “absolutely pleased” with his performance to music from the Elton John biopic, “Rocketman.”

“I was able to make good use of the week I had relatively healthy to sort of get myself back in check before this competition,” Chen said.  “I’ve had a lot of experience over the past few years competing in different sorts of situations, and that helped me here in how to still keep myself in a positive, confident mindset.”

Chen’s concession to his physical condition was no quad Lutz. His execution of three of the four quads he did, two toes, a salchow and a flip, was exceptional – especially the opening flip in combination and the final toe. The judges also rewarded him with 15 perfect component scores, six for composition and five for interpretation. 

As much as he impressed the judges, Chen impressed his coach more.

“Amazing,” Arutunian said. “Who else could do this?”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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 NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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.

Nathan Chen wins fourth straight U.S. figure skating title in dominant fashion

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Nathan Chen has leaned on Brian Boitano during times of crisis and injuries. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the last two days, Chen showcased not only his jumps — six quads between two programs — but some of the mental strength gleaned from the 1988 Olympic champion.

Chen, who said he competed on one week of full training after a flu bout, was his usual standout self, becoming the first man to win four straight national titles since Boitano in 1988.

He distanced runner-up Jason Brown by 37.29 points, totaling 330.17. Chen won all of his national titles by at least 37 points. No other skater, pair or dance couple has won by more than 33 points since the Code of Points was instituted in 2006.

Chen landed a pair of quad toe loops, a quad flip and a quad Salchow in his Elton John-themed free skate.

“I was, again, pretty worried about my stamina coming into this competition, but the audience really helped me get through it,” the Yale sophomore told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

Boitano and Scott Hamilton, the other most recent man to win four straight, sat together inside the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to, not necessarily becoming one of these legends, but sort of follow in their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things well beyond what I’ve already accomplished. It’s amazing to be able to have that sort of inspiration in front of you and have something to look forward to.”

Besides Chen, five of the six men to earn four straight U.S. titles since World War II went on to earn Olympic gold, which Chen will aim for in 2022. He’s undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics with a disastrous 17th-place short program followed by a leading free skate. He was arguably the favorite for gold.

Chen now heads to March’s world championships for another matchup with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Chen routed Hanyu twice in 2019, by 22.45 points at worlds and 43.87 at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If I start focusing too much on the results, and I start trying to focus on going to this competition because I want to continue this quote-unquote streak, it will probably be the end of it,” Chen said. After his Grand Prix Final romp, Chen called Hanyu a “skating god” and said the Japanese megastar was still capable of outperforming him.

Brown, skating Sunday to music from “Schindler’s List,” earned his best nationals finish since winning the title in Greensboro five years ago.

He did so without a clean quad, having his one attempt in the free skate downgraded. Brown has never landed a quad in competition. Still, he beat Chen in artistic scores in the short program, coming back from a preseason concussion in a car accident.

“It’s probably the best skating that I’ve done,” said Brown, a 2014 Olympian who changed coaches after missing the PyeongChang Olympics, moving to Brian Orser‘s group in Toronto.

Tomoki Hiwatashi, the world junior champion, jumped from fifth after the short program onto the podium in third. He landed a pair of quads in a clean free skate, making his case to be named to the three-man world championships team.

But that spot was instead given by a U.S. Figure Skating committee to fourth-place finisher Vincent Zhou.

Zhou, the world bronze medalist, finished fourth with one quad in his free skate. Zhou had minor jump landing errors, competing after not training properly for the entire autumn while a freshman at Brown. He moved to Toronto in late December, changed coaches and resumed training a month before nationals.

Andrew Torgashev, the surprise third-place skater from the short program, fell twice on quad attempts and dropped to fifth.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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 NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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.