Lindsey Vonn ties World Cup titles record with 67th win under pressure (video)

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Lindsey Vonn felt pretty nervous as she wiggled her hands on her ski poles at the start gate Thursday morning.

“I knew I had to risk everything if I wanted to get the title,” she said. “I risked it all.”

Vonn came through, capturing a record-tying 19th World Cup season title by earning her record-extending 67th World Cup victory, a super-G at the World Cup Finals in Meribel, France.

Why the risk?

Austrian Anna Fenninger grabbed a large lead, .71 of a second, eight minutes before Vonn stepped up to the start gate. Vonn knew she could only win the season super-G title, accumulating results since December, if she finished ahead of Fenninger, the hottest skier on tour over the last month.

Before both of their runs, Vonn was shown on camera among a group of people watching a TV screen as Fenninger prepared to race.

“[Fenninger] definitely put a lot of pressure on me,” Vonn, who also bagged the downhill title Wednesday, said in a finish-area interview. “I knew she was leading when I was at the top. … I just attacked, and I had nothing to lose.”

Of course, Vonn knows that every time she skis, descending 70mph on a right knee twice surgically repaired in the last two years, she has plenty to lose. (Vonn talked more about risk, fear and her future here)

On Thursday, Vonn crossed the finish line after 67 seconds of all-out skiing, saw she had overtaken Fenninger — easily by .49 — raised her arms, screamed, slid to a stop and fell to the snow, smiling in celebration.

“I really like the high-pressure situations,” Vonn said. “Sometimes when it demands strong skiing, then I can bring it out.”

Fenninger, in the leader’s box, clapped politely.

Vonn notched her eighth victory of the season and joined Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark as the only skiers to reach 19 season titles across all disciplines and the overall. She won’t be able to go for No. 20 until next season but is expected to race again in Meribel, in the giant slalom Sunday.

“Things have gone a lot better this year than I ever could have anticipated,” Vonn said. “I wasn’t really sure where I would stack up being gone for almost two years.”

Vonn won her third straight race Thursday, her first winning streak since December 2012, two months before she crashed at the 2013 World Championships, requiring the first of two major knee surgeries that kept her from the Sochi Olympics.

”I haven’t had any problems [with my knee], really, since Beaver Creek [World Championships in February],” Vonn said. “It’s been hard to maintain the strength on my right leg. … I’m still atrophied from the two surgeries.”

She also took the super-G season title for a fifth time, tying a record shared by German Katja Seizinger, Austrian Hermann Maier and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal.

Vonn also made a World Cup podium for the 113th time, tying Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record. Stenmark made 155 podiums.

“I solidified to myself and to everyone that I’m back,” Vonn said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She did so after missing most of the previous season and not returning to skiing training until October.

“It’s been up and down [this season],” said Vonn, who was disappointed to come away from the World Championships near her Vail, Colo., home with one bronze medal. “I just don’t have that much training. … When I have training and I have confidence, then I ski like I did this week, confident and I have power in my skiing. Sometimes I just was a little bit off rhythm and couldn’t quite find my form. So I think next year, when I can actually prepare normally, I will be much more consistent.”

Vonn’s goal next season? Win her fifth World Cup overall title.

That crystal globe trophy will go to either Fenninger or Tina Maze this weekend. Fenninger, trying to become the first woman since Vonn to repeat as overall champion, leads by 32 points with two races to go.

Vonn, while holding the women’s World Cup wins record, is now 19 victories shy of Stenmark’s overall World Cup record of 86 first-place finishes. If she wins eight races each of the next three seasons, as she did this season, she would pass Stenmark during the 2018 Olympic season.

“It just seems … all of his records are just not attainable,” Vonn said. “Mathematically, it’s definitely possible. … I feel like it’s a little bit too far away to start thinking about that right now.”

Earlier Thursday, Canadian Dustin Cook notched his first World Cup victory in the men’s super-G. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud had already clinched the season title. Two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht was the only U.S. finisher in 15th.

The World Cup Finals continue with a team event Friday. Mikaela Shiffrin will try to wrap up her third straight slalom season title Saturday. Vonn is expected to join Shiffrin in the giant slalom field Sunday.

Olympic champions among Sullivan Award finalists

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

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

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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