Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn feels ‘100 percent’ heading to season debut

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Lindsey Vonn‘s healing left ankle no longer aches or gives her any sort of discomfort whatsoever when she steps into her ski boot.

The four-time overall World Cup champion pronounced she’s ”definitely 100 percent” ready for the giant slalom race in Aspen, Colorado, later this month.

Now, a new dilemma: Finding some snow. Vonn flew back from Europe for a long weekend that included a photo shoot in New York, a friend’s wedding in Vermont and the Broncos-Packers game in Denver.

With the slopes in her hometown of Vail not open — 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.8 Celsius) there Tuesday — Vonn may train at nearby Copper Mountain. Or head back to Europe. Or simply do what she’s been doing since breaking her ankle in a training crash in New Zealand nearly 12 weeks ago — working out intensely in the gym.

Bottom line: She’s raring to race.

”I have a really good feeling about this season,” Vonn said in a phone interview. ”This is going to be a really good year.”

Sitting out the season opener in Soelden, Austria, was a difficult choice for Vonn. She was on the sideline as Italy’s Federica Brignone won the giant slalom on Oct. 24, while American Mikaela Shiffrin finished runner-up. Vonn possibly could’ve given it a go, but ”I was worried that if I hit a bump or something, I would have problems. I erred on the side of caution, because I’m really happy with where I am at.”

She will also sit out a slalom event in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 14. But that’s by design since she no longer competes in the slalom.

Vonn’s keeping her goals modest this season. Well, as modest as someone can after winning a women’s record 67 World Cup races over her career. Vonn simply hopes to defend her titles in the downhill and super-G disciplines.

If it so happens, chase after her fifth big crystal globe as well, which would make the 31-year-old Vonn the oldest female skier to win the overall title. The record is held by Swiss great Vreni Schneider, who was 30 when she won in 1995.

”For me, it’s just to try to continue to win races,” said Vonn, the Olympic downhill gold medal winner at the 2010 Vancouver Games who couldn’t defend her crown in Sochi because of a knee injury. ”Because whenever I can focus on skiing and trying to win one race at a time, that’s when I accumulate the most amount of points. That always puts me in a good position for the overall.”

These days, Vonn looks around at her fellow racers and barely sees anyone she knows. Austrians Nicole Hosp and Kathrin Zettel retired this season and Tina Maze of Slovenia took a break. Last season, Vonn’s good friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany stepped away.

”I’m seeing more and more of my friends coming to watch the races instead of being a part of them,” said Vonn, who returned last season from serious knee injuries to break the record for most women’s World Cup wins. ”And then, some of the girls that are racing against me are literally half my age. It’s awesome.

”Don’t know if you can hear my sarcasm — really awesome,” she chuckled.

Another member of the younger generation is quickly revving up to speed as Shiffrin plans to venture into super-G events this season. Vonn’s biggest piece of advice for Shiffrin? Just keep being Shiffrin, the fearless skier who won the slalom at the world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, last winter.

”She’s done so much in her career already that I don’t really know if I have any advice I can give her that she doesn’t already know,” Vonn said. ”Speed skiing requires time and getting used to the tracks. It’s something I’m sure she’ll master and I have no doubt she will be successful at as well.”

As for Vonn, her confidence is soaring as she gains more trust in an ankle that no longer causes her pain.

”I’m skiing really well,” Vonn said. ”I’m 100 percent ready for the season.”

MORE: Watch Vonn go under cover as a ski mountain safety officer

Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

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Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series 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.

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Usain Bolt offered contract with Australia soccer club, hurdles remain

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Usain Bolt has been offered a contract with his Australian soccer team after playing for the Central Coast Mariners on a tryout deal, but the club said it likely needs more money from an external party to sign Bolt.

The club also said in a press release that while Bolt “made great progression” in his two months of preseason training, it “does not have the luxury” to play him in regular-season league matches.

“I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world, I do appreciate that, but you have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions,” Central Coast coach Mike Mulvey said Sunday, after his club began regular-season play in Australia’s top division without Bolt.

Bolt will not train with the club this week until he signs — if he signs.

Bolt scored his first two goals for the Mariners on Oct. 12 in a friendly against a team that is not in the A-League. Bolt had said the match, his third, would determine his future after he first joined the club on an indefinite trial in hopes of getting a contract.

“After this game is where we can talk because the season’s coming up,” Bolt said after the match.

The eight-time Olympic champion Bolt has long harbored dreams of playing pro soccer.

Since retiring in summer 2017, he has trained alongside club teams in South Africa, Jamaica and Norway, plus had a much-publicized visit with Borussia Dortmund in March. Bolt and Dortmund share an apparel sponsor in Puma.

Bolt said he turned down offers from teams in France and Spain, but not in the top division. He prefers Australia, where he doesn’t have to learn a language. His long-time dream has been to play for Manchester United.

“The [Mariners] coach has explained to me that there won’t be any special treatment,” Bolt said as his Mariners trial began in August. “They will treat me just like a footballer should be treated. … I don’t want to be treated like I’m the world’s fastest man.”

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