Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn returns to World Cup, boost to Mikaela Shiffrin

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FLACHAU, Austria (AP) — With Lindsey Vonn‘s return to the World Cup this week, Mikaela Shiffrin is looking forward to leaving the limelight to her American teammate.

Nursing a knee injury and a broken arm for the past 11 months, Vonn will take part in official downhill training in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, on Thursday and Friday, and a downhill race Saturday (5:15 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app; 3 p.m. ET, NBC), according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Vonn earned two of her record 76 victories at the Austrian resort a year ago.

Shiffrin can’t wait for the four-time overall champion to return to the start gates.

“For sure, when she is around, I feel like I am less the one that people want to talk to, and that is definitely nice. I am generally a quiet person,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press after finishing third in a night slalom on Tuesday.

“She is really good at the spotlight, I have to say that,” Shiffrin said. “She knows how to put on a show. I don’t even think she is trying to, she is just like skiing fast and doing her thing and everybody wants to see that.”

Vonn hasn’t raced since fracturing her left knee in a super-G crash in Andorra last February (video here). Two weeks before her planned comeback at speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November, she broke her right upper arm during a fall in training.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion returned to skiing last week in Vail, Colorado, and traveled to Europe after the weekend to join the U.S. speed team.

Another American standout, Julia Mancuso, was also closing in on her comeback to World Cup racing. A winner of nine medals at major championships, Mancuso sat out the entire last season to have surgery on a persistent hip problem.

Like Vonn, Mancuso planned to start in this week’s training runs in Austria before deciding about racing over the weekend.

“They both have been amazing athletes in the sports. For ski racing in the U.S. they have been huge,” Shiffrin said. “I am crossing my fingers that they can get back in the starting gate and ski fast because everybody loves watching them.”

The races in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee consist of a downhill on Saturday followed a day later by a combined event, with a super-G and a slalom run.

A winner of 24 slaloms and three GS races, Shiffrin has been tiptoeing into speed races as well. The Olympic slalom champion was planning to start in Sunday’s combined event but was reluctant to put too many super-G and downhill races on her schedule.

Her head coach, Mike Day, said Shiffrin “is a racer who puts in a lot of volume into the training and is looking for a specific feeling to be confident going into the races.”

Shiffrin has done 13 technical events and three speed races so far this season.

“With that high-volume approach, fatigue is obviously an issue,” Day said. “We are monitoring fatigue to make sure she wouldn’t be going into a speed race with mental or physical fatigue. She needs to be sharp.”

With Tuesday’s third-place finish, Shiffrin passed the 1,000-point mark for the season as she extended her overall World Cup lead over defending champion Lara Gut of Switzerland to 365 points.

Not chasing the overall title, Shiffrin said she will stick to her initial goals for the season: Winning the slalom title again and improving in GS.

“(Gut) has already won the overall. I am sure it’s a big, big thing in her head so she will be going into every single one of these races looking for 100 points,” Shiffrin said. “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she takes that lead very quickly.”

However, with Vonn back, Gut will have to face another strong competitor for World Cup points in the speed races.

“It’s definitely a thought on my mind, I have to admit,” Shiffrin said. “Lindsey comes back and obviously she wants to win, so I am like, ‘Go right ahead.'”

MORE: Vonn sees embarrassment, but not for her, in bid to race men

NBC Sports broadcast schedule (all ET)

Friday
Downhill training 
6 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
Saturday
Downhill race
4:45 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
5:30 p.m., Universal HD
Sunday
Super combined race
3:30 a.m., super-G, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6:15 a.m., slalom, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6 p.m., Universal HD

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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