Lindsey Vonn finishes 13th in first race in 11 months

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ALTENMARKT-ZAUCHENSEE, Austria (AP) — Christine Scheyer of Austria upset the prerace favorites to win a women’s World Cup downhill Sunday, while Lindsey Vonn placed 13th in her first race in nearly 11 months.

Not being able to push out of the start gate as usual, the American was more than half a second off the lead at the first split and finished 1.54 behind the Austrian.

“I have a little start routine with my poles and I couldn’t really do that with my right hand,” Vonn said. “I also kind of lost grip on my pole after the last jump.”

RACE REPLAY | RESULTS

The four-time overall champion, who holds the women’s record of 76 victories, was out nursing a knee injury and a broken arm since February last year.

The fracture in her right upper arm also damaged nerves, which was still limiting mobility of her hand.

After announcing a few days ago that she had come to win, Vonn still saw the positives of her comeback race after 322 days.

“All things considered it’s about what I would expect,” she said. “I felt like I was skiing pretty well, just maybe not quite on the limit yet.”

Vonn had three weeks left, including speed weekends in Germany and Italy, to find her best form for the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

“That’s definitely a huge goal of mine,” she said. “For now I am happy. It’s not really a matter of results. It’s a matter of just being happy to be racing again. Of course I had higher expectations of myself but considering the conditions and the fact that we had a training run and the race today, I think it was pretty good.”

Scheyer, whose previous best was ninth in last month’s downhill in Val d’Isere, became the unusual winner of an unusual race.

After heavy snowfall had canceled the program for the past three days, the mandatory training session had to be held just hours before the race.

Scheyer impressed in training as she posted the second fastest time, but went one spot better in the race.

In only her fourth World Cup downhill start, she beat Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein by 0.39 seconds. Jacqueline Wiles of the United States was 0.54 behind in third for her first career podium.

Defending overall champion Lara Gut of Switzerland finished fourth, while Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia, who had won all three previous downhill races this season, came fifth.

“It’s hard to describe,” said Scheyer, who started in speed racing this season after recovering from two severe knee injuries. “I just wanted to have a good training run. After that, I was hoping for a top-10 finish.”

In her training run, Vonn held back and got out of her tuck well before finishing 2.71 seconds off the fastest time, posted by Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic.

“It was definitely getting a lot faster from the training run to the race,” Vonn said. “I had a hard time pushing the limit with the flat lights and the bumps.”

While the podium remained far out of reach for Vonn, teammate Wiles stepped in to grab her second career top-10 result.

A late starter with bib No. 26, Wiles beat Gut by 0.01 to bump the Swiss overall champion, who was sitting in third, off the podium.

“I try to always have confidence in myself,” Wiles said. “For me to be able to come out today and have a successful run the way I did, is pretty awesome.”

Wiles’ win also felt like a victory for Vonn, whose foundation starting financially supporting Wiles this season.

“I am very happy for Jackie,” said Vonn. “This is an incredible result for her. I am super happy.”

In training, Nadia Fanchini of Italy and Edit Miklos of Hungary crashed and were airlifted to hospital. Austria team doctor Anton Wicker said Fanchini broke her right upper arm and had a fracture of the spinous process, while Miklos suffered a right-knee injury.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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