Lindsey Vonn moves up season debut to Saturday

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Lindsey Vonn, who originally planned to make her season debut in December, instead plans to race on Saturday in the World Cup season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (6:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel).

That’s provided conditions are safe. Watch her announcement here.

“I didn’t race any GS last year because of my [broken] arm injury, but I skied really well this summer in New Zealand,” Vonn said Thursday. “I feel like I’m in good enough shape, and it’s a good opportunity. See what happens.

“The biggest thing this season is staying healthy. So I really don’t want to take any chances. I just want to ski solid. My solid skiing is enough to get in the top 15. That’s all I really need.”

It will mark Vonn’s earliest start to a season since before her recent series of major injuries that began at the February 2013 World Championships, forcing her to miss defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

Vonn originally planned to begin her lead-up to PyeongChang the first weekend of December with speed races (downhill, super-G) at her favorite venue of Lake Louise, Alberta.

Vonn last raced giant slalom Jan. 30, 2016 and last won a GS on Dec. 12, 2015, her only finish better than fifth in a GS since January 2013.

She last raced Soelden, the annual World Cup opener in late October, in 2012. Vonn won Soelden in 2011, but giant slalom is not one of her better disciplines.

“Before I was injured, the season before I won a GS [in 2012], so I know that I can ski well,” Vonn, who owns four career World Cup GS wins, said in April. “It’s just a matter of if I have a healthy prep period I can train it.”

The Soelden favorites are world giant slalom gold and silver medalists Tessa Worley of France and American Mikaela Shiffrin.

Vonn, Shiffrin and German Viktoria Rebensburg are the only women in Saturday’s field who have won Soelden. (Update: Swiss Lara Gut, like Vonn, surprisingly announced she will race Saturday. Gut, a two-time winner in Soelden, is returning from suffering a torn ACL with meniscus damage in February.)

Vonn said in April that she intended to race the giant slalom at her likely final Olympics in February. The Olympic schedule makes it more enticing.

The women’s technical events of giant slalom and slalom are in the first week of the PyeongChang Winter Games. The downhill and super-G are in the second week.

“It’s going to be good for me to get over there early, get settled in, get one race under my belt,” Vonn said in April.

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MORE: Vonn’s top downhill rival likely out of Olympics

Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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