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Katie Uhlaender waits to hear if she will become 2014 Olympic medalist

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Katie Uhlaender was scatterbrained Thursday.

She didn’t put her racing bib on for the first run of the World Cup season, so technically she wasn’t compliant with uniform regulations.

Uhlaender also forgot to put anything long-sleeved in her bag of postrace clothes, so she stood in 36-degree air after the race with completely bare arms coming out of her vest.

“I forgot my shirt,” she said.

Uhlaender has plenty of reasons to be distracted.

She’s still grieving the loss of close friend Steven Holcomb, the U.S. bobsledding star who died suddenly in May. She’s breaking in new equipment. And she’s still waiting to hear, more than 3 1/2 years since the Sochi Winter Games ended, if she’s an Olympic medalist.

The International Olympic Committee probe of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program at the Sochi Games is ongoing, and plenty of bobsledders and skeleton athletes are waiting to see what happens. Uhlaender was fourth in those Olympics, and if Russia’s Elena Nikitina — one of the athletes who has been under investigation — loses her bronze, then the American may get her first medal.

“I can’t even put my head there,” Uhlaender said. “It’s been a year since the McLaren Report came out. I’m just going to focus on each race and control what I can control.”

So far, six Russian cross-country skiers have been banned from future Olympics as a result of the probe by an IOC disciplinary panel. The cases against the Russians were built on evidence of a state doping conspiracy detailed last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

“More hearings concerning other athletes will be held over the next few weeks,” the IOC said Thursday.

All hearings will be completed by the end of November, the IOC said, and a decision is expected in early December regarding whether Russian athletes will be allowed to enter this winter’s PyeongChang Olympics.

Uhlaender was ninth on Thursday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, a less-than-ideal result especially considering the Americans hoped to have a home-track edge in Lake Placid. Nikitina is still eligible to compete and was fourth on Thursday.

“This year’s been really tough in general,” Uhlaender said, tears running slowly down her face. “Losing Holcomb, I’ve been having mini-panic attacks since he’s not here. Whenever I have a race freak-out, I would find him or text him and get an extra boost. This was the first race I had to go without that. I know what he’d say — that I can’t lose twice, and I have to represent my country by doing the right thing.”

Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje, Thursday’s silver medalist, said the waiting isn’t easy for anyone in sliding — including the probe’s targets.

“It’s a terrible situation and that it’s state-sponsored makes it even more difficult,” Vathje said. “I don’t know what those girls were told they needed or couldn’t do. We don’t know the whole story, and that’s really hard. I’m friends with the Russians. They’re lovely people. And it’s really hard to see them struggling.”

The three principal sliders still under investigation related to what is alleged to have happened in Sochi are double-gold-winning bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, men’s skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and Nikitina.

Zubkov is retired and is president of the Russia Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. Tretyakov is scheduled to race in the men’s skeleton season opener Friday.

If Zubkov is disqualified, the top U.S. sleds in the two- and four-man events — both driven by Holcomb, with the two-man pushed by Steven Langton and the four-man pushed by Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt — could move from bronze to silver.

If Tretiyakov loses his medal, Matt Antoine of the U.S. could go from bronze to silver. And if Nikitina loses her medal, Uhlaender could move to third.

“I definitely think something has to be done,” Uhlaender said. “Is there doping control in Russia? Do they believe that testing in the offseason should be done? Just because they’re not doping in the season, that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the offseason. I’m a clean athlete and I’m going to keep representing clean athletes. I don’t know what else to say.”

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MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

Lindsey Vonn makes first trip to Kitzbuehel, still feeling some sadness of retirement

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Lindsey Vonn is back on the Alpine skiing World Cup tour this weekend, but not as a racer.

Vonn, who retired last year, is a spectator (and course inspector) at the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria, home to the biggest annual men’s race in the sport (full TV, live stream schedule here).

It’s her first time watching competition in person since a career’s worth of injuries forced her to retire last winter, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record total of 86.

“I feel like skiing is like a bad break-up, so I need to keep some distance and some space,” she said, according to sponsor Red Bull. “And I’m slowly getting back into watching it. It’s hard, because every time I watch it, it reminds me of what I’m missing. I find it easier to watch the men’s races obviously than the women’s, but of course I’m always cheering for my teammates and watching girls coming back from injury who’ve had a hard time.

“I kind of need some space still. But, as time goes on, I’ll be able to be more involved and it will be less painful for me, and I can kind of start to build a new relationship with ski racing.”

Vonn was a special guest at the podium presentation of Friday’s super-G won by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who like Vonn came back from major knee injuries to return to an Olympic podium.

Vonn long harbored ambitions of racing against men, but it never came to fruition, at least in part due to the International Ski Federation never signing off. In 2012, she was quoted saying she wanted to race at Kitzbuehel, the most challenging track on the men’s circuit.

“Before I was injured, I really wish I would have at least got a chance to ski down it,” she said this week. “I wouldn’t even mind if I had raced, but it would have been cool for me to one time go down it with a race suit on and see what it’s like. Being here as a spectator, I’m so jealous of the men.”

While Vonn keeps busy in retirement, including wedding planning with fiance P.K. Subban, emotional pain remains from being off the ski circuit.

“It’s not really about letting go as much as just not being able to do what I love anymore,” she said. “That’s like a bad break-up where I just miss it, and wish I could still do it, but physically I wasn’t able to, and it’s a hard reality to accept. No matter how many business deals I make or companies I start, it’s never going to replace the adrenaline and the speed and the thrill of ski racing.

“It’s something I have to learn to live with ,and I just thought it would be a little easier than it was, but when you wake up and your world’s totally different and the reality sinks in, it just makes you sad sometimes.”

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MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

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That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

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

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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