Gracie Gold’s first skate a difficult one in return to competition

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A nervous Gracie Gold struggled with her jumps Friday in her first competitive program since receiving treatment last year for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder.

The Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion fell on a triple flip and popped an Axel, tallying 37.51 points for last place of 10 skaters. Gold buried her head in her hands as the score was announced.

“We just had to start with something, even if it was trash,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “This is six months out of rock bottom, so we’ll just go from there.

“The goal was just to show up and try to be brave.”

Russian Olympic champion Alina Zagitova scored a world-leading 80.78 points, gapping countrywoman Sofia Samodurova by 13.38 going into Saturday’s free skate.

Gold, 23, last competed at the January 2017 U.S. Championships, where she placed sixth and split from coach Frank Carroll.

“I was trying to think why I was so nervous. You say it’s been a while,” she said, according to the AP, “but I’ve never gone into a big Grand Prix event where I was so, frankly, not trained.”

Gold announced Sept. 1, 2017, that she was seeking professional help “after recent struggles on and off the ice,” then detailed what she was seeking treatment for the following month. She watched last January’s U.S. Championships from the stands and, in the spring, began working on programs for this season under new coach Vincent Restencourt.

“I am not even close to 100 percent,” Gold said Thursday, according to OlympicChannel.com, “probably only like 30 or 40 percent of what I would like to over the next four years going into the next Olympics.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Earlier Friday, double Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu topped the men’s short with the world’s highest score this season.

Favored Russians took leads in pairs (Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov) and ice dance (Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin), moving one step closer to December’s Grand Prix Final.

In dance, U.S. junior champions Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko are in second going into Saturday’s rhythm dance, eyeing their first Grand Prix medal.

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 HERE 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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MORE: Gracie Gold wants to be new skater in comeback

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.