‘Snow Queen’ Lindsey Vonn returns to World Cup in Italy

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The wait was finally over for the U.S.’ Lindsey Vonn, who returned to World Cup competition today in Italy after being out of commission with a knee injury since November. Vonn crashed in training runs ahead of the third World Cup stop this season in Lake Louise, but lucky for the four-time Olympian, the injury did not require surgery.

Friday’s downhill race in Cortina d’Ampezzo replaced the cancelled St. Anton event from one week ago, when a snowstorm put Vonn’s World Cup season debut on hold. Vonn had her last taste of competition back in March 2018. Needless to say, the “Snow Queen” was amped to be back.

Wearing lucky bib #13, and now strapped with matching knee braces, Vonn charged out of the start gate. Despite being clocked at a screaming 75 mph as she attacked the gates, Vonn crossed the finish in seventh place, .79 hundredths of a second behind then-current leader, Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, who jumped out to take the early lead in the one-run race.

After seeing the scoreboard at the bottom of the hill, Vonn gave a shrug as she caught her breath, then waved to the crowd.

Vonn ultimately slipped into a tie for 15th, with a time that was 1.15 seconds off the lead.

The seventeenth skier out of the gate, Austria’s 27-year-old Ramona Siebenhofer laid down the winning run of the day, stealing the lead away from Stuhec by .40 hundredths of a second. Finishing in third was Austria’s Stephanie Venier. Full results are here.

Vonn is chasing the all-time World Cup wins record — for a man or woman — held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn currently has 82 to Stenmark’s 86, but has said she intends to retire at the end of this season. Vonn told the Associated Press last week she’ll be fine if she doesn’t get the record.

“The record won’t define me, whether I get it or not,” Vonn said according to the Associated Press. “I don’t need 87 wins to be able to continue the work of my foundation, to help kids, inspire people to be healthy and active and be positive and strive to reach their dreams and goals. I don’t need that record to accomplish those things. Once I retire, 87 won’t really matter anymore.

Vonn has appeared on a World Cup downhill podium in Cortina d’Ampezzo nine times in her career — five times as the winner. The last time Vonn won a downhill at the venue was in 2016. Last season Vonn won four downhill races and one Super-G. Two of those victories came in Germany at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, next week’s World Cup stop.

Vonn will be back tomorrow racing in the second downhill of the weekend. Watch the race live on Olympic Channel or stream it on NBC Sports Gold.

The men’s World Cup resumed in Wengen, Switzerland on Friday with the Alpine combined. After the opening slalom run, U.S. skier Ted Ligety was sitting in fourth position, 1.20 seconds behind the leader at the break, Austria’s Marco Schwarz. Ligety ended up crossing the line in 11th after finishing his downhill run, eventually getting bumped back to 14th.  

Finishing in 15th behind Ligety was the U.S.’ Bryce Bennett.

Schwarz held on to take the top podium spot, getting his first career World Cup Alpine combined victory. A pair of Frenchmen joined Schwarz on the podium, Victor Muffat-Jeandet and Alexis Pinturault. Full results are here.

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MORE: How to watch Lindsey Vonn in her season debut

Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.