‘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

Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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