‘Heartwarming’ responses easing Vonn’s impending retirement

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ARE, Sweden (AP) — The red marks around her puffed-up right eye made Lindsey Vonn look like a roughed-up boxer. And that was nothing next to the purple-colored bruises and scrapes on U.S. teammate Laurenne Ross’ backside.

All from one day’s work as a downhill skier.

“Downhill is not a healthy sport, people crash all the time, every day,” Vonn said. “If you want to be healthy, you should probably do another sport.”

Vonn and Ross showed off the impacts of their crashes on social media Wednesday, a day after ending up in the safety nets from their falls in the super-G at the world championships.

The 34-year-old Vonn has made a career out of bouncing back from frightful crashes.

Now she’s down to her final race — and final fight.

Her knees battered beyond repair, Vonn plans to retire after Sunday’s downhill race at worlds.

“I just can’t push the limits anymore,” Vonn said. “I’ve come back from way too many injuries and I’m just not able to do it. That’s life. .. Not everyone can be Tom Brady and keep winning the Super Bowl for a million times.”

The women’s downhill is scheduled for Sunday at 6:25 a.m. It can be watched live on NBCSN, Olympic Channel (Home of Team USA) and NBC Sports Gold and will be replayed at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and at 10:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

Like Brady, Vonn has a trophy collection that most athletes could only dream about: Her 82 World Cup wins are by far the most ever by a female racer, leaving her five short of breaking the overall record held by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. She has also won three Olympic medals, including gold in downhill, seven medals at worlds, four overall World Cup globes and 16 discipline titles.

“If you look at all the injuries I’ve had, winning in five events, it’s really something amazing,” Vonn said. “I’m proud of it no matter if I got 82 or 87. I wish I could have gotten (87) but not at the risk of the rest of my life.”

While Vonn sat out downhill training Wednesday to recuperate from her latest crash — after which she said she felt like she had been “hit by an 18-wheeler” — she enjoyed a leisurely brunch of pancakes with her teammates.

It was just the kind of day Vonn was thinking about when she announced last week that she would retire after the championships — having considered calling it quits after failing to finish a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last month.

“I didn’t want to end in Cortina. I wanted to say goodbye to everybody,” Vonn said. “It’s been nice to get messages from my fellow competitors, the coaches and all my friends who’ve supported me for so many years. It’s been really, really heartwarming for me and makes the process of retiring a little bit easier maybe because of all the responses I’ve gotten.”

Vonn, whose career has transcended her sport in a way only a handful of Olympic athletes could even imagine , has been receiving well wishes from all corners since her retirement announcement. One in particular that stood out came from tennis great Billie Jean King .

“You are a true champion who never quit,” King tweeted. To which Vonn replied, “Thank you Billie. … Just trying to follow in your footsteps!”

Vonn is also planning on exchanging messages with Stenmark — and she is wearing a suit this week featuring the blue and yellow colors of Sweden’s flag in honor of the skiing great.

“I’m hoping Ingemar will come up for Sunday,” she said. “Having my last race with him being there would be the best farewell I could possibly have.”

When it’s all over, the thing Vonn will miss most about ski racing is the thrill of hurtling her body downhill at speeds in excess of 120 kph (75 mph).

“You can’t really find the adrenalin and the speed and the risk involved in ski racing in anything else,” she said. “I kind of got that feeling when I was driving a Formula One car but it still wasn’t the same. Your body isn’t physically in harm’s way.

“I need to go fast. I don’t know how I’m going to fill that void,” Vonn added. “Because I can’t ski that fast if you go on the public trail. It is depressing. Life without skiing fast is not a happy thought.”

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

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In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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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