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Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu says he is ‘100 percent’ ahead of World Championships

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SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu says he has recovered from an ankle injury and is ready to compete for the title at the world figure skating championships.

“Before the season, I wasn’t in what I would say was an ideal 100 percent,” Hanyu told a news conference Tuesday, on the eve of the championships. “But I can say I’m 100 percent heading into the world championships and I’m looking forward to competing.

“I’ve been in this position before where I came back from injury before the Olympics and that was valuable experience that will help.”

Hanyu arrived in Japan on a flight from Toronto late Monday accompanied by coach Brian Orser. On Tuesday, he practiced for about 30 minutes at the arena in front a large crowd of fans who applauded every jump he made.

The 24-year-old missed last year’s worlds because of injury. He last won the title at the 2017 world championships in Helsinki. His first win was in 2014 at Saitama Super Arena, the same venue as this year’s worlds.

After twisting his right ankle in a fall in practice at the Rostelecom Cup on Nov. 17, Hanyu was told he needed three weeks of rest and one month of rehabilitation to recover from a ligament injury sustained in the fall.

He claimed his second straight Grand Prix series title of the season despite the injury, but was forced to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final and the Japan nationals in December.

Hanyu sustained a similar injury at the 2017 NHK Trophy before making a comeback at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics, where he became the first male figure skater to win consecutive Olympic golds since American Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.

Defending champion Nathan Chen practiced at Saitama Super Arena on Monday and said he had fully recovered from a cold.

Coming off a long break from the U.S. Nationals in January, when he captured his third straight national title, Chen said his plan is pretty much to stick with that program at the worlds.

During the nationals, Chen landed four quad jumps in his free skate routine, one of which was in combination.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, the 2018 world championship silver medalist, will also be a medal contender on home ice.

“I’m emphasizing results at a competition for the first time,” the 21-year-old Uno said. “I’ve always tried to perform in a way so I would be satisfied. I didn’t really put an emphasis on the results.”

Uno heads into the worlds on a high having won the Four Continents last month. In that competition, Uno showed his resolve when he finished fourth in the short program and then won the free skate to claim the overall title. It marked the first time he won a major international competition.

Uno also had an impressive 2018, winning Skate Canada, the NHK Trophy and the Japanese nationals.

The world championships begin with the women’s short program on Wednesday. The men’s short program is on Thursday.

MORE: World Championships ladies’ preview: Japanese, Russian skaters face off for top prize

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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