Winter sports • Daring second run lifts American to win.
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Maribor, Slovenia • Lindsey Vonn showed she can beat Tina Maze in the Slovenian's best discipline and on her home snow.
While it may be too late to challenge her biggest rival for the overall World Cup title, Vonn is looking like Maze's biggest challenger at next month's world championships.
The American proved that she has fully recovered from a recent illness by winning a World Cup giant slalom, her second win in two weeks.
Vonn was third behind Maze after the first run but overcame several errors in the second to put down the fastest time and create a margin that Maze couldn't overcome. Vonn won in 2 minutes, 22.2 seconds for her first GS victory since last March.
"In the second run I decided, OK, it's all or nothing, I had to go for it," Vonn said. "It's been a rough year for me in GS, so it's just perfect."
Maze still clinched her third giant slalom discipline title by placing second. Maze had a near-perfect first run, but a poor start to the second cost her valuable time and she finished 0.08 seconds behind Vonn.
With her 59th World Cup win overall, Vonn's just three away from equaling Annemarie Moser Proell's record on the women's side. She earned her first GS victory since last March and back-to-back wins after taking the downhill last week at Cortina D'Ampezzo.
Vonn took nearly a month off over the holidays to recover from an intestinal illness that landed her in the hospital in November. While her break allowed Maze to build an even bigger lead in the overall standings, Vonn said it's clear she made the right decision.
"A couple of weeks ago, everyone was thinking I was crazy taking this time off," Vonn said. "But I felt my body wasn't ready. Now I am ready."
Austria's Anna Fenninger was third, 0.57 seconds behind Vonn.
Maze's closest rival in the GS, Kathrin Zettel, only managed sixth. Maze is 238 points ahead of Zettel with just two GS races remaining this season.
Maze also extended her lead in the overall standing to 748 points against her closest challenger, Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who finished fourth. Vonn stands another 66 points back in third, having missed several races while sidelined.
The 29-year-old Maze performed in front of a passionate home crowd and was 0.48 seconds ahead of Vonn after dominating the first run.
However, she ran wide at the start of the second, leaving her 0.13 seconds behind her rival at the first checkpoint. Despite the cheers of the fans urging her on, Maze couldn't make up the time and finished with tears in her eyes.
"I had a mistake in the flat part," Maze said. "In my final run, I just had too many mistakes but I am very satisfied with second."
Maze has won four of the seven giant slaloms this season, making the podium in the other three.
"I have been working so hard this year for this GS crystal globe," she said. "Now I've won it, I feel freed and can look forward."
While the overall World Cup title may be Maze's to win or lose, Vonn will be a favorite to dominate next month's world championships in Schladming, Austria.
KITZBUEHEL, Austria • Dominik Paris of Italy won the classic World Cup downhill in Kitzbuehel on Saturday, while American Ted Ligety missed a gate and failed to finish.
Paris came down the 2-mile Streif course in 1 minute, 57.56 seconds, followed by world downhill champion Erik Guay of Canada 0.13 behind and Hannes Reichelt of Austria in third.
Paris, who also won in Bormio in December, and teammate Christof Innerhofer share four downhill victories this season, a record for the Italian team.
"Winning Kitzbuehel is even a bigger achievement (than Bormio)," Paris said. "It's the dream of every downhill racer to win here. When that dream comes true, it's beautiful."
Ligety failed to finish, meaning he's out of the combined event that includes the slalom on Sunday.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won Friday's super-G, finished 10th and failed to overtake Marcel Hirscher atop the overall standings. The Austrian skipped the race.
The crowd of about 50,000 included Austria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a break from a promotional tour to watch the race in sunny conditions.
Ligety was disappointed with his run.
"It's a bummer as I was only 0.9 out on the last split, so it was a really good position for the combined," said Ligety, who also missed out on scoring points after his ski came off in a combined event last week in Wengen, Switzerland.
The American is third in the overall standings, 199 points behind Hirscher.
"That's two weekends in a row where I could have been first or second," Ligety said. "It's really disappointing to have such opportunities missed. You can't expect to win the overall if you let opportunities like that go. It's really frustrating."
Paris is the second Italian to win the event, following Kristian Ghedina in 1998.
It marked the first time since 2006 that the event wasn't won by a skier from Switzerland. Didier Cuche won the race four times in the past five years, but has retired. This time, Patrick Kueng became the highest-ranked Swiss skier in 16th.
Sarah Hendrickson bounced back Saturday from her disappointing individual performance at the junior world ski jumping championships to set a hill record and lead her fellow Americans to an eighth-place finish in the team competition at Liberec, Czech Republic.
Two days after finishing only sixth because of a poor first jump, the 18-year-old from Park City soared an astonishing 106 meters to break the hill record of 104.5 set last year by former world champion Daniela Iraschko of Austria.
"Honestly, I woke up this morning just thinking I was going to go far today," Hendrickson said. "I felt like I was going to go 106. I just went back to the basics today."
Hendrickson is a former junior world silver- and bronze-medalist and had hoped to win the individual competition. But she let the pressure get to her on her first jump, traveling only 89 meters and dooming her chances to beat rival Sara Takanashi of Japan.
She still has the senior world championships to contest next month in Italy.
"Sarah is the kind of athlete that can fix everything in a fast way when she's relaxed," coach Paolo Bernardi said. "She was focused and happy today, and that enabled her to jump at her level. She was back to normal."
Slovenia ran away with the team title with 1,009 points, ahead of France, Germany and Norway. It was the first time the United States had fielded a team for the event; the event was canceled two years ago because of bad weather, and the Americans had only three jumpers last year, and they needed four.
Defending world champion Steven Holcomb sits in third place after the first two of four runs in the two-man bobsled competition Saturday at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The second two runs are Sunday.
"We're hoping to throw down … to move up in the standings," the Park City native said. "We're going to put it all on the line and try to win this thing."
That will be tough.
Holcomb and Steve Langton are 0.77 seconds behind Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Jannis Baecker, who clocked 2 minutes, 11.10 seconds for their two runs combined. Switzerland's Beat Hefti and Thomas Lamparter are second in 2:11.45, with the Americans third in 2:11.87.
Holcomb is driving a new sled built by federation sponsor BMW, which he drove to a 14th-place finish in a World Cup race the day after it arrived last weekend in Igls, Austria.
"We're on our way up," Holcomb said. "There's still some work to be done because it's in the baby phase of development, but I made some minor modifications to the sled this week and it's running fast."
Holcomb has never finished better than fourth on the St. Moritz track, and he entered the competition on the heels of some unexpectedly disappointing results, especially in the four-man race. However, he and Langton won the two-man world title last year, when Holcomb also swept the four-man and team events.
Omaha, Neb. • Add another title to Meryl Davis and Charlie White's impressive collection.
Davis and White won their fifth straight ice dance crown at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, matching a record held by four other couples. As the audience stood and cheered, Davis knelt close to the ice for several seconds, her head bowed.
The Olympic silver medalists and 2011 world champions had had such a big lead after the short dance they had to do little more but step on the ice to win. But they did so much more than that with their dramatic and powerful routine to "Notre Dame de Paris," setting personal bests for both overall score (197.44 points) and free dance (118.42).
They finished more than 20 points ahead yes, you read that right of Madison Chock and Evan Bates (175.91). Maia and Alex Shibutani were docked a point for an extended lift and finished third (174.21).
The only team in the world that can give Davis and White a real fight is Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who edged the Americans at both the Vancouver Olympics and 2010 and 2012 world championships. But that doesn't mean Davis and White take it easy when they come to nationals.
Far from it.
Their performance was spellbinding, so intense no one in the arena dared breathe. Every inch of the ice, every nuance of music was filled with intricate and elegant moves, one more difficult than the next. Their skating skills have always been superb, their edge quality so fine that coaches pop in DVDs of them to show their students.
But it is the way they combine the athletic strengths with the beauty and elegance of a dance that makes them so breathtaking. They are a sporting event and a theater show rolled into one. Their lifts can barely be described they were so intricate and innovative. In one, White twirled Davis like a rifle and whipped her from his front to back all while skating and turning at full speed.
They oozed emotion, using the tips of their eyelashes all the way down to the toes of their feet to express the character of the dance, and the audience was as exhausted as Davis and White when they finished.
Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis have the misfortune of trying to compete with that, and there was no way they could come close. At least, not now.
Chock and Bates' lifts are filled with unique positions, and they were done with great speed and control. But it was the love story they displayed to "Dr. Zhivago" that was so delightful. Close your eyes, and you could almost see the horses and the sleigh in the falling snow.
The Shibutanis' routine to "Memoirs of a Geisha" was seamless, the elements flowing from one to the other so perfectly it was impossible to tell where one ended and the next began. The siblings opened with a pairs spin that was better than anything seen during the actual pairs competition earlier in the afternoon, and it lasted for what seemed like forever no easy feat to maintain that speed and momentum.
Their twizzles traveling spins are, simply, exquisite. They are done in perfect unison, right down to the raising of their arms while they spin. Their big flaw was that he held his sister too long on a lift, a mistake they also made in the short dance.
OMAHA, Neb. • Flawed, but still first.
Ashley Wagner became the first woman since Michelle Kwan in 2005 to win back-to-back titles in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, managing to hold off up-and-comer Gracie Gold despite three major mistakes Saturday night.
Salt Lake City's Angela Wang finished ninth. The 16-year-old who now lives and trains in Colorado Springs fell on her final jump, a triple salchow, and scored a 112.70 in her free skate though she momentarily jumped to the top of the leaderboard. She ranked eighth in the free skate, after ranking 10th in the short program, and finished with a 164.76 final score.
Wagner was subdued as she waited for her marks, surely thinking she'd blown her chance to repeat. When her score was announced and she saw she was still in first, a look of shock crossed her face.
Wagner finished with 188.84 points, about two ahead of Gold. Gold won the free skate posting the second-highest score ever at the U.S. meet, no less. But the 17-year-old had too much ground to make up after a dismal performance Thursday night in the short program left her in ninth place, more than 13 points behind Wagner.
There is something about defending the title that brings out the worst in the American women. Six women have won the last seven crowns, and the reigning champion almost always has a meltdown.
Wagner, though, seems to be made of different stuff. She's been rock solid since moving to California to train with John Nicks in the summer of 2011. She won the U.S. title last year, had the best finish by an American at worlds since 2007 and won the silver medal last month in the Grand Prix final.
And she sure looked loose as she came out from the dressing rooms, clapping along to Agnes Zawadzki's music. Her opening triple flip-double toe loop-double toe combination was gorgeous, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd. She also did a triple loop in and out of a spread eagle incredibly difficult.
But she didn't have her usual fire, almost as if she was skating not to lose rather than skating to win. And then came the falls. She was off-balance in the air on the lutz, and couldn't right herself in time to save it. With the triple loop only seconds later, she didn't have time to regroup. She pulled herself together only to two-foot her last jump, the triple flip.
With blonde good looks and a made-for-the Olympics name, Gold has all the makings of that "next big thing" the United States has been craving. That she can skate only fueled the hype, and some were ready to put her on the Sochi medals stand after she won the U.S. junior title last year and finished second in the junior world championships.
But she's been wildly inconsistent this year, winning the silver medal at Cup of Russia after falling apart at Skate Canada. After her weak short program Thursday, she needed a dazzling performance just to have a chance at one of the spots on the world championships team. She came through, posting a 132.49 that was the second-highest score for a free skate at nationals. Sasha Cohen scored 134.03 in 2006, the year she won her only U.S. title.
"I stopped focusing on what was around me the crowd, the screaming, the other skaters, the pressure, the expectations. I let it all go," Gold said. "I just pictured myself at my rink in Chicago and even the practices here how I would skate if I was practicing. Just the feel of the knees, the feel of the ice, one thing at a time.
"I didn't get over my head with thoughts or expectations. I just went out there and skated like I know how to skate."
Gold's jumps are fabulous, easily the best of the entire field. Maybe the whole world. They're done with power, and her combinations are so smooth she looks like a stone skipping across the water. She did seven triples, and even Kim Yu-na would be impressed with her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination.
But skating is both sport and art, and Gold is going to have to add some substance between the jumps if she wants the prize to match her name. Her footwork was basic and most of her spins were adequate, and she didn't display that passion that makes a good program great.