Lindsey Vonn

Star female athletes who competed against men weigh in on Lindsey Vonn

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Lindsey Vonn turned 29 years old Friday, and what a life-changing 365 days it’s been for the Olympic champion downhill skier.

A year ago, Vonn was in the news for her dominance on the slopes. She requested the chance to compete against men on the Alpine skiing World Cup, a bid that was rejected by the International Ski Federation (FIS), citing rules that one gender is not allowed to compete against another in FIS races.

That storyline subsided as others elevated this year.

Vonn blew out her right knee at the World Championships in February (video here), announced a relationship with Tiger Woods, attended every major golf tournament, and set a return to competitive skiing (against women only) for as early as Oct. 26.

If Vonn returns to form and racks up win after win, talk could very well resurface of racing men. She is three World Cup wins away from Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s female record (62). The men’s mark held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark (86) is ambitious but not unattainable.

Some of the greatest athletes of all time gathered in New York this week for the Women’s Sports Foundation awards. Among them were women who competed against men — golfer Annika Sorenstam, tennis player Billie Jean King and hockey player Angela Ruggiero.

The Swede Sorenstam played at the PGA Tour event at Colonial in 2003, becoming the first woman to play on the PGA Tour since Olympic track and field champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945.

“I think it’s a terrific goal,” Sorenstam said of Vonn facing men. “I was in a time in my career when I needed something to push me a little extra. I look back at my career, and it was one of the highlights. … It really helps you elevate your own game.”

King swept Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” in 1973. She believes Vonn racing against men could boost women’s sports as a whole.

“When (Sorenstam) played on the PGA, I watched that weekend,” King said. “She was in every single frame for two days. She never gets that. We never get that kind of attention in women’s sports.

“Because 95 percent of the media is controlled by men, if we get into their arena, then we finally get some attention. Otherwise, on our own, we don’t get the attention. But if she would go up against the men, I guarantee you she would get 20, 30, 40 times the attention. Just with the attention, with all the branding that’s going on today, you have to ask yourself a lot of different questions. When I played Riggs, I didn’t have to deal with all that.”

In 2005, Ruggiero became the first woman to play men’s professional hockey at a position other than goalie in North America. She suited up for the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League.

Ruggiero, now an International Olympic Committee member, said she talked to Vonn about facing men when the skier considered it last year.

“It would do so much for the sport,” Ruggiero said. “I know when I played men’s hockey in the Central League, the media exposure you get alone, but it’s also a new challenge for her. You have to respect her as an athlete. She’s been at the top of her game for so long, and she’s looking for new ways to evolve.”

Vonn trains in Austria with eye on World Cup return

U.S. Olympic Committee to hire infectious disease specialists for Zika

Christ the Redeemer
AP
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The U.S. Olympic Committee will hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak in Brazil.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun sent a letter Wednesday to all possible Olympians, acknowledging the growing worries over the virus.

“I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you,” Blackmun wrote. “I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority.”

The letter goes on to spell out much of the information that’s already been relayed by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The virus is spread by mosquitoes. About 20 percent of those infected display mild symptoms, including body aches and rash. But pregnant women and those considering getting pregnant have greater reason for concern because the virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this week, U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo said if the Olympics were being held now, she wouldn’t go.

Blackmun told The Associated Press that Solo’s comments “made us realize we need to provide concise and accurate info for our athletes.”

At least one of the two infectious disease specialists will be a woman, Blackmun said.

In addition to those two hires, the USOC will post updates to its website at USOC.org/RioTravelUpdates.

The USOC’s decision to hire the specialists was first reported by USA Today.

The letter, addressed to prospective members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic delegation, says “no matter how much we prepare … there will always be risk associated with international competition. Each country, each venue and each discipline will present different risks and require different mitigation strategies.”

Blackmun said the USOC is monitoring the frequent updates regarding Zika. The letter makes note that “rapid testing to determine if an individual is infected is expected in the near future.”

“First and foremost, we want to make sure our athletes have accurate information because they’re concerned,” Blackmun said. “Based on what we know now, the primary threat is to unborn children.”

MORE: Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

Alex Morgan scores 12 seconds into U.S. Olympic qualifying romp (video)

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Alex Morgan wasted no time igniting the U.S. women’s soccer team’s Olympic qualifying campaign.

The striker scored the first of her two goals 12 seconds into the Americans’ CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica on Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

It’s believed to be the fastest goal in U.S. Soccer history, according to U.S. Soccer.

“I think we shocked Costa Rica’s confidence a little bit,” Morgan said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “We’ve been working on that play, so I’m glad that we executed it perfectly.”

Crystal DunnCarli Lloyd and Christen Press also scored for the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 in the world. Costa Rica is ranked No. 34.

“Overall, we brought the fight,” Lloyd said on Live Extra. “We’ve got to put this one to bed and move on.”

The first three goals came in the first 15 minutes.

GOAL VIDEOS: Dunn | LloydMorgan’s second | Press

The U.S. is in one of two CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament groups with Costa Rica, Mexico (ranked No. 26) and Puerto Rico (No. 108).

It plays Mexico next on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra. Mexico crushed Puerto Rico 6-0 earlier Wednesday.

The top two nations per group will advance to the tournament semifinals, and the Feb. 19 semifinal winners advance to the Rio Games in August.

The U.S. is heavily favored to qualify for Rio, where it would go for its fourth straight Olympic title. The next-best North American team is ranked No. 11 (Canada, which is in the opposite CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament group).

If the U.S. and Canada win their respective groups, they would not have to play each other to qualify for the Olympics.

The U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying includes 13 of the 23 players from the World Cup, led by Olympic champions Morgan, Lloyd and Hope Solo, who blanked Costa Rica on Wednesday.

All 15 matches of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: No Olympics for Messi, but another Argentine star striker possible

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Mexico 6, Puerto Rico 0                                 5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA 5, Costa Rica 0                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN