Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn says she’s almost all the way back from injury

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Lindsey Vonn may have missed the first race of the season, but the Olympic downhill champion said she feels no trepidation about her surgically repaired right knee and can’t even tell which knee is injured anymore.

“I work hard, that’s what I do,” Vonn told Matt Lauer on TODAY on Monday morning. “I fall. I get back up. It’s who I am. Obviously, this is the biggest setback I’ve ever had, but I’m skiing really well. I’ve only been on snow for a few days, but I’m already almost right back where I was. So things are looking up.”

Vonn hasn’t competed since tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in her right knee and breaking her tibia in a crash at the World Championships super-G in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 5. She’s expected to return for races in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Thanksgiving weekend.

The 29-year-old said retirement wasn’t an option.

“I don’t want that to be the final moment of my career,” Vonn said. “Obviously, I could have retired, and I have a lot to be proud of. There’s a lot more I want to do. Sochi is a huge goal of mine. I had plenty of motivation. I wasn’t going to just sit there and accept what I had already done.”

Video: Vonn films first crash since return to skiing

One of the people who helped her get through rehabilitation was her boyfriend, Tiger Woods. Vonn pointed out one of Woods’ attributes that has really helped her.

“Patience,” she said. “I’m not a very patient person. … He’s very patient, and he’s very mentally tough. He’s a grinder. He works extremely hard.”

Woods had left ACL surgery five years ago.

“He knew what I was going through,” Vonn said. “He said, ‘Just be patient. Keep working hard, and everything’s going to turn around.’ It really helped me get through it. It’s tough. You’re sitting there, grinding away in the gym, and it’s like is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to get back on the slopes?”

Asked if she would make the podium in Sochi in a little over 100 days, Vonn said, “You better believe it.”

Vonn hoped to race in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Saturday but opted out of it Wednesday. She expects, instead, to make her season debut in Beaver Creek.

“To be honest, Soelden was never really in my goals,” Vonn told USA Today. “But then (September training in) Chile went so well I was really hoping to race. I’m very, very antsy to get going. … My knee felt great, but the fact is I only trained five days (in Soelden) … and it’s tough to go into one of the most difficult giant slalom races of the season having only trained five days. I thought I was going to be able to do it, but in the long run it has no effect on my season and my main goal is the Olympics.”

Sorenstam, King weigh in on Vonn racing men

Video: Ligety wins season opener; skis into camera

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia