Lindsey Vonn finishes first race in 10 months (video)

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Lindsey Vonn safely made it down the mountain in her first competition in 10 months, finishing 40th out of 61 skiers at a World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

The Olympic downhill champion completed the course in 1 minute, 59.22 seconds. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch won in 1:56.03 (results at bottom).

“I was just too nervous,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “I was really tight, and I skied that way. I skied tight.

“I wasn’t in a really deep tuck. I wasn’t pushing the line where I could have. And I just kind of skied it, and that’s not my style. That’s not how I attack a race.”

Vonn, 29, skied her first race since blowing out her right knee at the World Championships in February and partially tearing her right ACL on Nov. 19. The downhill was delayed by an hour due to below-zero temperatures.

“I’m always a positive thinker,” Vonn said, according to the AP. “I try to look on the bright side of everything, and I was really optimistic that I could come down and just — first race, right out of the blocks — win, and it was wishful thinking. But might as well shoot for the best, you know?”

The Lake Louise World Cup stop continues with a downhill on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET) and a super-G on Sunday (1 p.m.). Vonn is expected to race in both. Universal Sports will have coverage.

Vonn decided to race this weekend following a training run Wednesday. She said her right knee felt “stable,” though she skipped an opportunity at taking another training run Thursday. She said she would race with a knee brace.

She’s skiing at a course nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” for her overwhelming success there. She’s won the last seven World Cup races at Lake Louise. She hasn’t finished lower than second at a Lake Louise race since 2008.

“To be honest, we didn’t expect her to win this race,” U.S. Ski Team coach Chip White said, according to the AP. “A lot of people do, just because she has so many times. But with all she’s been through, we’re just happy to see her back in the mix, and I think this is where we build from.”

The rest of the U.S. women have performed poorly in early-season speed races after putting six in the top 16 in last season’s downhill standings.

Olympic downhill silver medalist Julia Mancuso was 26th on Friday. Stacey Cook, fourth in the World Cup downhill standings last season, followed in 39th. Leanne Smith and Laurenne Ross, who made World Cup podiums last season, were 49th and 56th.

In three speed races this season, the top U.S. finish is 19th.

Lake Louise Downhill
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:56.03
2. Maria Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:56.73
3. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:57.23
4. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:57.30
5. Nadja Jnglin-Kamer (SUI) 1:57.54
6. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:57.57
7. Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:57.66
7. Stefanie Moser (AUT) 1:57.66
9. Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:57.76
10. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:57.79
21. Julia Ford (USA) 1:58.51
26. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:58.66
32. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:58.95
39. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:59.20
40. Lindsey Vonn (USA) 1:59.22
49. Leanne Smith (USA) 2:00.01
54. Katie Ryan (USA) 2:00.85
56. Laurenne Ross (USA) 2:01.00

Svindal wins Beaver Creek downhill; Americans struggle

President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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