Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn stronger in second comeback race (video)

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Lindsey Vonn made major strides in less than 24 hours between her first two races since major knee surgery.

The Olympic downhill champion finished 11th in a downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Saturday afternoon.

On Friday, Vonn was 40th in another Lake Louise downhill, her first race since blowing out her right knee at the World Championships in February.

On Nov. 19, she partially tore the ACL in the same knee in a training crash.

On Saturday, German Maria Hoefl-Riesch won in 1 minute, 55.09 seconds. Hoefl-Riesch also won Friday’s downhill. Vonn was 3.19 seconds behind Hoefl-Riesch on Friday and 1.26 seconds behind her Saturday.

Vonn pumped her fist after finishing.

“That was much better. A lot more like it,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press, in below-zero temperatures. “I’m just really happy with the improvements that I made from yesterday. And just in general, my whole body language was different. I was more aggressive and just more confident and comfortable.”

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.

“[Friday], it felt rusty,” Vonn said. “Just hadn’t done it in so long. I was too nervous.

“And today, it was much more like myself. I still made mistakes and it wasn’t my best skiing, but it’s a long way from where I was yesterday. Hopefully I can continue to improve.”

She’s skiing at a course nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” for her overwhelming success there. She had won the last seven World Cup races at Lake Louise before this weekend. She didn’t finish lower than second at a Lake Louise race from 2009 through 2012.

“At least you can ski,” Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 World Cup overall champion, told Vonn after Saturday’s race, according to the AP. “Maybe it gets better.”

Vonn is expected to race in a super-G on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in Lake Louise. Universal Sports will have coverage.

“Just need to continue improving and continue taking steps every day. It doesn’t take me long. I’m a fast learner,” Vonn said, according to the AP. “I need a couple of tries to kind of get the butterflies out and get the nerves to calm down. Now I feel like I’m in a really good place.”

Overall, the U.S. women’s speed team improved over its dismal early-season results.

Stacey Cook, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup downhill standings, was right behind Vonn in 12th. That’s Cook’s best finish this season.

Leanne Smith was 17th after taking 49th on Friday. Julia Mancuso improved five spots from 26th to 21st.

Lake Louise Downhill
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:55.09
2. Tina Weirather (LIE) 1:55.43
3. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:55.56
4. Maria Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:55.92
5. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:55.93
6. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:56.00
7. Comelia Huetter (AUT) 1:56.08
8. Kajsa Kling (SWE) 1:56.09
9. Dominique Gisin (SUI) 1:56.13
10. Elisabeth Goergl (AUT) 1:56.17
11. Lindsey Vonn (USA) 1:56.35
12. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:56.47
17. Leanne Smith (USA) 1:56.77
21. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:56.86
31. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:57.47
46. Julia Ford (USA) 1:58.43
50. Laurenne Ross (USA) 1:59.12

Ligety fifth in Beaver Creek super-G

US women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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Russian pairs skater slices leg in worlds practice, needs 10 stitches (video)

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Russian pairs skater Yevgenia Tarasova needed 10 stitches after her partner’s skate sliced her leg in practice Wednesday.

Hours later, Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated to third place in the short program at the world championships in Helsinki.

“We were thinking about withdrawing because after this incident we left the ice immediately, there was a long break off the ice, we didn’t know how I would feel in skates,” Tarasova said afterward. “But when I was asked, ‘Will you skate?’ I said, ‘I will!’ And I wasn’t thinking about the pain during our performance.”

Morozov called her “a hero.”

In Thursday’s free skate, Tarasova and Morozov will be largely tasked with keeping Russia from going three straight years without world championships pairs medalists, which would be the longest drought for Soviet and Russian pairs since their dominance began in the 1960s.

Tarasova and Morozov trail Chinese leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 1.86 points and second-place Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany by .47.

Another Russian pair is in fifth place going into the free skate (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Full worlds short program results are here.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition