Sara Takanashi

Olympic gold medal contender Takanashi wins at Hinzenbach

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Expected to be one of the primary figures in the battle for the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s ski jumping, Japan’s Sara Takanashi earned her ninth FIS World Cup win of the season today in windy Hinzenbach, Austria.

The 17-year-old Takanashi, who figures to duel with Team USA’s Sarah Hendrickson for that Sochi gold, will have her final event before the Olympics tomorrow (again at Hinzenbach).

Her jumps of 87.0 and 90 meters led her to a score of 231.7, enough to top Austrian runner-up Daniela Iraschko-Stolz and her score of 226.9 (jumps of 82 and 90.5 meters). Maja Vtic of Slovenia was third (score: 223.5; jumps of 88.5 and 85.0 meters), earning her first career World Cup podium.

“The wind was changing a lot, as you could see,” Takanashi said in an FIS release. “But I did my best and at the end I could win. This success gives me self-confidence for the Olympic Games.”

Takanashi is looking forward to competing in Sochi and, in particular, with Hendrickson – who returned to jumping last month after sustaining a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee during a crash in Germany last August.

“It’s not so much fun jumping without [Hendrickson],” she said about her American counterpart in December. “I have learned a lot of things from her. To me, she is a sort of icon rather than a rival. I don’t consider myself champion.”

The inaugural Olympic women’s ski jumping competition takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Jessica Jerome wins first U.S. Olympic Trials in women’s ski jumping (VIDEO)

Anna Veith ends season early as Austrian injuries pile up

ST MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Anna Veith of Austria reacts at the finish during the Women's Super G during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on February 7, 2017 in St Moritz, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Austrian Anna Veith, the best female Alpine skier in 2014 and 2015, will undergo left knee surgery Tuesday, ending an abbreviated comeback season following right knee surgery 16 months ago.

“This surgery is the only chance to continue living my dream. To ski the way I want to do it, competing and being part of the Olympics again,” was posted on Veith’s social media Friday, adding that she was skiing with pain due to patellar tendon problems.

The 27-year-old won super-G gold and giant slalom silver at the Sochi Olympics, then the World Cup overall title a month later and the following season.

Veith then had a drawn-out comeback from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash. She missed all of the 2015-16 campaign and was slow to return to form this season.

Her best finish was 19th in her first six races, but then Veith placed third in the last super-G before the world championships earlier this month. At worlds, she failed to finish the super-G and was 22nd in the giant slalom, two years after winning both events.

Veith is the third Austrian women’s star to bow out due to injury this year, following 2016 World Cup giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem and Cornelia Huetter, the top Austrian in last season’s World Cup overall standings in seventh place.

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Katie Ledecky’s latest American record faster than Ryan Lochte at same age

Katie Ledecky
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Katie Ledecky not only lowered another one of her American records on Thursday, but the 19-year-old also went faster in the 500-yard freestyle than Ryan Lochte ever did before the age of 22.

Ledecky, a Stanford freshman, clocked 4:25.15 at the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Wash., cutting a chunk off her previous mark of 4:26.46 from October. She won by 14.54 seconds. Full results are here.

“I felt coming in that I could do something like that,” Ledecky, who owns the 10 fastest times in history in the event, according to Swimswam.com, said on the Pac-12 Network. “It felt like practice. Really relaxed.”

The 500-yard free is not an Olympic event, so it is not swum on the major international level. Lochte’s best time in the event in his teens was 4:25.54 from the 2001 Florida State Championships, when he was a 17-year-old senior at Port Orange Spruce Creek High. Lochte easily won that race and reportedly slowed in his final strokes.

Lochte didn’t swim the event in 2003 or 2004, when he made his first Olympic team at age 19, but came back in 2005 to clock 4:21.07, according to USA Swimming.

The 500-yard free was not one of Lochte’s best events, either.

When Ledecky broke the women’s 1500m freestyle world record for the third time at the August 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, her 15:28.36 was .01 faster than Lochte’s 1500m free time at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials (one of the rare instances Lochte swam a 1500m free).

Ledecky has since re-broken the women’s 1500m free world record twice more, bringing it down to 15:25.48.

“She swims like a guy,” Lochte said after training with Ledecky in Colorado Springs last March, according to Sports Illustrated. “I’ve never seen a female swimmer like that. … Her times are becoming good for a guy. She’s beating me now, and I’m like, What’s going on?

Ledecky’s 500-yard free time of 4:25.15 is still nowhere near Michael Phelps, who registered a 4:12.33 at age 18 in March 2004. Phelps was perhaps motivated at that meet by the U.S. Olympic Committee earlier that week awarding its Sportsman of the Year honor to Lance Armstrong in a close vote.

Ledecky’s time on Thursday would have won the men’s 500-yard free at the NCAA Championships as recently as 1974 (when John Naber clocked 4:26.855). Mark Spitz won in 1969 in 4:33.88.

The Pac-12 Championships continue Friday, with Ledecky expected to swim the 400-yard individual medley and the 200-yard freestyle, two events where she does not own NCAA or American records.

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