Kikkan Randall

USA’s Randall finishes 5th in final race before Olympics; Bjoergen wins

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U.S. cross-country gold medal threat Kikkan Randall and her teammates have completed their final FIS World Cup sprint race before the Olympics.

Randall picked up a fifth-place finish to lead the Americans in today’s free technique event at Toblach, Italy, a race that was won by one of her main rivals in Sochi, Norway’s Marit Bjoergen – who also won the ladies 10km event yesterday at Toblach.

Bjoergen topped today’s podium, finishing ahead of German runner-up and overall World Cup sprint standings leader Denise Herrmann, and her Norwegian teammate in third, Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg.

“I think my legs were a little bit tired after yesterday and the training camp in Seiser Alm [Italy],” Bjoergen said in an FIS release. “I didn’t feel very fast in the qualification.

“But each heat I felt a little bit better and was able to advance each time.  I was able to get myself into good position off the downhill in the final to be able to get the win today.”

For highlights of Bjoergen’s win, check out this clip from Universal Sports.

It was a banner day for Norway all around, as in addition to Bjoergen’s victory in the women’s sprint, the men’s sprint was won by a Norwegian, Ola Vigen Hattestad. His teammate, Eirik Brandsdal, was second, followed by another German, Jozef Wenzl, in third.

Despite losing out to the Norway duo, Wenzl did manage to take the overall World Cup sprint lead over Italy’s Federico Pellegrino, who finished 16th today on home ground. Simi Hamilton, entering his second Olympics, finished 14th to lead the American men.

As for Randall, it would appear that all systems are indeed a go on her end as she now turns her attention to Sochi:

A second American woman cracked the Top 20, with Sophie Caldwell finishing 19th. Jessie Diggins, who won the 2013 World Championship in the team sprint with Randall, was 28th.

FIS World Cup – Women’s Free Sprint at Toblach
1. Marit Bjoergen (NOR)
2. Denise Herrmann (GER)
3. Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg (NOR)
4. Maiken Caspersen Falla (NOR)
5. Kikkan Randall (USA)
19. Sophie Caldwell (USA)
28. Jessie Diggins (USA)
29. Holly Brooks (USA)
33. Ida Sargent (USA)
37. Sadie Bjornsen (USA)
41. Caitlin Gregg (USA)

FIS World Cup – Men’s Free Sprint at Toblach
1. Ola Vigen Hallestad (NOR)
2. Eirik Brandsdal (NOR)
3. Jozef Wenzl (GER)
4. Paal Golberg (NOR)
5. Teodor Peterson (SWE)
14. Simeon Hamilton (USA)
17. Andrew Newell (USA)
35. Torin Koos (USA)

Paralympic track star Tatyana McFadden named to Sochi Nordic skiing team

Lindsey Vonn sets date for proposal to enter men’s race

ALTENMARKT/ZAUCHENSEE, AUSTRIA - JANUARY 15: Lindsey Vonn of USA celebrates during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Downhill on January 15, 2017 in Altenmarkt/Zauchensee, Austria (Photo by Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Ski Team plans to submit a proposal in the spring for Lindsey Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said, according to the newspaper. “I think I’ve won enough World Cups where I should have enough respect within the industry to be able to have that opportunity.”

Vonn’s idea is to race in Lake Louise, Canada, an annual late fall stop on both the men’s and women’s World Cup schedules. The men generally race in Lake Louise one week before the women do.

Vonn’s greatest success has come at Lake Louise, with 18 victories in 41 downhill and super-G starts dating to 2001.

Vonn previously requested in 2012 to be able to race against men in Lake Louise, but that was denied by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The federation said then “that one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other.”

It doesn’t look like the federation’s stance has changed.

“You can set up a day where a female racer can compete against men racers, just as a show, but it has nothing to do with competition,” FIS women’s race director Atle Skaardal said, according to the Denver Post. “I don’t see that it’s going to change in the next years — no driving forces to urge a change like that. This is something the teams could do also in training. But why would you want to have a competition in this direction?

“I just don’t see the interest. For me it’s a meaningless comparison. It doesn’t matter if she’s one second behind or a half-second ahead. We compete female against female and men against men. To me it doesn’t matter if one gender is faster or slower. It doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, just because it’s of interest to one racer. I haven’t heard of any other sport being dragged into this kind of position.”

Vonn raced for the first time in 322 days on Sunday, finishing 13th in a World Cup downhill in Austria. It was actually an encouraging result, as Vonn said she wasn’t skiing to her limit in her first race back.

Her upcoming goals are to compete in the 2018 Olympics, after missing Sochi due to injury, and earn 11 more World Cup wins to break Ingemar Stenmark‘s career record of 86 victories. She can overtake Stenmark next season if she stays healthy and continues to win at her usual pace.

Vonn said in the spring that she would postpone retirement by one year and compete in the 2018-19 season if it meant being able to race the men.

But Skaardal’s comments suggest that won’t be possible.

“It’s definitely frustrating to hear that he said that, because I respect Atle very much,” Vonn said, according to the Denver Post. “He does a great job on the World Cup, and he is a former racer, so he understands. It’s disappointing to hear he doesn’t support it. But maybe if we organize something and a plan is put in front of him, maybe he would change his mind. I think most of the men are supporting me.”

Vonn is expected to race this weekend in a downhill and super-G in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, streamed live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Bode Miller plans to race next season, U.S. coach says

Wayne Gretzky compares Hayley Wickenheiser to NHL legend

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The greatest male hockey player of all time paid the greatest female player of all time quite the compliment at her retirement ceremony Saturday.

“You played with heart, desire, finesse, speed, skill,” Wayne Gretzky said to Hayley Wickenheiser. “The only other person, the greatest player to ever live, I think he would be happy if I said you were the female Gordie Howe. Congratulations.”

The Canadian legend Wickenheiser announced her retirement Friday, after six Olympics and four gold medals. On Saturday, she was honored before a Calgary Flames-Edmonton Oilers game. A highlight was a speech by Gretzky, who now works in the Oilers’ front office.

Wickenheiser’s first Olympics, Nagano 1998, marked the only Winter Games for Gretzky. Gretzky played in the first Olympics with NHL participation in Nagano, finishing fourth with Canada, and retired in 1999 without an Olympic medal.

“You’ve opened so many doors for so many young girls to be able to one day win a gold medal,” Gretzky said to Wickenheiser. “To me, that’s more important than anything.”

Wickenheiser then took the mic at center ice and reciprocated.

“A big part of why I play the game is because of this man standing right here, Wayne Gretzky,” she said, later adding, according to Canadian media, “In Salt Lake City [2002] when we won the gold medal, the first two people I saw when we stepped off the ice were Wayne and [former Oilers All-Star defenseman] Kevin [Lowe] standing in our dressing room cheering for us.”

As part of the Wickenheiser ceremony, a tribute video was played including messages from Canadian Olympian and Hall of Famer Mark Messier, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

MORE: Amanda Kessel sets sights on 2018 Olympics