Maria Hoefl-Riesch

Maria Hoefl-Riesch has no second thoughts about retirement

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HARRISON, N.J. — Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn were both in the New York City area on Thursday. The longtime friendly rivals had only exchanged emails and texts since Vonn’s last race in December.

Hoefl-Riesch was in town as part of German champion soccer club Bayern Munich’s U.S. tour. Vonn spoke at an Under Armour launch for women’s apparel.

“Hopefully tonight we can have a drink at the hotel bar,” Hoefl-Riesch said from a suite at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, where Bayern played a Mexican club.

There would be plenty to catch up on. Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn, born six weeks apart in 1984, were the world’s two best Alpine skiers from 2008 through 2012, before major injury struck Vonn.

But it’s Hoefl-Riesch who never plans to ski again. She retired after crashing at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in March, one month after winning Olympic gold and silver in Sochi.

She left the sport near the top of her game. She entered that final race in the Alps leading the World Cup overall standings, seeking her first title since she nipped Vonn by three points in 2011.

Then she fell (video here), landed into netting, screamed and was helicoptered off with shoulder injuries in Lenzerheide. Hoefl-Riesch missed the final three races of the season, and Austrian Anna Fenninger passed her for the overall crystal globe.

“[Retiring] had nothing to do with that [crash],” Hoefl-Riesch said, citing a lack of motivation to continue tiring training beginning before seasons in the summers. “Of course, that was not a very nice ending for me because if you do your last race, you actually want to know it before. But on the outside maybe it was better like this, because when you’re in the start gate at your very last race and know it’s your very last time, then you might be more emotional.”

She decided in the first few days after the crash to hang up her ski boots for good. Now, seeing other skiers’ tweets about going to South America to train in the southern hemisphere’s winter only reinforces her decision.

“In winter maybe I will miss something because it was my passion,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “My whole life was about skiing.”

Soccer has been a big part of her life the last few months, being a German married to the manager of World Cup legend Franz Beckenbauer.

She originally planned to attend the World Cup in Brazil, but watched the final while in Italy instead (Beckenbauer was suspended by FIFA near the start of the tournament and, even after it was lifted during the World Cup, didn’t fly to Brazil).

The reception in Germany for the victory dwarfed any celebration for an Olympic gold medalist.

“It’s not comparable to anything,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It was always that way that skiing had less attention, but I’m not jealous. That’s the way it is. Soccer has so much money and sponsors. It’s great for the economy in Germany.”

Hoefl-Riesch will still stay connected to Alpine skiing. Her younger sister, Susanne Riesch, is still active on the World Cup circuit, and she plans to work for German TV at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., near Vonn’s home.

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Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross win World Series of Beach Volleyball

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Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross bounced back from an Olympic upset to win the biggest annual tournament in the U.S. on Sunday.

Walsh Jennings and Ross captured the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball title in Long Beach, Calif., for the second time in three years. They beat Spanish pair Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo 21-16, 21-16 in the final.

“We love those girls so much, they are dear friends of ours,” Walsh Jennings said. “We wanted to beat them down.”

Absent from Long Beach were Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and silver medalists Ágatha and Bárbara of Brazil.

Walsh Jennings and Ross, who lost to Ágatha and Bárbara in the Olympic semifinals, dropped a total of two sets in seven undefeated matches this past week.

They earned their fifth international title of the year after winning none in 2015, last season shortened by Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.

In the men’s final, Brazil’s No. 2 pair, Pedro and Evandro, beat top U.S. pair Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 19-21, 21-17, 15-9.

Olympic champions Alison and Bruno of Brazil did not compete in Long Beach.

The beach volleyball season continues with the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in two weeks.

MORE: Tough for Misty May-Treanor to watch Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
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NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

MORE: U.S. goes one-two in Olympic mixed doubles