Ingemar Stenmark, Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn meets Ingemar Stenmark (video)

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Only one skier has more World Cup wins than Lindsey Vonn, and Vonn met him for the first time on Tuesday night.

Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark stood, surrounded by media, at the finish area of a World Cup parallel slalom race in Stockholm.

Stenmark won 86 World Cup races from 1974-89. Vonn is at 76 wins, with nine already this season, on pace to break Stenmark’s record before the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

“How’d you do it? How’d you get so many wins?” were Vonn’s first questions to Stenmark after a hug and pleasantries.

“You know that, you don’t have to ask me,” Stenmark responded, separated from Vonn by microphones. “I don’t have to chase records anymore.”

Vonn and Stenmark are vastly different skiers from vastly different eras. All of Stenmark’s wins were in slalom and giant slalom, and he spent much of his career before separate super-G races were added to the World Cup. He told Vonn he once raced a downhill, at the most famous, dangerous course in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Vonn, starstruck, then took a selfie with Stenmark.

Vonn’s best events are downhill and super-G. Her start Tuesday, eliminated in the first round of 16 in a head-to-head, bracketed format, marked her first in a slalom in more than three years. She doesn’t plan to again, partly because it hurts her surgically repaired right knee.

“When you beat my record, I will come,” said Stenmark, who does have knee surgery in common with Vonn. “When you are very close.”

“I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to try,” Vonn said.

Earlier, Vonn sounded more confident.

“I have probably, hopefully two more seasons left, and I won nine [races] this season,” Vonn, who has a great chance to reach double-digit wins this campaign with four speed races left, said Tuesday, before the race. “I have 10 more [wins] to tie Stenmark. I think, if you’re looking at it mathematically, it looks pretty good, but anything can happen.”

Vonn is correct. In her comeback from two major knee surgeries, she’s been near her pre-injuries average wins per season — scoring eight last year and nine this year.

If the 31-year-old continues two more seasons, she will not only be on pace to break Stenmark’s record but also look to become the oldest Olympic women’s Alpine skiing medalist of all time.

Vonn, who didn’t fully commit to racing the slalom until Tuesday, didn’t enter to win so much as to accumulate World Cup points.

“Just for participating you get 15 points,” Vonn said. “I think that was what drew me to come up here.”

The 15 points could be crucial for Vonn, who is in a tight battle with Swiss Lara Gut for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships.

Vonn, a four-time World Cup overall champion (last in 2012), leads Gut by 23 points with 10 scheduled races left. Gut was also eliminated in the first round Tuesday.

Vonn and Gut next head to Andorra for a World Cup super-G and super combined on Saturday and Sunday.

VIDEO: Vonn reminded of Facebook gaffe at super-G finish

 

Ragan Smith delivers in first U.S. championship title win

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ragan Smith embraced the role of heavy favorite coming into the U.S. gymnastics championships.

Thrust into the spotlight for the first time in her career, the 17-year-old hardly appeared intimidated by the stage. Smith pulled away from the field to claim her first national title Sunday, posting a score of 115.250, more than three points clear of Jordan Chiles in second place and Riley McCusker in third.

Smith opened up a 1.3-point lead over McCusker in the opening round Friday but admitted afterward she wasn’t particularly impressed by her own performance. She was considerably sharper less than 48 hours later, her 57.850 total in the finals was the best in the 16-woman all-around field by nearly two points.

Smith is one of the few holdovers from the 2016 Olympic cycle, serving as an alternate for the “Final Five” team that won half of the available medals in Rio de Janeiro last fall. Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez are taking breaks or have moved on, leaving Smith as the standard bearer for new national team coordinator Valeri Liukin.

The program appears to be in solid hands. Smith ditched “The Addams Family” themed floor routine she used last year for something a little more mature. It’s not the only part of her gymnastics that has grown up. Smith finished first on floor and beam and tied for third on bars.

Smith will be in the mix for the all-around title at the world championships in Montreal, where she’ll have a chance to extend the U.S.’s dominance. An American woman has won the world or Olympic title each of the last six years. Barring injury, Smith should be right there.

Liukin said he wasn’t alarmed following an uneven performance by the field in preliminaries, calling it a positive step for a group lacking in experience. The gymnastics were markedly improved in the finals.

Chiles slipped by McCusker into second thanks to a fabulous save on beam in which she turned a near disaster into something decidedly artful.

Chiles was in the middle of “wolf turn” (basically spinning on one foot while in a crouch on a 4-inch wide piece of wood) when she nearly fell over. Instead she rose to her feet, kept rotating, and went right into the next part of her routine as if it was planned all along.

Chiles’ steadiness gives Liukin another option as he tries to put together the rest of the four-woman team that will join Smith in Montreal. McCusker, only recently recovered from foot and wrist injuries, tried to keep the heat on Smith but stepped out of bounds following the last tumbling pass on her floor routine. McCusker finished first on bars — her legs practically magnetized together as she went from bar to bar — to win the event with ease.

Ashton Locklear, like Smith an alternate last summer, wound up second on bars with a watered down routine as he makes her way back from her own injury issues and should have time to install upgrades before Montreal.

Whoever heads to Canada in October will go with the usual expectations for what has become the sport’s most dominant program.

MORE: Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles says being back in the gym is “OK” (video)

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Simone Biles has competed in the six previous U.S. National Championships, winning the last four, but in Anaheim this year, she’s watching from the sidelines. Biles won four gold medals (team, all-around, vault and floor) and one bronze (on beam) last summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

This week she revealed she has returned to the gym to prepare for a yet to be determined event, in her return to competition.

When asked how she’s been doing in the gym by NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce, Biles responded with her signature smile accompanied by an endearingly bashful eye roll, “the beginning is…OK.”

MORE: Danell Leyva on why he’s retiring

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