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Ilka Stuhec looks to keep breakout season going at World Cup Finals

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — It’s easy to spot Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec in her lime green speed suit.

Almost as easy is finding her name in the standings — just look near the top.

On skis waxed, tuned and maintained by her mom, Stuhec is in the midst of a breakout season that has her on the verge of clinching the downhill and super-G titles this week at the World Cup Finals.

The 26-year-old will certainly be one of the skiers to watch heading into the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, possibly even the one to give four-time overall World Cup champion Lindsey Vonn a strong push in the speed events.

All this success, though, has caught even Stuhec by surprise.

“I knew I was skiing good and capable of a lot of things. But it’s quite more than I expected,” said Stuhec, who turned in the second-fastest downhill training run Monday, 0.14 seconds behind the time posted by Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany. “After it started to happen, I was just really enjoying it, having fun skiing, getting more and more confident of myself and my skiing. I like it.”

Although she’s been on the World Cup circuit for quite some time, she’s uncovered another gear this season. She also capitalized on Vonn’s early absence — along with Swiss skier Lara Gut‘s season-ending knee injury — to appear on the podium 11 times, including six wins.

Stuhec is 97 points in front of Italy’s Sofia Goggia in the season-long downhill title race with only Wednesday’s competition remaining. Things are a little tighter in the super-G race, with Stuhec holding a scant 15-point advantage over Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein.

“No pressure. Not at all,” Stuhec said. “I was really looking forward to getting here.”

She’s a fan of this hill, too, with its grippy and spring-like conditions.

“The snow is perfect,” said Stuhec, who trails American Mikaela Shiffrin by a nearly insurmountable 378 points in the overall race. “I hope we will get a little bit of sun over the next days. It will be fun.”

Really, it’s not as if she arrived out of nowhere. Stuhec won a super-G title at the 2008 World Junior Championships. But she’s been hampered over her career by a right knee that’s required five surgeries.

She ultimately lost funding on the Slovenian ski team, forcing her to set up her own team. Now traveling the World Cup circuit with her own coach and her mother, Darja Crnko, who prepares her skis, Stuhec has found success. There have been accounts of her mom’s willingness to mortgage their house in order to keep her career going.

Asked if that was true, she just smiled.

“Almost,” said Stuhec, who switched skis this season. “We did struggle a lot before. Now, it’s way easier. I’m not happy that it happened, but I learned a lot. I learned a lot about myself, about people around me. I think I wouldn’t be the same as I am today if nothing would’ve happened.”

Recently, Stuhec captured the downhill title at the world championships in Switzerland. By doing so, she kept the title in the Slovenian family as she succeeded the 2015 World downhill winner, Tina Maze, who’s now retired.

Stuhec said she doesn’t stay in contact much with Maze.

“It’s been interesting, her team compared to Tina’s team. They did things a lot differently,” said Vonn, dealing with a cold as she finished sixth in the training run Monday. “I was always interested to see what she did. She has her mother as her technician. It’s a really interesting dynamic and seems to work really well for her. It’s nice to see her having such a successful season.”

Especially with Winter Games around the corner. At the World Cup race on the Olympic course earlier this month, Stuhec finished third in the super-G and third in the downhill. She also has Olympic experience, taking 10th in the downhill at the 2014 Sochi Games and 13th in the super-G.

“I never give up,” Stuhec said, “no matter how hard it was.”

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Sarah Hammer, four-time Olympic cycling medalist, retires

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Three-time Olympian Sarah Hammer, one of the most decorated track cyclists in U.S. history, is retiring after a prolific career spanning more than two decades.

The 34-year-old Hammer announced Monday that she’s stepping away from competitive riding to focus on the training facility that she founded in Colorado Springs with her coach and husband, Andy Sparks.

Hammer began riding at age 8 and won her first junior title in 1995. She briefly walked away from the sport in 2003, citing burnout, but returned to make the U.S. team for the 2008 Beijing Games.

Focusing on endurance events, Hammer won four Olympic medals and eight world titles and set two world records. Her team pursuit of a silver medal at the 2012 London Games — won with teammates Jennie Reed, Dotsie Bausch and Lauren Tamayo — was chronicled in the documentary “Personal Gold: An Underdog Story.”

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How to watch Berlin Marathon world-record attempt

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The 26.2-mile world record could fall at the Berlin Marathon on Sunday, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

The NBC Sports Gold stream starts at 2:30 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coverage beginning at 3 a.m.

The time to beat is 2:02:57, the world record set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014, also in Berlin.

Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge is the headliner of three candidates to lower that mark.

He won Berlin in 2015 in 2:04:00 with his insoles infamously slipping out the back of his shoes and flopping the last half of the race.

Kipchoge then prevailed at the 2016 London Marathon in 2:03:05, eight seconds shy of Kimetto’s world record, and the Rio Olympics in 2:08:44 in conditions not suitable for a fast time. He won the Olympic marathon by 70 seconds, the largest margin of victory since Frank Shorter won in 1972.

Then on May 6, Kipchoge ran 2:00:25 on an Italian Formula One race track in a bid to become the first person to run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours. It was contested under special conditions that made it ineligible for record purposes with pacers entering mid-race.

Berlin is the world’s fastest record-eligible marathon.

With its pancake-flat roads, the German capital was the site of the last six times the men’s 26.2-mile world record was lowered in the last 14 years, coming down from 2:05:38 to the current mark of 2:02:57.

Kipchoge will also benefit from a strong field.

He will likely be pushed to a fast time, if not beaten, by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who won the 2016 Berlin Marathon in 2:03:03, the second-fastest time ever.

And by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang, who ran three of the eight fastest marathons ever.

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