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Hilary Knight’s trip to historic Olympic ice rekindled love for hockey

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Hilary Knight, in the conversation the last few years for world’s best female hockey player, considered stepping away from the sport during the prime of her career.

Knight was “crushed and heartbroken” after losing a second straight Olympic final to Canada in 2014. This one was in heart-wrenching fashion. The U.S. led 2-0 with four minutes left and ended up losing in overtime.

She spent about six months after Sochi “trying to figure out what the next step would look like.”

“I never was committed to retiring, per se, but there was definitely an I don’t know if I can go another four years kind of feeling,” Knight said last week. “I never stopped training, but I think my heart might not have been there for a few months.”

Understand that Knight was 24 years old at the time and already very decorated.

She was the leading goal-scorer at the 2009 World Championship (age 19, youngest player on the U.S. team), recorded eight points at the 2010 Olympics (youngest on that team, too) and led the 2011 Worlds in goals and assists (and scored the golden goal in overtime of the final against Canada).

In Sochi, Knight was one of two Americans voted to the media all-star team.

Another silver medal stung. Knight needed those months after Sochi to determine if she was still in love with the game she found at age 6 in Chicago.

Come August, Knight trekked to Lake Placid, N.Y., to coach 12- and 13-year-olds. The U.S. under-18 and under-22 teams were training at the same arena, on the very rink where the Miracle on Ice took place.

Knight remembers those potential future Olympians putting on USA jerseys. It reignited her passion.

“I remember what that felt like,” Knight said. “It’s something that I’m not ready to give up yet. That amazing feeling of being that little kid again in that jersey.”

Two months later, Knight practiced with the Anaheim Ducks. If any female skater could make it a men’s pro league, it’s Knight. She is women’s hockey’s consummate power forward, listed at 5 feet, 10 inches, and 172 pounds.

She considered playing in a men’s league in Sweden after Sochi. Knight learned Swedish at the University of Wisconsin and fell in love with the culture.

The timing wasn’t right to leave the U.S., where women’s post-grad teams were in development stages (they still are).

“I couldn’t just leave, even though I really wanted to go and play men’s pro,” Knight said. “It just wasn’t the right move for the sport.”

No U.S. minor-league team reached out to her. (Female goalies are generally better candidates to play in men’s leagues. and Canadian Shannon Szabados did so for two full seasons with the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths.)

Knight continued to thrive for the national team, earning world championship tournament MVP honors in 2015 and 2016. Then she scored another world championship overtime winner against Canada on April 7.

She hopes with the new labor deal with USA Hockey that she can play through 2022. Knight stated before Sochi that she wanted to become the best player in the world.

Has she met that goal?

“Never,” Knight said. “I think when I feel that way it’s time to retire.”

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MORE: Knight’s golden goal lifts U.S. past Canada for world title

U.S. Alpine director set to lobby ski officials to let Lindsey Vonn race men

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An item high on Lindsey Vonn‘s priority list — competing against the men.

She’s lobbying hard for such a chance, but so far the International Ski Federation (FIS) has yet to sign off.

U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said he will push for rules alterations at the FIS meetings in May to possibly give Vonn and other female skiers that opportunity down the road.

“All the men say, ‘We don’t think she’s going to beat us,’ which is what they’re going to say, and also that, ‘It will be great for our sport,”‘ Vonn said. “So, what’s the harm?

“Hopefully, we’re able to accomplish it before I retire.”

The U.S. Ski Team’s proposal would bid for Vonn to be able to race against men in November 2018, according to the Denver Post in January.

“I know I’m not going to win, but I would like to at least have the opportunity to try,” Vonn said then, 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 has been 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.”

“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 in January. “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 must focus on the Olympic season before thinking about preparing to race men.

Always the consummate planner, she has every detail scribbled in a calendar from now until her season starts in November. Workouts, upcoming trips, ski camps, appointments – all of the ordinary stuff.

The bigger-ticket items? Now those are simply memorized. In the twilight of her career, the four-time overall World Cup champion has a priority list of aspirations before even thinking of stepping away:

– Break Ingemar Stenmark‘s wins record (once thought untouchable).

– “Defend” her downhill crown at the Winter Olympics in South Korea (she didn’t get that chance in Sochi because of a knee injury).

– Compete against the men.

“I’m not going to stop until I reach my goals,” Vonn said. “There’s too much I have left to accomplish.”

At the moment, her plan is to race at least through the 2018-19 season — health willing, of course.

But right now, the 32-year-old Vonn feels, knock on wood, quite healthy. She hasn’t been able to say that very often.

A quick glance at her medical chart: Bruised hip in training crash before Olympics (2006), sliced right thumb on champagne bottle while celebrating a victory (2009), severely bruised shin (2010), serious knee injuries (2013-14), broken left ankle (2015) and fractures near her left knee joint in a crash (2016).

Most recently, she broke her right arm in a November training run. It required surgery and led to nerve damage so severe she could hardly wiggle her fingers at first and had to tape the ski pole to her glove in order to race. She’s still trying to recover full sensation.

“All the obstacles I’ve faced, it makes me appreciate things that much more,” Vonn said in a recent interview as she hosted a camp in Denver designed to empower girls to reach their goals. “But I can’t worry about injuries. If you worry about it, you’re always going to ski scared.”

That’s never been an issue with Vonn.

“There are a lot of athletes who achieve amazing results and when they get hurt, especially multiple times, they ask themselves, ‘Is it worth it?”‘ Riml said. “Her hunger to become a better athlete and win more races is as big as it was when she was 20 years old.

“Her determination, her drive to become better, to win more races, it’s unbelievable.”

Vonn has a number in mind – 86. That’s how many World Cup wins Stenmark accumulated during the Swedish great’s extraordinary career. Vonn is currently at 77.

“If I ended my career today, I’d still be really satisfied with what I’ve done,” said Vonn , who broke Austrian great Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record of 62 World Cup wins in January 2015. “But I think to beat a record like his [Stenmark], it would be very significant.”

These days, everything is geared toward the Winter Olympics in South Korea. After capturing downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she missed the Sochi Games because of a knee injury.

“My main goal is to defend or repeat – I don’t know what you call it,” she joked.

Vonn raced on the Olympic course in early March, finishing second in both the downhill and super-G. In Pyeongchang next February, she said she will compete in the downhill, super-G, giant slalom and the combined, but skip the slalom.

According to her crammed calendar, this recent block of time was reserved for rest. She and her boyfriend, Kenan Smith, a former assistant wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams, recently escaped to the beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands .

Soon on her to-do list, test out new Head skis and boots in Europe. Vonn’s been hurt so much that she really hasn’t had a chance to try out the latest equipment.

“I need to get up to date,” Vonn said. “I know that if I can fine-tune some of the details, I can find some more time in my racing.”

That will certainly come in handy against a crop of talented skiers that includes freshly minted World Cup overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin, who grew up holding Vonn in high esteem, the same way Vonn did with 1998 super-G Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street.

“There’s clearly no one out there in the technical disciplines, especially the slalom, that’s on Mikaela’s level,” said Vonn, who lives in Vail, Colorado. “She’s had an incredible career so far.”

One day Shiffrin could be chasing Vonn’s marks. At 22, Shiffrin already has 31 World Cup wins. For a comparison, Vonn had four at the same age.

“It would be great if Mikaela’s able to break it,” said Vonn, whose foundation partnered with “ZGirls” to host confidence-building programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Shiffrin’s best season also brought the most anxiety

Ryan Lochte, with new coach, races in first meet since Olympics

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Ryan Lochte is back in the competition pool.

The 12-time Olympic medalist, suspended from USA Swimming and international meets through June, won a 200-yard individual medley at the U.S. Masters nationals in Riverside, Calif., on Friday. He also finished second in a 100-yard breaststroke.

Full results are here.

“I’m a little overweight,” Lochte said, according to the Orange County Register. “I guess you could say six months of not taking care of my body and just living my life, not worrying about waking up and going to practice or anything like that. My main focus was to just relax, get away from the sport, and now that I’m getting back in I’m like, ‘Ooh, maybe I should have at least worked out a couple of times.'”

Lochte has moved to the Los Angeles area and is now coached by the University of Southern California’s Dave Salo until his fiancée’s baby is born (likely June). After that, they will re-evaluate his plan, Salo said.

Lochte was formerly coached by Gregg Troy from 2002-13 at the University of Florida, where he attended college and matured to become an Olympian in 2004. Lochte won 11 Olympic medals under Troy and became the world’s best swimmer going into the 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, Lochte moved from Gainesville to Charlotte and trained under David Marsh through the Rio Games. Lochte said last summer that he planned to move to California.

Lochte has also said he plans to try for a fifth Olympics in 2020, but his immediate future is about to get very busy — becoming a father, becoming a husband and the end of his ban.

He will swim two meets in August, the U.S. Open in East Meadow, N.Y., and an international meet in Rome, according to the Orange County Register.

“I’m behind, but you know,” Lochte said, according to the newspaper, adding he hasn’t been this happy since 2012. “I took time off. I needed it. My body and mind needed it to recover. It was just a dog fight for so many years I just got overwhelmed with the sport and lost the passion and the love for it. But now I have it. I have new passion, and I’m finding ways that swimming is fun again.”

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