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Top U.S. skier grapples with fear, doubt after latest, most difficult injury

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U.S. Olympic Alpine skier Laurenne Ross is reminded every time she looks into a mirror. Of that crash 19 years ago.

“My cheek was basically torn off of my face, and I had a serious concussion,” Ross said. “I had over 100 stitches in my cheek.

“To see these scars as a positive part of who I am has taken my whole life, and I’m still working on it.”

Ross was introduced to skiing at 18 months old by her father, a former Canadian ski racer.

Since 2006, the Oregonian has shattered her pelvis and dislocated her shoulder ten times. She blew out her left ACL in 2008. She has broken a lot of bones in her hands and wrists. A labral tear in her hip. Concussions. A few bulging discs. Two severe ankle sprains. Add multiple severe facial lacerations, accumulating more than 200 stitches in her face.

Then came March 27. Another crash at the U.S. Championships in Sugarloaf, Maine. She blew out her right knee.

“This specific injury,” said Ross, on crutches four weeks later and overcome with emotion, “is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through.”

The 28-year-old Ross is the second-best speed racer on the U.S. team behind Lindsey Vonn.

Her last two seasons have been the best of her eight-year World Cup career.

Nine top-10 finishes in 2015-16. Another seven this past season. She was fifth in the world championships downhill and fourth in the downhill at the Olympic test event in South Korea.

Ross made her first Olympic team in Sochi, where she was 11th in the downhill. She was shaping up for medal contention in PyeongChang until that March 27 crash. A podium is still possible next February, but it will take an incredible climb.

Ross wrote that not being able to ski again is “a real possibility” in a passionate blog post titled “My First Steps,” published six weeks after the crash.

“With this injury (as with many) has come so many questions, concerns, doubts, considerations,” she wrote. “What if I can’t get strong enough to return to the level of skiing I was maintaining before my crash? What if I get back on skis and am stricken with doubt, crippled by fear? What if…what if I can’t even ski again? Though it’s unlikely, it is a real possibility. And then…what? Although I have deliberated on this before, never have I done so so thoroughly.”

Ross has the whole offseason to think deeply. The 2017-18 season’s first speed races will likely be in late November or early December.

“I want to be the one who decides when I’m done ski racing,” Ross wrote. “I don’t want my body to hold me back, or the [U.S.] Ski Team to make that decision for me. I want to leave on my own terms. And I don’t think I’m ready to do that yet….But what if I don’t have a choice? What if I’m forced to move on by the powers that be? How do I come to terms with that?”

Ross has interests outside of skiing. She journals daily, knits and can play the piano, guitar, violin and cello. She takes classes at the University of Oregon after each season, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. She jokes her hope is to graduate within the next 10 years.

“I feel like I am my truest self when I’m on my skis,” Ross said last month, adding later on her blog, “This break from skiing is only going to make me miss it more, make me hungry, and make me fierce. But if it doesn’t work out, there is another endeavor waiting for me — waiting for all of us — when this one comes to an end.”

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Tori Bowie upsets Elaine Thompson; Gatlin, Felix struggle at Pre

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Tori Bowie ran a statement 200m at the Pre Classic, clocking the fastest-ever time before the month of June and upsetting Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica.

And she called it a training race.

“My coach made it clear that we were just training for nationals,” Bowie, huffing and puffing after winning in 21.77 seconds, told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “No pressure at all.”

Bowie, the Olympic 100m silver medalist and 200m bronze medalist, beat her personal best by .22 of a second.

While Bowie starred, U.S. stalwarts Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin dropped to fifth-place finishes Saturday.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

Athletes are preparing for the U.S. Championships from June 23-25, a qualifying meet for the world championships in London in August.

Felix finished fifth in the 200m behind Bowie, Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller, Thompson and Olympic 200m silver medalist Dafne Schippers.

“Not that great, not that great today,” Felix said, according to meet officials. “I feel like my training is going well, it was good to get out here and see where I was at.”

Felix has a bye into the worlds in the 400m as defending world champion but is no longer a medal favorite in the 200m, where she won Olympic silver in 2004 and 2008 and gold in 2012. She clocked 22.33 seconds for fifth Saturday, which was .35 behind third-place Thompson.

Felix missed the 2016 Olympic team in the 200m by .01 while slowed by an ankle injury. But in 2015, a healthy Felix ran faster than 22.33 in all four of her 200m races.

Gatlin finished fifth in the 100m in 9.97 seconds, continuing his slowest season in recent years. At 35 years old, he is no longer looking like the top rival to Usain Bolt, who debuts in his farewell season June 10.

In fact, Gatlin may be in danger of not making the U.S. team in the 100m, which will be the top three finishers at nationals in four weeks.

In contrast, American Ronnie Baker is looking like a medal contender. He won Saturday in 9.86 seconds, which would be the fastest time in the world this year if not for too much tailwind (2.4 meters/second).

Baker, 23, has been a surprise this season, breaking 10 seconds a total of three times including Saturday. He was eliminated in the 2016 Olympic Trials semifinals and had not broken 10 seconds with legal wind before this year.

“My thoughts were, I’ve got every chance to win this just as much as everyone else does,” Baker told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “9.86 is unbelievable.”

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, a 16-year-old, became one of the youngest-ever to break four minutes in the mile. He finished 11th against a field of older runners.

Four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah held off Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to extend his 5000m winning streak to 11 meets dating to 2013. Farah clocked 13:00.7 to Kejelcha’s 13:01.21.

It marked Farah’s last track race in the U.S. as the Oregon-based Brit plans to switch to marathon running after the world championships in August.

Rio gold medalist Caster Semenya barely extended her 800m undefeated streak to 16 finals. The scrutinized South Africa edged Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui by one tenth of a second, clocking 1:59.78.

Olympic champion Omar McLeod took the 110m hurdles in 13.01 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. McLeod beat a field that included Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.80), and 2013 World champion David Oliver.

Christian Taylor, a two-time Olympic champion, recorded the third-best triple jump of all time, 18.11 meters.

Rio bronze medalist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault against a field that included Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and Swedish phenom Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior. Kendricks cleared 5.86 meters.

Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer won the 400m hurdles in 53.38 seconds, a personal best and the fastest time in the world this year. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was fifth in her first 400m hurdles race of the year.

In the shot put, Olympic champion Ryan Crouser unleashed a 22.43-meter throw to beat a field including world champion Joe Kovacs.

Jasmin Stowers won the 100m hurdles in 12.59 seconds, .03 off the fastest time in the world this year. The field lacked suspended Olympic champion Brianna Rollins and world-record holder Keni Harrison, who recently suffered a broken hand.

Russian Maria Lasitskene won the high jump in her first competition outside of Russia since 2015, when she was world champion. Lasitskene competed as a neutral athlete Saturday as Russia is still banned from international competition due to its poor anti-doping record. Her 2.03-meter clearance matched the best in the world since June 2013.

The Diamond League continues in Rome on June 8, with coverage on NBC Sports Gold.

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Mo Farah on Oregon Project allegations: ‘I’m sick of it’

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — As he prepares for what could be his final track race on U.S. soil, Mo Farah remains dogged by doping allegations surrounding his team.

The British Olympian will race the 5000m Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic, the only U.S. stop in the elite Diamond League series (NBC, NBC Sports Gold from 4-6 p.m. ET).

Farah has said that 2017 will be his last year on the track, with an eye on the world championships in London this August. The 34-year-old plans to transition after that to marathons.

Farah defended his 5000m and 10,000m titles at the Rio Olympics last August, becoming the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth last December.

But at a news conference for the Prefontaine, Farah faced questions about allegations that paint his team, Nike’s Oregon Project, in a bad light.

Details have emerged from a 2016 report prepared by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on practices by the team, led by decorated U.S. marathoner Alberto Salazar. Allegations have also surfaced recently based on information obtained by the hacking group known as Fancy Bears.

“I just get sick of it, really, to be honest with you,” Farah said. “As an athlete you just want to do the best as you can, and that’s what I want to do. But it’s nothing new. It’s something the press likes to be able to twist it and add a little bit of spices and add stuff on it. Being an Olympic champion, four-time Olympic champion, you do get a lot of that stuff. But at the same time you just have to do the best that you can. I believe in clean sports.”

He said he has not read the USADA report that has shown up online.

“It’s nothing new. You tell me something new. Since 2011 it’s the same stuff,” Farah said, clearly exasperated. “It’s all right. That’s what you get being an Olympic champion, and what we do.”

Farah has been training for the past five months in Flagstaff, Ariz., for the outdoor season and his final bow at the worlds. He hopes to run both of his signature races, the 5000m and 10,000m, if his body lets him, he said.

Saturday’s Prefontaine will be bittersweet.

“I don’t like to think like that, but it will be, my last,” he said. “It will probably be very emotional knowing that will be my last track racing in the U.S. But you know, tomorrow (I) just can’t be worrying about anything. I just have to concentrate on the race and getting the job done.”

Farah will be part of a stellar field that includes Paul Chelimo, the 5000m silver medalist in Rio, and Kenyan Paul Tanui, the Rio silver medalist in the 10,000m.

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VIDEO: Runner clocks No. 2 time ever … after stopping to fix shoe