Lindsey Vonn finishes first race in 10 months (video)

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Lindsey Vonn safely made it down the mountain in her first competition in 10 months, finishing 40th out of 61 skiers at a World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

The Olympic downhill champion completed the course in 1 minute, 59.22 seconds. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch won in 1:56.03 (results at bottom).

“I was just too nervous,” Vonn said, according to The Associated Press. “I was really tight, and I skied that way. I skied tight.

“I wasn’t in a really deep tuck. I wasn’t pushing the line where I could have. And I just kind of skied it, and that’s not my style. That’s not how I attack a race.”

Vonn, 29, skied her first race since blowing out her right knee at the World Championships in February and partially tearing her right ACL on Nov. 19. The downhill was delayed by an hour due to below-zero temperatures.

“I’m always a positive thinker,” Vonn said, according to the AP. “I try to look on the bright side of everything, and I was really optimistic that I could come down and just — first race, right out of the blocks — win, and it was wishful thinking. But might as well shoot for the best, you know?”

The Lake Louise World Cup stop continues with a downhill on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET) and a super-G on Sunday (1 p.m.). Vonn is expected to race in both. Universal Sports will have coverage.

Vonn decided to race this weekend following a training run Wednesday. She said her right knee felt “stable,” though she skipped an opportunity at taking another training run Thursday. She said she would race with a knee brace.

She’s skiing at a course nicknamed “Lake Lindsey” for her overwhelming success there. She’s won the last seven World Cup races at Lake Louise. She hasn’t finished lower than second at a Lake Louise race since 2008.

“To be honest, we didn’t expect her to win this race,” U.S. Ski Team coach Chip White said, according to the AP. “A lot of people do, just because she has so many times. But with all she’s been through, we’re just happy to see her back in the mix, and I think this is where we build from.”

The rest of the U.S. women have performed poorly in early-season speed races after putting six in the top 16 in last season’s downhill standings.

Olympic downhill silver medalist Julia Mancuso was 26th on Friday. Stacey Cook, fourth in the World Cup downhill standings last season, followed in 39th. Leanne Smith and Laurenne Ross, who made World Cup podiums last season, were 49th and 56th.

In three speed races this season, the top U.S. finish is 19th.

Lake Louise Downhill
1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) 1:56.03
2. Maria Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) 1:56.73
3. Elena Fanchini (ITA) 1:57.23
4. Anna Fenninger (AUT) 1:57.30
5. Nadja Jnglin-Kamer (SUI) 1:57.54
6. Tina Maze (SLO) 1:57.57
7. Larisa Yurkiw (CAN) 1:57.66
7. Stefanie Moser (AUT) 1:57.66
9. Carolina Ruiz Castillo (ESP) 1:57.76
10. Lara Gut (SUI) 1:57.79
21. Julia Ford (USA) 1:58.51
26. Julia Mancuso (USA) 1:58.66
32. Jacqueline Wiles (USA) 1:58.95
39. Stacey Cook (USA) 1:59.20
40. Lindsey Vonn (USA) 1:59.22
49. Leanne Smith (USA) 2:00.01
54. Katie Ryan (USA) 2:00.85
56. Laurenne Ross (USA) 2:01.00

Svindal wins Beaver Creek downhill; Americans struggle

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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