Maria Hoefl-Riesch

Maria Hoefl-Riesch has no second thoughts about retirement

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HARRISON, N.J. — Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn were both in the New York City area on Thursday. The longtime friendly rivals had only exchanged emails and texts since Vonn’s last race in December.

Hoefl-Riesch was in town as part of German champion soccer club Bayern Munich’s U.S. tour. Vonn spoke at an Under Armour launch for women’s apparel.

“Hopefully tonight we can have a drink at the hotel bar,” Hoefl-Riesch said from a suite at the New York Red Bulls’ stadium, where Bayern played a Mexican club.

There would be plenty to catch up on. Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn, born six weeks apart in 1984, were the world’s two best Alpine skiers from 2008 through 2012, before major injury struck Vonn.

But it’s Hoefl-Riesch who never plans to ski again. She retired after crashing at the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in March, one month after winning Olympic gold and silver in Sochi.

She left the sport near the top of her game. She entered that final race in the Alps leading the World Cup overall standings, seeking her first title since she nipped Vonn by three points in 2011.

Then she fell (video here), landed into netting, screamed and was helicoptered off with shoulder injuries in Lenzerheide. Hoefl-Riesch missed the final three races of the season, and Austrian Anna Fenninger passed her for the overall crystal globe.

“[Retiring] had nothing to do with that [crash],” Hoefl-Riesch said, citing a lack of motivation to continue tiring training beginning before seasons in the summers. “Of course, that was not a very nice ending for me because if you do your last race, you actually want to know it before. But on the outside maybe it was better like this, because when you’re in the start gate at your very last race and know it’s your very last time, then you might be more emotional.”

She decided in the first few days after the crash to hang up her ski boots for good. Now, seeing other skiers’ tweets about going to South America to train in the southern hemisphere’s winter only reinforces her decision.

“In winter maybe I will miss something because it was my passion,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “My whole life was about skiing.”

Soccer has been a big part of her life the last few months, being a German married to the manager of World Cup legend Franz Beckenbauer.

She originally planned to attend the World Cup in Brazil, but watched the final while in Italy instead (Beckenbauer was suspended by FIFA near the start of the tournament and, even after it was lifted during the World Cup, didn’t fly to Brazil).

The reception in Germany for the victory dwarfed any celebration for an Olympic gold medalist.

“It’s not comparable to anything,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “It was always that way that skiing had less attention, but I’m not jealous. That’s the way it is. Soccer has so much money and sponsors. It’s great for the economy in Germany.”

Hoefl-Riesch will still stay connected to Alpine skiing. Her younger sister, Susanne Riesch, is still active on the World Cup circuit, and she plans to work for German TV at the 2015 World Championships in Vail/Beaver Creek, Colo., near Vonn’s home.

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Olympian Tasha Schwikert says she is a Larry Nassar survivor, speaks out on Steve Penny

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Tasha Schwikert is at least the ninth Olympian to come forward as a Larry Nassar survivor.

“After months of grappling with the decision, I have decided to come forward as a victim of Larry Nassar,” was tweeted from the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Schwikert’s account. “I want to join my former teammates and fellow survivors to help enact REAL change at @USAGym and @TeamUSA. #MeToo.

“I refuse to remain a victim. It is time for @USAGym and @TeamUSA to come clean and be held accountable for the toxic environment that enabled Nassar’s abuse. Only then will we see REAL change.”

Schwikert, now 33, was the youngest woman on the 2000 Olympic team across all sports, the U.S. all-around champion in 2001 and 2002, the 2003 World champion team captain and an alternate for the 2004 Olympic team.

Schwikert also said that ex-USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny pressed her to publicly support USA Gymnastics at the height of the Nassar scandal, according to ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

Penny was arrested Wednesday and indicted on charges he tampered with evidence in the Nassar sexual-assault investigation and on Thursday banned for life from USA Gymnastics. Penny’s lawyers said he is “confident that when all the facts are known it will be shown that he did nothing criminal.”

“Steve had always manipulated all of us, really, but I felt indebted to him,” Schwikert said on ABC. “Him and USA Gymnastics made me feel like if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the person or the athlete who I was.”

She is at least the second member of the Sydney 2000 team to come forward as a Nassar survivor, joining Jamie Dantzscher, the first Olympian to do so in February 2017.

USA Gymnastics posted a statement from Schwikert on social media the night Dantzscher’s first interview aired, saying, “As a member of the national team from 1999-2004, I firmly believe USA Gymnastics always had my health and well-being top of mind. The program provided me with the resources and experiences that helped me achieve my goals.”

Penny resigned a month later.

Seven of the eight members of the 2012 or 2016 Olympic women’s artistic gymnastics teams have also come forward — Simone BilesGabby Douglas, Aly RaismanMcKayla MaroneyJordyn WieberKyla Ross and Madison Kocian. As have world championships team members among the hundreds of girls and women who said Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue can make it 10 straight at Skate America

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If Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ever lacked motivation in the post-Olympic summer, they needed only scan their Montreal training ice.

They would spot France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the only ice dancers from the Olympic podium who return this season. Papadakis and Cizeron relegated the Americans to silver at March’s world championships, one month after Hubbell and Donohue were fourth in PyeongChang (the French took silver). They have trained under the same coaches in Quebec for three years.

They would also see Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the third- and fourth-place finishers from January’s U.S. Championships. Those couples moved to the Montreal group in the spring. They are Hubbell and Donohue’s top threats to repeat as national champions in Detroit in three months, given U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking a break.

Practicing next to rivals is often shunned in sports. It has elevated ice dance the last several years.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White trained together in Michigan and split the Olympic gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014.

When Virtue and Moir returned from a two-year break in 2016, they joined the Montreal group and went one-two with training partners Papadakis and Cizeron at every major competition through PyeongChang.

Hubbell and Donohue thrived last season, their third in Montreal, winning their first national title after six straight years of finishing third or fourth. They were in position for an Olympic medal, third after the short dance, but Donohue fell in the free dance (as he did at 2017 Worlds after they were third in the short).

Then at worlds in March, they delivered back-to-back podium-worthy performances on the global stage for the first time for that silver medal. They are the world No. 2 and the favorites at this weekend’s Skate America, with the French not in the field.

U.S. couples have won nine straight Skate Americas, more than the other three disciplines combined in the last decade.

MORE: Skate America TV/Stream Schedule

“Clearly this formula is working for them,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “It has proven to work for many of the greatest teams in ice dance over the last few decades. … I cannot see a drawback.”

Hubbell and Donohue (and Papadakis and Cizeron) appear to agree.

They joked back and forth at a press conference after worlds in March. Asked how they would spend the offseason, Cizeron looked straight at Hubbell and Donohue and said, jokingly, “Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can.”

“As much as our own personal accomplishment is pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates and having, literally, everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition, was pretty incredible,” Donohue said last week.

Hubbell and Donohue should breeze through Skate America in Everett, Wash. Nobody else from the top nine in PyeongChang is in the field. They’re the favorites next week at Skate Canada, too.

The first real test will be at December’s Grand Prix Final, where Papadakis and Cizeron should join them. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored the French in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at worlds.

“The French, where they left off last season, I think that they are still in a category on their own based on the last time we saw those two teams go up against each other,” White said. 

Hubbell said the world silver medal showed that they had tackled their demons, fear and history of errors. If the next goal is gold, they must conquer a much more visible foe, one they see every day on the ice.

“The podium at worlds,” Hubbell said, “was the moment I was able to leave that season behind me and go into the future.”

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