Lindsey Vonn ties World Cup titles record with 67th win under pressure (video)

Leave a comment

Lindsey Vonn felt pretty nervous as she wiggled her hands on her ski poles at the start gate Thursday morning.

“I knew I had to risk everything if I wanted to get the title,” she said. “I risked it all.”

Vonn came through, capturing a record-tying 19th World Cup season title by earning her record-extending 67th World Cup victory, a super-G at the World Cup Finals in Meribel, France.

Why the risk?

Austrian Anna Fenninger grabbed a large lead, .71 of a second, eight minutes before Vonn stepped up to the start gate. Vonn knew she could only win the season super-G title, accumulating results since December, if she finished ahead of Fenninger, the hottest skier on tour over the last month.

Before both of their runs, Vonn was shown on camera among a group of people watching a TV screen as Fenninger prepared to race.

“[Fenninger] definitely put a lot of pressure on me,” Vonn, who also bagged the downhill title Wednesday, said in a finish-area interview. “I knew she was leading when I was at the top. … I just attacked, and I had nothing to lose.”

Of course, Vonn knows that every time she skis, descending 70mph on a right knee twice surgically repaired in the last two years, she has plenty to lose. (Vonn talked more about risk, fear and her future here)

On Thursday, Vonn crossed the finish line after 67 seconds of all-out skiing, saw she had overtaken Fenninger — easily by .49 — raised her arms, screamed, slid to a stop and fell to the snow, smiling in celebration.

“I really like the high-pressure situations,” Vonn said. “Sometimes when it demands strong skiing, then I can bring it out.”

Fenninger, in the leader’s box, clapped politely.

Vonn notched her eighth victory of the season and joined Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark as the only skiers to reach 19 season titles across all disciplines and the overall. She won’t be able to go for No. 20 until next season but is expected to race again in Meribel, in the giant slalom Sunday.

“Things have gone a lot better this year than I ever could have anticipated,” Vonn said. “I wasn’t really sure where I would stack up being gone for almost two years.”

Vonn won her third straight race Thursday, her first winning streak since December 2012, two months before she crashed at the 2013 World Championships, requiring the first of two major knee surgeries that kept her from the Sochi Olympics.

”I haven’t had any problems [with my knee], really, since Beaver Creek [World Championships in February],” Vonn said. “It’s been hard to maintain the strength on my right leg. … I’m still atrophied from the two surgeries.”

She also took the super-G season title for a fifth time, tying a record shared by German Katja Seizinger, Austrian Hermann Maier and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal.

Vonn also made a World Cup podium for the 113th time, tying Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell‘s women’s record. Stenmark made 155 podiums.

“I solidified to myself and to everyone that I’m back,” Vonn said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She did so after missing most of the previous season and not returning to skiing training until October.

“It’s been up and down [this season],” said Vonn, who was disappointed to come away from the World Championships near her Vail, Colo., home with one bronze medal. “I just don’t have that much training. … When I have training and I have confidence, then I ski like I did this week, confident and I have power in my skiing. Sometimes I just was a little bit off rhythm and couldn’t quite find my form. So I think next year, when I can actually prepare normally, I will be much more consistent.”

Vonn’s goal next season? Win her fifth World Cup overall title.

That crystal globe trophy will go to either Fenninger or Tina Maze this weekend. Fenninger, trying to become the first woman since Vonn to repeat as overall champion, leads by 32 points with two races to go.

Vonn, while holding the women’s World Cup wins record, is now 19 victories shy of Stenmark’s overall World Cup record of 86 first-place finishes. If she wins eight races each of the next three seasons, as she did this season, she would pass Stenmark during the 2018 Olympic season.

“It just seems … all of his records are just not attainable,” Vonn said. “Mathematically, it’s definitely possible. … I feel like it’s a little bit too far away to start thinking about that right now.”

Earlier Thursday, Canadian Dustin Cook notched his first World Cup victory in the men’s super-G. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud had already clinched the season title. Two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht was the only U.S. finisher in 15th.

The World Cup Finals continue with a team event Friday. Mikaela Shiffrin will try to wrap up her third straight slalom season title Saturday. Vonn is expected to join Shiffrin in the giant slalom field Sunday.

Olympic champions among Sullivan Award finalists

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Laurie Hernandez, Maggie Haney react to coach’s suspension