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Goals from Beckie, Sinclair propel Canada past Australia

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As two of the three teams in Group F ranked in the top ten of FIFA’s world rankings, Canada and Australia were expected to put together an entertaining match in the group stage opener for both Wednesday afternoon. And that was the case, with Canada winning 2-0 despite being down to ten women for nearly 70 minutes of the match. The Canadians remained strong defensively, and they took advantage of two major mistakes made by Australia to tally both of their goals.

The first Australian error occurred in the game’s first minute, as Christine Sinclair was able to pick the pocket of an Aussie defender who made a lazy on her back line. After taking the ball Sinclair found Janine Beckie, who calmly deposited the ball into the net to give Canada a 1-0 lead just 20 seconds into the match. Beckie’s goal, scored in her Olympic debut, is the fastest ever scored in the history of Olympic soccer both men’s and women’s. The goal provided John Herdman’s side with some positive momentum, which they appeared poised to lose just 19 minutes later.

Defender Shalena Zadorsky was sent off in the 19th minute after bringing down Australia’s Michelle Heyman in what was rightfully deemed to be the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity just outside of the penalty area. Australia was unable to take advantage of the resulting free kick, and that proved to be a theme of sorts for them as Canada managed to thwart multiple scoring chances for the Matildas.

Canada appeared poised to take a 2-0 lead in the 73rd minute as they were awarded a penalty for an Australian handball in the penalty area, a decision that appeared to be a bit harsh on the replay. Beckie’s penalty was saved by Australian keeper Lydia Williams, who lucked out four minutes later when a shot that trickled through her legs was cleared off the line by a teammate. Williams wasn’t as fortunate int he 80th minute however, as her misplaying of a long ball sent to Christine Sinclair resulted in Canada scoring the second goal they were looking for on the counter attack.

With Canada playing a long ball to Sinclair, Williams took the risk of running well off her line in an attempt to clear the ball. But far away from her goal Williams missed, leaving Sinclair to calmly put the match out of reach with an Australian defender unable to apply the pressure needed to keep a scorer of Sinclair’s caliber off the score sheet. Sinclair’s goal is the 163rd of her international career, placing her 21 behind Abby Wambach on the all-time list.

Next up for Canada (1-0-0; 3 points) is a matchup with Zimbabwe Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, while Australia (0-0-1; 0 points) will take on Germany Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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