Lindsey Vonn avoids serious injury in training crash

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — Lindsey Vonn avoided more serious injury when she fell and crashed into the safety netting during a World Cup downhill training session Friday.

The American, who returned this month from nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries, lost control after getting too much air at a tricky left turn on the upper portion of the Olympia delle Tofane course.

After pausing to collect herself, Vonn skied down to the finish area.

“I just caught a lot of air off this jump between the turns and I landed and hit another bump and just went in the fences in a little bit,” Vonn said. “But I’m fine.”

Vonn added that her right arm — the same one she broke in a training crash in Copper Mountain, Colorado, in November — “might be a little sore tomorrow.”

Vonn is slated to race in a downhill on Saturday (4:30 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app; 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) and a super-G on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app; 5:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Vonn holds the resort record of 11 wins in Cortina.

Italian veteran Elena Fanchini fell in the same spot, also without serious consequences.

Vonn was only 0.11 seconds behind then-leader Ilka Stuhec at the first interval, right before she went down as the course went from bright sunshine to shade.

“That’s not what makes it tricky,” Vonn said of the change of light. “It’s there’s a bit of a lip there and some people are catching a lot of air, some people are catching no air. I got like 20-25 meters (yards) and I just didn’t have enough time to land it and had to make the switch right away and there just wasn’t enough time before I hit the fence.”

Vonn discussed the terrain with International Ski Federation race director Jean-Philippe Vulliet.

“Tomorrow with race speeds I’m going to fly even farther, so I think they should just clean that up a little bit it should be perfect for the race,” the four-time overall World Cup champion said.

Verena Stuffer of Italy led the training session, 0.05 ahead of defending overall champion Lara Gut and 0.34 in front of Sofia Goggia.

Stuhec, who leads the downhill standings with three wins this season, was fourth.

Julia Mancuso, another American standout who is returning from hip surgery, struggled in 47th position, nearly 4 1/2 seconds behind Stuffer.

“It’s hard to get back in the middle of the season,” Mancuso said, adding that she’s still regaining strength in her right hip. “I still have a long way to go before I’m 100 percent strong and ready to compete for the top step of the podium. But you have to start somewhere.”

Mancuso has claimed one win and six second-place results in Cortina over her career. But she has not raced since March 2015.

“I think I’m ready for the super-G,” she said. “I’m going to talk to my coaches about (the downhill). The high speed is really demanding. I don’t want to compete until I’m actually ready to compete and be in there.”

For the U.S. team, this is the final weekend of qualifying for next month’s world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Unless the coaches select her based merely on experience — she has won nine medals at the Olympics and worlds — Mancuso needs a solid result this weekend to make the team.

“I hope that I can get a chance to improve and show that I’m ready to fight and be competitive with a little more training,” Mancuso said.

Vonn, meanwhile, is aiming to win after claiming a downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, last weekend in just her second race back.

“It’s been a while since I crashed in a downhill training run but I’m glad that it’s just training,” Vonn said. “I’ve had so much success on this hill I’m not really worried about not having a training run today. I know this hill, I know what to do and I have confidence now. I just need to do some therapy, reset and be ready for tomorrow.”

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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. USASwimming.org 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.

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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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