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In her Captain America suit, Lindsey Vonn finally ready to attack

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — The Olympic downhill is little more than a month away, and Lindsey Vonn is finally ready to start attacking at 100 percent again.

Forget that unusual image of the 78-time World Cup winner skiing cautiously amid difficult weather conditions in Austria last weekend.

Back on one of her favorite courses — she holds a record 11 wins in Cortina — Vonn is not planning to hold anything back entering a set of three speed races this weekend: downhills Friday and Saturday and then a super-G on Sunday (full broadcast schedule).

“This snow is perfect. This hill is perfect. I have a lot of confidence here,” Vonn said Thursday after dominating downhill training for the second consecutive day.

“It’s a place where I can definitely push myself and ski more like my 100 percent self. I don’t need to be careful. I don’t need to worry about the risks. I’m just skiing like normal and I’m back to normal. This is how I ski when I am skiing well. It’s not like I’m not skiing well.”

In both training runs, Vonn’s advantage was nearly a full second — an eternity in ski racing.

It was a vast improvement from the ninth and 27th places that Vonn recorded in Bad Kleinkirchheim in a super-G and downhill, respectively, last weekend.

“Everything is good. I love racing here, and it’s always fun for me to be here. It’s beautiful. It’s hard not to be happy,” said Vonn, who is wearing a Captain America themed racing suit this weekend with a big white star on her chest.

Aiming to save her best for the Feb. 21 downhill in PyeongChang, Vonn has had only one win this season — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France, more than a month ago.

She had a difficult start to the season with two crashes in Lake Louise, Alberta, then jarred her back in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

A day after her win in Val d’Isere, Vonn sat out another super-G because she didn’t feel comfortable with the conditions. Then she took four weeks off before returning in Bad Klein.

The two training runs in Cortina have shown that Vonn is still capable of taking risks when she wants to.

“My whole career I’ve never had a problem going to 100 percent,” Vonn said. “It’s being smart and controlling myself that has always been a problem. I feel like I’ve finally learned my lesson, and I’ve been taking it easy to make sure that I can make it to the Olympics. Flipping the switch is something that comes very naturally to me.”

But how will she cope if the conditions in PyeongChang are difficult?

“That’s what I’m working on with my equipment right now. I’ve been testing some things and trying to get a setup that I’m more comfortable with,” Vonn said. “I definitely was not comfortable and not comfortable risking anything. So I think that once I find a setup that’s a little bit better for icier conditions — just in case — then I’ll be ready for any condition in PyeongChang.”

With the Olympics in mind, Vonn set aside a pair of skis that she tested on icy conditions in PyeongChang last season.

“I feel like I need a little bit more testing, but in general I’m ready for any condition,” she said.

With the women’s technical events being held before the speed races in PyeongChang — the opposite from recent Olympics, Vonn will be able to ease her way into the Games.

She won’t race slalom but may enter the giant slalom to get a taste of the competition before going for gold in the super-G, downhill and super combined.

“Three, maybe four (events),” Vonn said. “It just depends on how I feel.”

Also this weekend, overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is entering the Cortina downhill for the first time, having finished fourth in the super-G on her first visit to Cortina last season.

Showing rapid improvement, Shiffrin moved up from 13th in the opening training run to fifth Thursday.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable, and from here on out it’s just about the timing and hitting my switches in the right spot,” said Shiffrin, who claimed the first downhill victory of her career in Lake Louise in November.

Like Vonn, Shiffrin is using this weekend as a dry run for the Olympics.

“It’s important to be able to learn a track really well,” Shiffrin said. “I haven’t skied the Olympic track as well. So it’s sort of the same kind of thing where I’m trying to figure it out — inspect it, visualize it, ski it the way that I want to. And if I can execute that then I’ll feel more comfortable doing the speed at the Olympics.”

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MORE: Alpine skiing season broadcast schedule

Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

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Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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