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

Germany opens bobsled worlds with double gold; Kaillie Humphries gets silver

Laura Nolte Bobsled
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Germans Laura Nolte and Johannes Lochner dethroned the reigning Olympic and world champions to open the world bobsled championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, this weekend.

Nolte, the Olympic two-woman champion driver, won the four-run monobob by four tenths of a second over American Kaillie Humphries, who won the first world title in the event in 2021 and the first Olympic title in the event in 2022. Another German, Lisa Buckwitz, took bronze.

In the two-man, Lochner became the first driver to beat countryman Francesco Friedrich in an Olympic or world championships event since 2016, ending Friedrich’s record 12-event streak at global championships between two-man and four-man.

Friedrich, defeated by 49 hundredths, saw his streak of seven consecutive world two-man titles also snapped.

Lochner, 32, won his first outright global title after seven Olympic or world silvers, plus a shared four-man gold with Friedrich in 2017.

Swiss Michael Vogt drove to bronze, one hundredth behind Friedrich. Geoff Gadbois and Martin Christofferson filled the top American sled in 18th.

Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton were the last non-Germans to win a world two-man title in 2012.

Bobsled worlds finish next weekend with the two-woman and four-man events.

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Novak Djokovic wins 10th Australian Open, ties Rafael Nadal for most men’s Slam titles

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic climbed into the Rod Laver Arena stands to celebrate his 10th Australian Open championship and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title Sunday and, after jumping and pumping his fists with his team, he collapsed onto his back, crying.

When he returned to the playing surface, Djokovic sat on his sideline bench, buried his face in a white towel and sobbed some more.

This trip to Australia was far more successful than that of a year ago, when he was deported from the country because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. And Djokovic accomplished all he could have possibly wanted in his return: He resumed his winning ways at Melbourne Park and made it back to the top of tennis, declaring: “This probably is the, I would say, biggest victory of my life.”

Only briefly challenged in the final, Djokovic was simply better at the most crucial moments and beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). As a bonus, Djokovic will vault from No. 5 to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, a spot he already has held for more weeks than any other man.

“I want to say this has been one of the most challenging tournaments I’ve ever played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year; coming back this year,” Djokovic said, wearing a zip-up white jacket with a “22” on his chest. “And I want to thank all the people that made me feel welcome, made me feel comfortable, to be in Melbourne, to be in Australia.”

The 35-year-old from Serbia stretched his unbeaten streak in Melbourne to 28 matches, the longest run there in the Open era, which dates to 1968. He adds trophy No. 10 to the seven from Wimbledon, three from the U.S. Open — where he also was absent last year because of no coronavirus shots — and two from the French Open, to match rival Rafael Nadal for the most by a man.

Only two women — Margaret Court, with 24, and Serena Williams, with 23 — are ahead of him.

This was also the 93rd ATP tour-level title for Djokovic, breaking a tie with Nadal for the fourth-most.

“I would like to thank you for pushing our sport so far,” Tsitsipas told Djokovic.

Djokovic was participating in his 33rd major final, Tsitsipas in his second — and the 24-year-old from Greece also lost the other, at the 2021 French Open, to Djokovic.

On a cool evening under a cloud-filled sky, and with a soundtrack of chants from supporters of both men prompting repeated pleas for quiet from the chair umpire, Djokovic was superior throughout, especially so in the two tiebreakers.

He took a 4-1 lead in the first, then reeled off the last three points. He led 5-0 in the closing tiebreaker and, when it finished, he pointed to his temple before screaming, a prelude to all of the tears.

“Very emotional for us. Very emotional for him,” said Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic. “It’s a great achievement. It was a really tough three weeks for him. He managed to overcome everything.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Tsitsipas was willing to engage in the kind of leg-wearying, lung-searing back-and-forths upon which Djokovic has built his superlative career. How did that work out? Of points lasting at least five strokes, Djokovic won 43, Tsitsipas 30.

Then again, on those rare occasions that Tsitsipas did charge the net, Djokovic often conjured up a passing shot that was too tough to handle.

It’s not as though Tsitsipas played all that poorly, other than a rash of early miscues that seemed to be more a product of tension than anything.

It’s that Djokovic was too unyielding. Too accurate with his strokes, making merely 22 unforced errors, 20 fewer than his foe. Too speedy and flexible chasing shots (other than on one second-set point, when, running to his left, Djokovic took a tumble).

“I did everything possible,” said Tsitsipas, who also would have moved to No. 1 with a victory, replacing Carlos Alcaraz, who sat out the Australian Open with a leg injury.

Perhaps. Yet Djokovic pushes and pushes and pushes some more, until it’s the opponent who is something less than perfect on one swing, either missing or providing an opening to pounce.

That’s what happened when Tsitsipas held his first break point — which was also a set point — while ahead 5-4 in the second and Djokovic serving at 30-40. Might this be a fulcrum? Might Djokovic relent? Might Tsitsipas surge?

Uh, no.

A 15-stroke point concluded with Djokovic smacking a cross-court forehand winner that felt like a statement. Two misses by Tsitsipas followed: A backhand long, a forehand wide. Those felt like capitulation. Even when Tsitsipas actually did break in the third, Djokovic broke right back.

There has been more than forehands and backhands on Djokovic’s mind over the past two weeks.

There was the not-so-small matter of last year’s legal saga — he has alternately acknowledged the whole thing served as a form of motivation but also said the other day, “I’m over it” — and curiosity about the sort of reception he would get when allowed to enter Australia because pandemic restrictions were eased.

He heard a ton of loud support, but also dealt with some persistent heckling while competing, including applause after faults Sunday.

There was the sore left hamstring that has been heavily bandaged for every match — until the final, that is, when only a single piece of beige athletic tape was visible.

And then there was the complicated matter of his father, Srdjan, being filmed with a group of people with Russian flags — one with an image of Vladimir Putin — after Djokovic’s quarterfinal. The tournament banned spectators from carrying flags of Russia or Belarus, saying they would cause disruption because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic and his father said it was a misunderstanding; Srdjan thought he was with Serbian fans.

Still, Srdjan Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal or the final.

No matter any of it, Djokovic excelled as he so often has.

“He is the greatest,” Tsitsipas said, “that has ever held a tennis racket.”

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