Reflective Lindsey Vonn finishes season on podium, looks ahead

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Lindsey Vonn was reflective after finishing third in her last race of the season, a super-G at the World Cup Finals in Are, Sweden, on Thursday.

Vonn said her best race of the campaign was either Wednesday’s downhill (82nd win of her World Cup career, moving four shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record) or her first of five victories this season at a super-G in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 16.

That Vonn won five times this season, plus became the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist with a downhill bronze, was a testament to her proven (time and again) comeback ability.

The 33-year-old crashed and fell in two of her first three speed races in early December at her favorite venue, Lake Louise in Alberta.

“Definitely derailed me quite a bit,” Vonn told media in Are on Thursday. “Definitely the lowest point of the season.”

The following weekend, she needed supporting poles just to walk (gingerly) due to a back injury. Her right knee, the one she blew out in 2013 that kept her out of the Sochi Olympics, also aggravated her more than she let on.

Then the Val d’Isere victory on Dec. 16 — after which Vonn said, “I guess I’m not a washed-up old hag,” after her first win in 11 months — proved a turning point.

“Because I had come off a series of crashes, and my knee wasn’t doing well,” Vonn said Thursday. “To be able to pull through in that situation and come up with a win I think was really important for my confidence. It got me on the right track for the rest of the year.”

Vonn entered the Olympics in February as the downhill favorite, winning the last three World Cups leading into the Games. Vonn said in PyeongChang that her bronze medal felt like a gold. She said it was the highlight of her season, if not her best skiing.

“It’s been a very successful season, all things considered,” Vonn said Wednesday.

What’s next?

“My knee gets a break, and that’s really what matters,” Vonn said. “As you progress through the season, I definitely lose strength because I’m just not able to lift as much as I need to keep the knee supported.”

Next fall, the focus will be on Stenmark’s record. It’s Vonn’s last major goal before retirement. Next season could be her last.

The record pursuit could be impacted by the International Ski Federation (FIS). FIS is expected to rule in May on a Vonn-backed U.S. Ski & Snowboard proposal to allow her to enter a men’s World Cup race (the other remaining goal before she retires).

When the proposal was put forth last year, Vonn preferred that race be at Lake Louise, Alberta, her favorite venue (18 wins in 44 World Cup starts).

If Vonn is granted a spot in a Lake Louise men’s race in November, FIS rules could mean she’s not allowed to enter the women’s races in Lake Louise the following weekend because of her extra runs at the venue giving her an advantage over female skiers.

Missing three women’s races at Lake Louise would significantly impact her pursuit of Stenmark’s record in what could be her last season.

When the proposal was first made in 2012, Vonn said she would back down if FIS didn’t allow her to start in a women’s race in Lake Louise, too, according to The Associated Press.

Then again, Vonn has said she will not retire until she breaks the record, so she could conceivably ski beyond the 2018-19 season. And five wins outside of Lake Louise in 2018-19 is very possible. She earned 22 World Cup wins the last four seasons, an average of five and a half per season, despite numerous injuries. She didn’t win in Lake Louise this past season and still managed five victories despite the knee and back problems.

Vonn’s quest is complicated not only by the FIS proposal and her health but also by rising competition. Italian Sofia Goggia emerged the last two seasons as perhaps the top threat to Vonn since the heyday of her rivalry with German Maria Hoefl-Riesch seven years ago.

Then there’s the expected return of Slovenian Ilka Stuhec, who won six World Cup speed races in 2016-17, plus the 2017 World downhill tile, but missed all of this past season with a torn ACL.

Mikaela Shiffrin‘s maturation in downhill and super-G is not to be discounted, either.

“I’m in a good place, picking up steam, confident and relatively healthy,” Vonn said. “I hope to (break Stenmark’s record) before my knee gives out.”

The World Cup Finals conclude with slaloms and giant slaloms on Saturday and Sunday, headlined by Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin already clinched her second straight World Cup overall title and a fifth slalom season title.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage of the second runs of the women’s slalom on Saturday (8:30 a.m. ET) and giant slalom on Sunday (7:30 a.m. ET).

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MORE: Lindsey Vonn’s Olympic legacy

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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