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Heather Bergsma takes break from speed skating

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Heather Bergsma, the top U.S. speed skater over the last two Olympic cycles, is taking at least a two-year break from the sport.

“I do hope to start a family here soon with my husband, so we’ll see what happens,” Bergsma said Tuesday in her native North Carolina on a CBS affiliate, adding later, “I’ll see if I have that drive again.”

Bergsma, 29, was part of the U.S. women’s team pursuit squad that took bronze in PyeongChang, the first medals in U.S. women’s speed skating since the 2002 Olympics.

This trio of Bergsma, Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello reportedly practiced together for the first time just four or five days earlier. Bergsma had not raced a team pursuit in four years. The U.S. women didn’t outright qualify a team pursuit spot for the Games but got in when Russia was excluded as part of its doping punishments.

“When we crossed the finish line and saw that we got third, it was like a sigh of relief,” Bergsma said Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s a really good reminder that it takes a team to get where you’re going.”

It was a bit of redemption for Bergsma, a world champion and world-record holder who finished eighth, eighth and 11th in her first three individual events in PyeongChang.

Similarly, the converted inline skater went into Sochi projected to earn multiple medals by The Associated Press and Sports Illustrated and ended up with a best finish of sixth. The entire U.S. speed skating team underperformed, earning zero medals for the first time since 1984.

Bergsma’s main memory from Sochi came after that sixth-place finish in the 1000m, when she went through the media mixed zone in a daze and then broke down, alone, in an empty hallway at the Adler Arena.

Bergsma rebounded with world titles in 2015 and 2017. She broke the 1000m and 1500m world records on consecutive Saturdays in November 2015 (still holds the 1500m record).

She also married the Sochi Olympic 10,000m champion, Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands, in May 2015 and moved overseas.

“I definitely want to learn fluent Dutch,” Bergsma said Tuesday, according to the High Point Enterprise. “That’ll be the first thing when I get back. Then, I want to see career opportunities. Maybe I want to go into coaching – but definitely just younger kids. Nothing too serious. And then we’ll see where it goes.”

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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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