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Ilka Stuhec, downhill world champ, gets first win since ACL tear

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — It was just about a year ago when Ilka Stuhec gave up on competing at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Coming off a career season that included a downhill world title and the season-long World Cup downhill title, Stuhec rushed back on snow two months after knee surgery.

“I said I really want to ski in 2017, so I went Dec. 31,” Stuhec said. “Because there was still some part of me that believed I could make the Olympics. But I would just go there without confidence, without training, not really trusting the knee. So I let that one go really soon.

“It hurt a lot,” Stuhec added of her New Year’s Eve return to snow.

The Slovenian skier quickly switched her focus to this season. Her patience paid off when she won a World Cup downhill on Tuesday for the first victory of her comeback.

Stuhec finished .14 of a second ahead of Nicol Delago, who grew up alongside the Saslong course in the Italian Dolomites. Ramona Siebenhofer of Austria came third, 0.51 behind. Full results are here.

“It’s really emotional because it’s been a very, very long time since I won,” Stuhec said. “And over the last year a lot of things were very different than I was planning.”

Stuhec missed all of last season tearing her left ACL in an October 2017 preseason training crash in Pitztal, Austria.

She watched the Olympics in February from home — “I was the crazy fan waking up at three in the morning” — and wasn’t quite satisfied with her initial results this season, cracking the top 10 once in her opening four races.

“I had very high goals when I started racing again,” she said. “But that also meant that I put a lot of pressure on myself, which didn’t come out that well, and I thought, ‘OK, this not going to go so well.’ So I just need to focus on the moment, ski the way I know and have fun and not think about how fast it’s going to be.”

While Stuhec wasn’t perfect Tuesday, she was unbeatable on the Saslong course, which is hosting women’s World Cup races for the first time — despite being a classic stop on the men’s circuit for a half-century.

The course was shortened for the women, and many of the technical sections were left out, including the camel bump jumps — prompting some racers to complain that it wasn’t challenging enough.

“I liked it a lot from the first (training) run,” Stuhec said. “In the end it’s still downhill, which is never easy, even if it maybe looks like that sometimes.”

A super-G is scheduled for Wednesday on the Saslong.

The races were originally scheduled for Val d’Isere, France, over the weekend but were moved to Val Gardena because of a lack of snow in the French resort.

Nicole Schmidhofer, the Austrian who won the opening two downhills of the season, finished 10th. She still leads the downhill standings by 68 points ahead of Stuhec.

Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka, fastest in the second training run, finished 29th following a series of errors.

Overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is sitting out the races to rest up for a big block of upcoming technical events — her specialty — beginning Friday and Saturday in Courchevel, France.

Also missing are Lindsey Vonn and Olympic downhill gold medalist Sofia Goggia, who are out injured until at least January.

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MORE: Is Mikaela Shiffrin chasing records? Not exactly

Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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MORE: Olympic marathon moved from Tokyo to another Olympic host city

Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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