Lindsey Vonn to retire after world championships

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Lindsey Vonn transcended her sport in a way only a handful of Olympic athletes could even imagine. She was about more than skiing. She was about more than medals. She was about more than winning.

She was often in the spotlight, appearing in the pages of mainstream and sports magazines, walking the red carpets, mingling with A-list celebrities and dating high-profile sports figures.

The record-setting racer who grew up in Minnesota, then relocated to Colorado, became a household name in mountain towns and big cities — to people who knew a lot about racing and those who only tuned in every four years.

But now, conceding her body is “broken beyond repair,” Vonn is nearing the finish line for the final time. The woman who won more World Cup races than any other female is calling it quits at 34. On Friday, she said she’ll retire after the world championships this month.

“She’s accomplished so many things and has overcome so much adversity in her life, with her injuries, and comebacks, and setbacks and comebacks,” U.S. Ski and Snowboard CEO Tiger Shaw said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Very few people can focus and train as hard as she does. We’re all in awe of what she’s accomplished in her career.”

Vonn’s original plan was to step away in December, after one final charge down the course in Lake Louise, Alberta — a course she won on so often it’s now named in her honor.

She was forced to move up her retirement due to persistent pain in both knees, which she fully realized after failing to finish a race in Cortina d’Ampezzo , Italy, last month.

Now, she’s down to two races: The women’s super-G on Tuesday in the Swedish resort of Are, and the downhill scheduled for Feb. 10.

The Worlds open with the women’s super-G on Tuesday (6:25 a.m. ET). It can be watched live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

The women’s downhill is scheduled for Feb. 10 at 6:25 a.m. It can be watched live on Olympic Channel (Home of Team USA) and NBC Sports Gold and will be shown at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and at 10:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

That’s it. That’s all her knees have left.

“My body is broken beyond repair and it isn’t letting me have the final season I dreamed of,” Vonn wrote on Instagram . “My body is screaming at me to STOP and it’s time for me to listen.

“It’s been an emotional 2 weeks making the hardest decision of my life,” she wrote, “but I have accepted that I cannot continue ski racing.”

Vonn’s impressive resume: three Olympic medals, including downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Four overall World Cup titles. And 82 World Cup wins, leaving her four behind the all-time mark held by Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden.

Her off-the-slopes portfolio includes: Appearing in the pages of everything from Vogue to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, earning sponsorship deals with companies such as Red Bull, meeting actors like Dwayne Johnson and even being an extra on one of her favorite shows, “Law & Order.” The spotlight only increased when she dated golfer Tiger Woods. She’s now seeing Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban .

She’s big on social media, with 1.6 million Instagram followers.

A recent post from Vonn was cryptic in nature and yet all-too-insightful as she quoted the French philosopher Voltaire: “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

Translation: She simply had no more cards to play. Her aching knees and beat-up body finally applied the brakes to her hard-charging ways.

Vonn’s right knee is permanently damaged from previous crashes. She has torn ACLs, suffered fractures near her left knee, broke her ankle, sliced her right thumb and had several concussions — to name a few. She’s limited to about three runs per day, and her body just can’t handle the workload of other skiers.

“Honestly, retiring isn’t what upsets me. Retiring without reaching my goal is what will stay with me forever,” Vonn said. “However, I can look back at 82 World Cup wins, 20 World Cup titles, 3 Olympic medals, 7 World Championship medals and say that I have accomplished something that no other woman in HISTORY has ever done, and that is something that I will be proud of FOREVER!”

Her first World Cup start was Nov. 18, 2000, in a slalom race in Park City, Utah, and she didn’t qualify for the second run. She was Lindsey Kildow then, before changing her name to Vonn after marrying her now ex-husband and ex-coach, Thomas.

Her first World Cup win came four years later, in a downhill event at Lake Louise.

Retiring in Sweden brings Vonn full circle. She won her first two major championship medals — two silvers — at the 2007 worlds in Are.

As for how she will be remembered , that’s simple for U.S. coach Paul Kristofic: Her comebacks.

“That never-give-up attitude is something that everyone can take away from,” Kristofic said. “She has created that character and lived it. Those are life lessons that everybody can take. Give it your all and never give up. That’s a very strong legacy.”

 

Bryan brothers to retire at 2020 U.S. Open, don’t plan on Olympics

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Bob and Mike Bryan said they will retire after the 2020 U.S. Open, ending a tennis career that’s included a men’s record 16 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

They also don’t plan to play at the Tokyo Olympics, their manager later said in an email.

The twins are 41 years old, having spent more than half their lives as professionals.

“A part of us, feels like, is dying,” Bob Bryan said on Tennis Channel. “But we’re really clear about this decision. It’s going to be great to have a finish line.”

Mike said that in 2020 they will play all the events they “really love,” including all four Grand Slams and American tournaments. The Olympics weren’t mentioned.

Rather, they will see how they’re feeling midway through the year, they said on the Tennis.com podcast.

The Bryans earned doubles gold at the 2012 London Games but withdrew from the Rio Olympics six days before the Opening Ceremony. They cited making their family’s health a “top priority” and later said Zika virus concerns were “a very small part of” the decision.

The Bryans own 118 titles overall but nearly ended their partnership after Bob underwent hip surgery a year ago. He rejoined Mike this season, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals and winning two ATP doubles titles.

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A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

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