‘Heartwarming’ responses easing Vonn’s impending retirement

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ARE, Sweden (AP) — The red marks around her puffed-up right eye made Lindsey Vonn look like a roughed-up boxer. And that was nothing next to the purple-colored bruises and scrapes on U.S. teammate Laurenne Ross’ backside.

All from one day’s work as a downhill skier.

“Downhill is not a healthy sport, people crash all the time, every day,” Vonn said. “If you want to be healthy, you should probably do another sport.”

Vonn and Ross showed off the impacts of their crashes on social media Wednesday, a day after ending up in the safety nets from their falls in the super-G at the world championships.

The 34-year-old Vonn has made a career out of bouncing back from frightful crashes.

Now she’s down to her final race — and final fight.

Her knees battered beyond repair, Vonn plans to retire after Sunday’s downhill race at worlds.

“I just can’t push the limits anymore,” Vonn said. “I’ve come back from way too many injuries and I’m just not able to do it. That’s life. .. Not everyone can be Tom Brady and keep winning the Super Bowl for a million times.”

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

Like Brady, Vonn has a trophy collection that most athletes could only dream about: Her 82 World Cup wins are by far the most ever by a female racer, leaving her five short of breaking the overall record held by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. She has also won three Olympic medals, including gold in downhill, seven medals at worlds, four overall World Cup globes and 16 discipline titles.

“If you look at all the injuries I’ve had, winning in five events, it’s really something amazing,” Vonn said. “I’m proud of it no matter if I got 82 or 87. I wish I could have gotten (87) but not at the risk of the rest of my life.”

While Vonn sat out downhill training Wednesday to recuperate from her latest crash — after which she said she felt like she had been “hit by an 18-wheeler” — she enjoyed a leisurely brunch of pancakes with her teammates.

It was just the kind of day Vonn was thinking about when she announced last week that she would retire after the championships — having considered calling it quits after failing to finish a super-G in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, last month.

“I didn’t want to end in Cortina. I wanted to say goodbye to everybody,” Vonn said. “It’s been nice to get messages from my fellow competitors, the coaches and all my friends who’ve supported me for so many years. It’s been really, really heartwarming for me and makes the process of retiring a little bit easier maybe because of all the responses I’ve gotten.”

Vonn, whose career has transcended her sport in a way only a handful of Olympic athletes could even imagine , has been receiving well wishes from all corners since her retirement announcement. One in particular that stood out came from tennis great Billie Jean King .

“You are a true champion who never quit,” King tweeted. To which Vonn replied, “Thank you Billie. … Just trying to follow in your footsteps!”

Vonn is also planning on exchanging messages with Stenmark — and she is wearing a suit this week featuring the blue and yellow colors of Sweden’s flag in honor of the skiing great.

“I’m hoping Ingemar will come up for Sunday,” she said. “Having my last race with him being there would be the best farewell I could possibly have.”

When it’s all over, the thing Vonn will miss most about ski racing is the thrill of hurtling her body downhill at speeds in excess of 120 kph (75 mph).

“You can’t really find the adrenalin and the speed and the risk involved in ski racing in anything else,” she said. “I kind of got that feeling when I was driving a Formula One car but it still wasn’t the same. Your body isn’t physically in harm’s way.

“I need to go fast. I don’t know how I’m going to fill that void,” Vonn added. “Because I can’t ski that fast if you go on the public trail. It is depressing. Life without skiing fast is not a happy thought.”

April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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