Vonn takes her final bow with world championship downhill bronze

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High winds caused organizers to shorten the women’s downhill course at the world championships in Are, Sweden, the site of the final race in the historic career of the U.S.’ Lindsey Vonn.

The short course was thought to be a plus for Vonn’s curtain call. In Are, Vonn has been know to run into trouble in the upper section of the downhill.

Skiing third, Vonn stood in the gate, her right leg twitching with adrenaline. Leading up to her final race, Vonn had stated she would come out with “guns blazing,” and she did.

Vonn picked up time on the leader throughout her run, starting off .023 seconds back at the first split, but by the time she crossed the finish line Vonn had taken the lead by .033 seconds.

“I laid it all on the line and that’s all I wanted to do today. I have to admit I was a bit nervous,” Vonn said after the race. “Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I wanted to finish strong so badly and I had a really hard time controlling my nerves and I never have a hard time with that.

“I’m just happy I made it to the finish and I came down in the lead, which is nice for my last race and I’m also safe. I made it down safely. My boyfriend and my family are happy.”

NBC Sports’ Steve Porino said he had spoken to Vonn’s father Alan Kildow in Are before the start of the race. Kildow told Porino he had never been nervous before a race, but knowing how his daughter would attack the course, his only hope was for her to get to the bottom in one piece.

“She has been business as usual this whole week, saying I’m racing to win,” said Karin Kildow, Vonn’s sister, according to the Associated Press. “I was like, ‘Just maybe make it down and maybe stand up.’ But she was like, ‘No, I’m going full out’. She was definitely in the mindset to push it and she really did.”

Waiting for Vonn at the finish was the man who has won more Alpine skiing races than anyone in history, Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn pleaded with Stenmark via text to come to her final race.

“Ingemar being in the finish area was literally the best thing that ever happened in my life,” Vonn told NBC Sports.

Stenmark greeted Vonn with a giant bouquet of flowers.

10 February 2019, Sweden, Are: Alpine skiing, world championship, downhill, ladies: Lindsey Vonn from the USA poses after the race with the former Swedish ski racer Ingemar Stenmark. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Fittingly, Vonn was able to sit in the leader’s chair on her final day of racing. Vonn held the top spot through five skiers, then Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, the reigning downhill world champion, dropped in for her run, crossing the finish line .49 hundredths of a second faster than Vonn.

Vonn clung to second place for ten more skiers, then Switzerland’s Corinne Suter posted the second fastest time of the day, bumping Vonn to third, where she would stay to win the bronze.

Full results are here.

“It really helped me to start lower down,” Vonn said according to the Associated Press. “The upper section was a bit bumpy and with my knee it’s really hard on the body. I knew I had a good chance and thankfully right before I went, exact opposite of the super-G, the sun came out. I was like, this is it. This is my day. I just charged. I gave it everything I have like always. I put the nerves aside and just enjoyed it. I love going fast. It was a perfect day for downhill.”

Back on February 1, Vonn announced on Instagram that the super-G and downhill in Are will be the last races of her career.

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

The fact that Vonn’s final race comes in Are conjures up some bittersweet memories. In 2007, Vonn won her first world championship medals there — silver in both the super-G and downhill. The flip side is after winning those medals, Vonn suffered her first major injury, a season-ending ACL sprain caused by a crash in slalom training.

Vonn will end her career with 82 World Cup wins, the most ever by a woman, 2 world championship wins and three Olympic medals – including downhill gold in 2010.

10 February 2019, Sweden, Are: Alpine skiing, world championship, downhill, ladies: Lindsey Vonn from the USA poses after the race with the medals of her career. Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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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