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)

USOPC proposes more athletes on board as part of overhaul

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DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is proposing an increase in athlete representation on its board and a recasting of its mission statement to include the job of promoting athletes’ well-being.

These changes are part of a proposal, released Monday, to rewrite the USOPC bylaws.

The rewrite comes 20 days after federal lawmakers — looking for a shake-up in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that has tainted the U.S. Olympic movement — proposed their own drastic overhaul of the law governing the USOPC.

The USOPC portrayed its proposals as merely a first step, and, indeed, the measures lack many of Congress’ more aggressive proposals.

But they would heed athletes’ calls for more representation, by increasing their makeup on the board from 20% to 33%.

They would also change the mission statement to read: “empower Team USA athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence and well-being,” where previously the well-being part was not mentioned.

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Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
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Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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