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Lee Sang-Hwa, fastest female speed skater in history, retires

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Lee Sang-Hwa, a two-time Olympic 500m champion and the fastest woman ever in that sprint, has retired, according to South Korean media.

Lee, 30, had not competed on the World Cup since taking silver at the PyeongChang Olympics, where she was one of the host nation’s most high-profile athletes.

In fact, a pre-Games survey of 1,000 people by the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism ranked Lee as the most anticipated South Korean athlete of the Olympics.

The self-described “Lego maniac” debuted at the Olympics in 2006 at age 16, then took 500m gold in 2010 and 2014. She also lowered the world record four times in 2013, bringing it to 36.36 seconds.

A right knee injury and the rise of Japan’s Nao Kodaira made Lee an underdog in PyeongChang. Indeed, Kodaira won in an Olympic and sea-level record 36.94 seconds, holding off Lee by .39.

“Actually, I felt pressure a bit to defend my title again,” Lee said after the race, according to Yonhap News Agency. “In the past, I was worried about falling from the top. But this time, she is the top dog, not me.

“Due to the knee injury, I had lost my sense of speed. It took a year and half to regain it. Finally, it’s over.”

A memorable moment occurred after when Kodaira put her arm around a tearful Lee, both skaters carrying the flags of their historically rival nations together in a show of unity.

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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