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Allyson Felix finds maternity protection with new apparel sponsor

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Allyson Felix sought an apparel deal that offered maternity protection. History’s most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete found one with a company that has never before sponsored an athlete.

Felix agreed to a multiyear contract with Athleta, a Gap brand women’s apparel company.

Felix wore Athleta apparel at the USATF Outdoor Championships last week, where she competed unsponsored and placed sixth in the 400m. She qualified for this fall’s world championships in the 4x400m relay, but will decide later this summer whether to compete at a ninth straight worlds. Her priority is preparing for the Olympics.

Nationals marked her first meet in more than one year and since Nov. 28 chlidbirth by emergency C-section.

The Athleta deal does not include footwear. Felix said she is working on her next shoe sponsorship after seven years with Nike preceded by seven with Adidas.

Athleta reached out to Felix in the spring, when she penned an op-ed voicing concern for female athletes who decide to start a family. Felix revealed in May that her seven-year sponsorship with Nike ended in December 2017 and was not extended, at least in part over pay protection for pregnancy.

The Athleta contract and compensation is consistent whether Felix is or is not competing, including “full protection during maternity,” according to the company. Felix, 33, plans to compete beyond one year, but the Tokyo Olympics would be her fifth and final Games.

Athleta said it will work with Felix on initiatives to empower women and girls through sports.

“Allyson joins Athleta as an athlete, mother and activist, in support of a female athlete’s holistic life,” the company said.

At nationals last week, Felix said she wants to end her career on her own terms. Her previous Olympic cycle did not go as planned. She partially tore two ligaments in her right ankle in late April 2016 and missed her goal of qualifying for Rio in both the 200m and 400m, coming up .01 short in the 200m at trials.

Felix did go to Rio in the 400m and took silver behind Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who dived across the finish line and prevailed by .07.

“I felt like in 2016, with the injury right before trials, that just kind of like took over for me,” she said this week. “It wasn’t how I pictured things. I just want to be able to work hard as I can, be at the best level that I could physically, give my all, have no regrets. To me that’s what it is about my terms and just to be happy with that.”

And those terms would include a seventh Olympic title.

“With the journey I’ve been on and the things with the past year, it might be hard for other people to buy in, but, for me, I feel like I’m going after a gold medal just like any other major championship. I’m not changing that,” she said.

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Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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