Hanni Wenzel
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Liechtenstein: The little country that could win medals

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Liechtenstein has a population of a little less than 40,000. That’s less than the population of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Fond du Lac isn’t without its share of successful athletes, including 2007 U.S. high jump champion Jim Dilling and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But it would be hard-pressed to match Liechtenstein’s Olympic medal tally: two gold, two silver and six bronze.

The breakthrough was in the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, when Willi Frommelt took bronze in men’s slalom and Hanni Wenzel took bronze in women’s slalom.

Four years later, Wenzel was the most dominant Alpine skier of Lake Placid’s Olympics. She took gold in the slalom and giant slalom, and she showed her versatility with a silver medal in the downhill. Her brother, Andi Wenzel, earned a silver medal in giant slalom. With four total medals, Liechtenstein tied mighty Austria atop the 1980 medal count in Alpine skiing.

Hanni Wenzel’s Olympic success wasn’t a surprise. She won her first World Cup season title in giant slalom in 1974 and was the overall champion in 1978 and 1980. Andi Wenzel also won the overall championship on the men’s side in 1980.

Andi came back in 1984 in Sarajevo to pick up another giant slalom medal, this time a bronze. Ursula Konzett, the country’s flag bearer in 1976, added a bronze in women’s slalom, a bit of a surprise given her lack of World Cup success.

The last medal of this stretch went to Paul Frommelt, Willi’s brother, who finally broke through at age 30 with a bronze in slalom in 1988. The Frommelts’ father, Christof Frommelt, represented Liechtenstein in cross-country skiing at the 1948 Games. Another Frommelt sibling, Peter Frommelt, was a Paralympian in table tennis.

With the retirements of the Wenzel and Frommelt siblings, who accounted for all but one of the country’s medals to this point, Liechtenstein hit a dry patch for a while.

But the drought ended in 2018, when Tina Weirather took bronze in super-G to cap a career marred by injuries that kept her out of the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Weirather had recovered to win the World Cup super-G season titles in 2017 and 2018, accomplishing nearly everything she put on a list of goals she jotted down while she was injured at age 17.

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When I wrote this, I was 17 years old. I was at home with 2 injured knees – my best World Cup result to date was an 8th place. I was working with a sport psychologist, to get over the fact that I just hurt both my knees. I remember I was a little ashamed of this list… I took care no one saw it, I didn’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. Naive. Unrealistic. I forgot about the book – until I found it again, this fall, cleaning out my office. I had tears in my eyes, cause it seemed like a very far away, but unimaginably beautiful and strong dream back then, and now I can look back and think ‚I did it‘. I’m grateful I found this, cause in the process I didn’t feel like achieving everything I wanted – When I won silver, I wanted gold. When I had 2 crystal globes, I wanted a third. That drive makes athletes successful. Yet in the end, if you write down your wildest dreams when you were 17, and they became true – enjoy it, and don’t have any regrets. #retirement #nextlife #thankyou

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Weirather’s medal brought the Wenzel family total to seven — two for her uncle Andi and four for her mother, Hanni.

Liechtenstein also has one Paralympic medal Josef Gmeiner‘s bronze in the B1-2 slalom in 1994.

With Weirather’s retirement this year, Liechtenstein’s presence in Alpine skiing has dimmed. Marco Pfiffner earned World Cup points for the first time this season with a 29th-place finish in a combined event. Weirather is the only woman from Liechtenstein to earn World Cup points since Marina Nigg did so in the 2011-12 season.

Ten medals, though, may provide some inspiration for skiers on the slopes of the Maldun ski resort.

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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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