Andreas Reichart/GEPA via USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl of ski jumping

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BISCHOFSHOFEN, AUSTRIA – With the Super Bowl less than a month away, it’s nearly that time of year when the nation shifts its focus to the NFL’s championship game on that unofficial holiday. Few sporting events can compare, of course, so when I was told I would be attending the “Super Bowl of ski jumping” – the Four Hills tournament – I was a bit skeptical of this bold proclamation.

But, as someone who has now attended both sporting events, I can attest that it’s not far off.

Since 1952, the world’s best ski jumpers have competed in the Four Hills, officially the Vierschanzentournee, descending upon four cities in Germany and Austria every year for this eight-day competition in hopes of being crowned champion of this prestigious event. I hadn’t been in Germany for more than a few hours when I began seeing evidence of the Four Hills’ popularity. Posters in the Munich airport, billboards along the streets, pictures in the newspapers and on TV – this is a big deal, especially for the two host countries whose rivalry is filled with centuries of history.

Always donning their countries’ colors, the crowds came in astonishing numbers – over 100,000 throughout the competition – packing into these small venues for a chance to see their nation’s finest take off at over 55 miles per hour, traveling nearly the length of a football field-and-a-half. The skiing-mad Austrians would go wild when one of their athletes soared through the air. Waving Austrian flags created a sea of red and white in the Innsbruck and Bischofshofen stadiums and everyone shouted “ZZZ,” which I was told is supposed to be the sound a ski jumper’s flight makes.

Luckily for the Austrians, they have the best ski jumper in the world in Gregor Schlierenzauer, a 23-year-old phenom who’s already considered among the sport’s all-time greats. With a nearly flawless performance throughout the tournament, “Schlieri” clinched his second straight Four Hills title, sending the fans and local press into a frenzy. After his final jump in Bischofshofen, the young Austrian star basked in the moment at the bottom of the hill, pumping his skis toward the sky. When he finally lifted the Four Hills trophy above his head, the crowd erupted one final time, as fireworks lit up the night sky.

The Super Bowl metaphor certainly has its holes, but the Four Hills Tournament lived up to its billing.

Adam Rippon has quads, Boston, special T-shirt in sight

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NEW YORK — Adam Rippon hopes to bring more quadruple jumps and a special T-shirt to the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston next month.

Rippon, who won his first U.S. title two weeks ago, pulled out of the Four Continents Championships in two weeks, a Worlds tune-up event, in part to bolster the option in training of making major changes to his programs.

He will possibly add a quadruple toe loop and a quadruple Salchow to his quadruple Lutz, the hardest four-revolution jump being attempted.

“I’d be adding one [quad] to the short [program] and, ideally, I would love to add another one or two to the free skate,” Rippon said at the Winter Carnival at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park in Manhattan on Friday night. “I have eight weeks, so I’ll see what I can get done.”

In his two Grand Prix series starts and the U.S. Championships this season, Rippon attempted a combined four quadruple jumps over six programs, all Lutzes, and fell each time. Three times, judges downgraded the jump. Once, at Nationals, it was under-rotated.

Rippon captured his first Nationals crown in his eighth attempt on the strength of his spins, footwork and overall performance.

But, as is the case in skating these days, focus centered on the jumps. Rippon attempted one quad over two programs at Nationals, a free skate quad Lutz, while second-place Max Aaron landed three quads overall and third-place Nathan Chen put down six.

Afterward, an emotional Rippon told NBC’s Andrea Joyce, “I’m like a witch, and you can’t kill me.”

His costume designer gave Rippon a T-shirt with the phrase printed on the front, and the skater plans to bring it to Worlds in Boston next month.

Rippon, the only man to win two World Junior titles (in 2008 and 2009), finished sixth, 13th and eighth in his three previous senior Worlds appearances.

“My goal is to skate my best, and I feel that if I skate my best, a good result will follow,” Rippon said. “I can’t control the results.”

Rippon, along with Aaron and U.S. fourth-place finisher Grant Hochstein, will hope to skate well enough to keep three spots for the U.S. men at the 2017 World Championships.

To do that, the placements of the top two Americans must add up to no more than 13 (such as Jason Brown‘s fourth and Rippon’s eighth last year).

The 2014 U.S. champion Brown and 16-year-old phenom Chen are out with injuries, putting onus on Rippon to lead the way.

“I’m confident that I can pull my own weight and do my own share,” he said.

In Boston, Rippon will return to the scene of the worst U.S. Championships performance of his career — in 2014, when Rippon entered with a shot of making the two-man Sochi Olympic team, finished eighth and considered quitting at age 24.

He recently spoke with two champion U.S. skaters about competing at Worlds on home ice — Evan Lysacek, gold medalist in Los Angeles in 2009, and Michelle Kwan, gold medalist in Minneapolis in 1998 and Washington, D.C., in 2003.

“I’m ready to go back to the TD Garden and rip it up,” Rippon said.

MORE: Nathan Chen to miss Worlds after exhibition injury

STOP EVERYTHING WE ALL NEED THIS ❤️🕸🔮

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Lindsey Vonn wins No. 76 in biggest rout of comeback

Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn gapped the field like never before during her comeback, and never before away from her favorite course in Canada, running away with a World Cup downhill by 1.51 seconds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday.

Vonn notched her 76th World Cup victory, moving 10 behind the record held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

“Every win for me is more special than the last,” Vonn said.

She’s won by larger margins three times in her World Cup career — by 1.95, 1.73 and 1.68 seconds, all at her favorite downhill course in Lake Louise, Alberta, and all before her February 2013 World Championships crash and two major right knee surgeries that kept her from defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

Swiss Fabienne Suter was second Saturday, followed by German Viktoria Rebensburg. Full results are here.

Swiss Lara Gut placed 14th, which meant Vonn increased her lead from 45 points to 127 points in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize in the sport this season with no World Championships or Olympics.

That race will likely not be decided until the World Cup Finals in a little more than one month.

Vonn won her ninth World Cup race this season, matching her total from 2008-09, the campaign that set her up to be the Alpine skiing star of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic season. Her best total was 12 from the 2011-12 season.

Vonn has won 11 of her last 12 World Cup starts in speed races (downhill and super-G) and can clinch her eighth World Cup downhill season title in the next downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next Saturday.

That would break her tie with Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll for most titles in one discipline by a female skier. It would match the record for all skiers with Stenmark, who took eight giant slalom and eight slalom titles.

But first Vonn will try to inch closer to Stenmark’s wins record in a Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G on Sunday (4:45 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: U.S. Olympian podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course