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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.

MLB Players Association head says ‘continuing dialogue’ about 2020 Olympics

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SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The head of the Major League Baseball Players Association says it will be difficult for big leaguers to participate at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Baseball returns to Olympics after a 12-year absence for the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled for July 24-Aug. 9 — in the middle of baseball’s season.

“There are challenges with the schedule, and there are challenges with major leaguers being involved,” Tony Clark said Thursday at the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training camp.

In 2008, players on major league 25-man rosters and disabled lists on June 26 were ineligible to play. The U.S. roster included 17 players from Triple-A, seven from Double-A and college pitcher Stephen Strasburg, now with the Washington Nationals.

“It doesn’t mean that we are not continuing to have dialogue. We have going back. We will going forward. Where we land, I don’t know,” Clark said. “One of the things we were able to discuss during this round of bargaining were some additional flexibility in the schedule moving forward. Maybe there are some opportunities for a broader discussion than there have been a year ago. We’ll have to wait and see. We haven’t had that kind of substantive sit down yet.”

Many players are preparing for the fourth edition of World Baseball Classic, an international tournament launched in 2006 that is co-owned by Major League Baseball and the union. Clark hopes to see a fifth edition in 2021.

“I see no reason at this point why it wouldn’t,” he said. “I’m hopeful it continues, understanding that the world we live in four years from now may be different from the one we’re in now.”

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Lance Armstrong’s $100 million trial set for November

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 20:  Lance Armstrong (C) heads out with cyclists on December 20, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The disgraced Tour de France rider is in New Zealand to film a commercial, and put out a call on social media for local riders to join him on a ride along the Auckland Waterfront.  (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong‘s $100 million legal fight with the federal government has been set for a November trial.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper on Thursday set a Nov. 6 trial start in Washington. Armstrong’s legal team had asked to postpone trial until 2018 because of a potential scheduling conflict.

The government wants Armstrong to pay back the $32 million the U.S. Postal Service paid his team for sponsorship, plus triple damages.

Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis initially filed the whistle-blower case in 2010, accusing him of violating the sponsorship contract by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The government joined the case in 2013 after Armstrong admitted cheating and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for cheating, could collect up to 25 percent of damages awarded.

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