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.

Soccer star Carli Lloyd and coach Jill Ellis nominated for FIFA honors

Jill Ellis, Carli Lloyd
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FIFA announced today that Carli Lloyd, the midfielder on the U.S. women’s national soccer team whose hat trick in the World Cup final helped the US win gold, was nominated for the Women’s World Player of the Year award.

The woman who coached the USWNT to a 5-2 World Cup victory over Japan, Jill Ellis, was nominated in the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football category.

Nominated alongside Lloyd are Japan’s Aya Miyama, a member of the silver-medal winning team at the London Olympics, and Germany’s Celia Sasic, a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Both Lloyd and Miyama are expected to represent their countries again at the 2016 Rio Olympics, while Sasic retired after the 2015 World Cup.

Only two American women have been named the FIFA World Player of the Year–Abby Wambach in 2012 (when Lloyd was also a semifinalist) and Mia Hamm in both 2001 and 2002.

Lloyd is already racking up a long list of honors in 2015. In addition to earning the Golden Ball Award at the World Cup, she’s nominated by Sports Illustrated for Sportsman of the Year and will be honored on December 2nd by the March of Dimes as their Sportswoman of the Year.

Ellis has been USWNT head coach since May 2014, but has a long Olympic history with the team. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics she was a scout, and then was assistant coach to Pia Sundhage at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She also served as the interim coach at the end of 2012 after Sundhage left to coach for Sweden, and again when Tom Sermanni was fired in April 2014. She is expected to be the head coach at the 2016 Games.

The other nominees for FIFA World Coach of the Year are England’s Mark Sampson and Japan’s Norio Sasak.

The awards are voted on by team captains, coaches and the media, and will be announced on January 11th. The Ballon d’Or winner will also be announced. The three finalists for the top honor on the men’s side are Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Best photos from USPA National Skydiving Championships

USPA National Skydiving Championships
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More than 500 skydivers competed at the United States Parachute Association (USPA) National Skydiving Championships, the largest annual skydiving competition in the world.

The best jumps from the USPA National Skydiving Championships will air tonight on Universal HD at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Skydiving is not an Olympic sport, but several skydivers have made cameos at the Olympics.

Dozens of free-falling parachutists formed the five Olympic rings in the sky during the Opening Ceremony of the 1988 Games.

Then at the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, stunt doubles playing Queen Elizabeth II and actor Daniel Craig leapt from a helicopter and parachuted into the Olympic Stadium (VIDEO).

Below are images via the USPA, captured by David Cherry and Martin Lemay:

USPA National Skydiving Championships

USPA National Skydiving Championships

USPA National Skydiving Championships

USPA National Skydiving Championships

USPA National Skydiving Championships