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.

Abby Wambach to cover Olympics for ESPN

Abby Wambach
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Retired U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach is joining ESPN as an analyst and a contributor.

Wambach, the leading goal scorer of all time, will cover the European Championships in France and the Rio Olympics in August.

But her role won’t be limited to soccer: She will work across multiple platforms including ESPN Films and shows including “Outside the Lines,” according to the network.

“Talking and reporting on thing that I’m passionate about really, really was the selling point to me,” Wambach told The Associated Press. “Because I don’t want the rest of my life to be based on the fact that I played soccer. I want to be able to venture and learn about different things.”

Wambach also will produce a podcast, “Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach,” which she promises won’t shy away from controversy. Among her first topics will be foreign players on the U.S. national team. Wambach drew criticism when she blasted U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for bringing in “a bunch of these foreign guys” in December.

Oslo-born midfielder Mix Diskerud subsequently posted a message to Wambach on Instagram.

“I know we’re not quite equal. From ‘your group of people’ the country’s Commander in Chief need to be selected. However, other than that — you and I share something not unique, but constitutionally earned, a birthright to defend this nation as an American. Wherever we go. Led by whoever has earned, by democratic process, his/her right to lead, on or off the field, in peace, in war, in practice, or in any other kind of pursuit of your happiness,” he wrote.

Wambach said she’s willing to re-examine those comments.

“Why not? I think people tend to steer away from stuff that has caused controversy in their lives. For me, what better place to start? To be quite honest, it’s been few and far between in my career, the reason being that I’ve been speaking for 23 other women, so I kind of towed the party line during that time.”

Wambach, the FIFA Player of the Year in 2012, scored 184 career goals, more than any other player, male or female. She played 15 years with the U.S. women’s national team.

She capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women and first since 1999.

Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals, from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.

Wambach announced her retirement in October and played her final match in December.

Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances at charity events and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the course of her career, Wambach has been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protest of FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many to be inferior to grass.

She made headlines last month when she was pulled over for driving under the influence in Portland, Ore., where she lives. After posting a public apology on her Facebook page, she pleaded guilty and entered a diversion program for first-time offenders.

MORE: Five Olympic questions with Abby Wambach

Five events to watch at Doha Diamond League season opener

Caster Semenya
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Comebacks are on tap in the first Diamond League meet of the Olympic season in Doha on Friday.

South African Caster Semenya, the 2012 Olympic 800m silver medalist, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014.

American Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist, has been absent from the Diamond League since 2013.

And France’s Teddy Tamgho, the 2013 World triple jump champion, is slated to return to Doha after rupturing an Achilles tendon at the Qatar capital last year.

Those are some of the bigger storylines in a meet that lacks Usain BoltJustin GatlinAllyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

10:45 a.m. — Women’s pole vault
10:45 — Women’s shot put
11:10 — Women’s triple jump
11:30 — Men’s discus
12 p.m. — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:15 — Women’s 100m
12:25 — Men’s 1500m
12:39 — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:50 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s triple jump
12:55 — Women’s javelin
1:09 — Men’s 200m
1:21 — Women’s 800m
1:34 — Men’s 110m hurdles
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 100m — 12:15 p.m. ET

The field is without the Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica but does include the second-through-fourth-place finishers from Worlds.

That’s, in order, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, American Tori Bowie and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Schippers and Bowie earned their first World sprint medals last year, while Campbell-Brown is a seven-time Olympic medalist.

Men’s Triple Jump — 12:50 p.m. ET

The last two World champions face off.

American Christian Taylor won the 2015 World crown with the second-best triple jump in history.

Teddy Tamgho of France, the 2013 World champ, was unable to challenge Taylor at Worlds in Beijing after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Doha last year.

Men’s 200m — 1:09 p.m. ET

A men’s sprint including neither Usain Bolt nor Justin Gatlin is usually not noteworthy. This race is intriguing if only for the presence of Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist set for his first Diamond League race since 2013.

Dix, also the 2011 World 100m and 200m silver medalist, has barely been heard from since failing to make the 2012 Olympic team. He was slowed by a left hamstring injury in 2012 and 2013.

In the 100m, he has broken 10 seconds once in 32 tries since April 21, 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. But last month he clocked his fastest 100m and 200m times since 2013.

In Doha, he will face a field that includes Isiah Young and Ameer Webb, two of the four fastest U.S. men in the 200m since the London Olympics.

Women’s 800m — 1:21 p.m. ET

South African Caster Semenya is back in the spotlight after clocking the then-fastest 400m and 800m times this year within an hour of each other on April 16.

The 400m time was surpassed later that day, but it was still a personal best for Semenya, best known for a gender-testing controversy in 2009 and 2010.

Semenya, who failed to qualify for the 2013 Worlds and failed to make the 2015 World 800m final, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014. She’ll notch her first Diamond League win since 2011 if she can beat a field that includes Kenyan Eunice Sum, the fastest in the world in 2015.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 1:34 p.m. ET

Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt continues his comeback from a Sept. 1 kidney transplant (and a reported second emergency surgery in late October).

Merritt, who earned 2015 World bronze with kidney function at less than 20 percent, is slated to face a Doha field that includes 2013 World champion David Oliver and Jamaican Omar McLeod, who ran the world’s second-fastest time in 2015.

McLeod beat Oliver and Merritt at the Drake Relays on Saturday.

MORE: U.S. sprinters past, present trade relay barbs