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.

White, Kim lead Olympic snowboard team; gold medalist left off

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The 26-member U.S. Olympic snowboard team was named Tuesday, headlined by Shaun WhiteKelly Clark and Chloe Kim.

White, Clark and Kim — as well as Olympic medalists Jamie Anderson and Lindsey Jacobellis — automatically qualified for the team earlier this season.

The biggest news Tuesday was in the omissions. The following snowboarders failed to make the PyeongChang roster:

Hannah Teter — 2006 Olympic halfpipe champion
Seth Wescott — 2006, 2010 Olympic snowboard cross champion
Nate Holland — Seven-time X Games snowboard cross champion
Alex Deibold — 2014 Olympic snowboard cross bronze medalist

Teter, Wescott, Holland and Deibold all competed in Olympic qualifiers, but none ranked among the top four Americans in their events this season.

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster now more than 200 athletes

The full U.S. Olympic snowboard team:

Halfpipe
Kelly Clark — 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Olympian
Arielle Gold — 2014 Olympian
Chloe Kim
Maddie Mastro
Ben Ferguson
Chase Josey
Jake Pates
Shaun White — 2006, 2010, 2014 Olympian

Kim is the gold-medal favorite. White is among the favorites along with Scotty James of Australia and Ayumu Hirano of Japan. The U.S. women could sweep the podium.

Big Air/Slopestyle
Jamie Anderson — 2014
Jessika Jenson — 2014
Hailey Langland
Julia Marino
Chris Corning
Red Gerard
Kyle Mack
Ryan Stassel — 2014

The U.S. women could sweep either the big air or slopestyle podium, too. The U.S. swept the first Olympic slopestyle titles in Sochi with Anderson and the now-retired Sage Kotsenburg. Big air makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

Snowboard Cross
Faye Gulini — 2010, 2014
Lindsey Jacobellis — 2006, 2010, 2014
Rosie Mancari
Meghan Tierney
Nick Baumgartner — 2010, 2014
Jonathan Cheever
Mick Dierdorff
Hagen Kearney

Jacobellis is a five-time world champion and 10-time X Games champion but owns just one Olympic medal, and it’s a silver. She finished second and then won the next two World Cups to start this season to clinch her fourth Olympic berth.

Parallel Giant Slalom
A.J. Muss
Mike Trapp

The U.S. last earned an Alpine snowboarding medal in 2006 and isn’t favored to make the podium in PyeongChang.

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VIDEO: Danny Davis suffers scary crash in Olympic qualifier

Larry Nassar to receive sentence Wednesday

AP
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A judge said a Michigan sports doctor who assaulted Olympic gymnasts and other female athletes will get his sentence Wednesday, the seventh day of an extraordinary court hearing.

More than 150 women and girls have talked in court about being molested by Larry Nassar or had their statements read by others. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hear a few more Wednesday before sentencing Nassar in Lansing, Michigan.

He faces a minimum prison term of 25 to 40 years for assaulting victims with his hands. Nassar worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains the best gymnasts.

An 18-year-old, Emily Morales, said she believes in forgiveness. She looked at Nassar and asked him to apologize. He did. She replied with, “Thank you.”

Also Tuesday, 2010 World Championships silver medalist Mattie Larson described being sexually assaulted by Nassar and gave an unflattering portrayal of the Karolyi training ranch in Texas.

Larson said the ranch was very isolated (full video here).

She called it the “perfect environment” for Nassar and abusive coaches “to thrive.” USA Gymnastics last week said the ranch would no longer serve as the national training center.