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.

Katie Ledecky wins by 19 seconds, breaks world swimming titles record

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Katie Ledecky convincingly broke the female record for swimming world titles.

But Lilly King tasted even sweeter victory, breaking a world record and dominating rival Yulia Efimova at the world championships in Budapest on Tuesday. Video of that showdown is here.

Ledecky clocked 15:31.82 to win the 1500m freestyle by a whopping 19 seconds at the Danube Arena, her 12th career world gold. Spain’s Mireia Belmonte took silver, followed by Italian Simona Quadarella. Ledecky owns the world record of 15:25.48 and the seven fastest times in history.

Ledecky, a 20-year-old rising Stanford sophomore, broke her tie with Missy Franklin for the most career world titles by a woman. The overall record is held by Michael Phelps, who won 26.

Fifty minutes after her 1500m free, Ledecky won her 200m free semifinal to make Wednesday’s final.

“It’s hard 364 of the other days of the year,” Ledecky said. “It’s putting in the work in practice, so that when I get to this day of the meet, I can just do it. It’s routine. I can just get up and know that I have the work in the bank to get up and swim those times.”

Ledecky has three gold medals so far this week, en route to a possible six, which would tie Franklin’s female record for golds at a single worlds.

In other events Tuesday, Lilly King handed Russian rival Yulia Efimova another beating in the 100m breast. This time, the finger-wagging King broke the world record.

Kylie Masse became the first Canadian woman to win a world swimming title after the nation previously took 18 combined silver and bronze medals. Masse broke the longest-standing women’s world record in swimming, the 100m backstroke, which had stood since 2009, with a time of 58.10.

American Kathleen Baker took silver in 58.58, followed by defending world champion Emily Seebohm of Australia.

China’s Sun Yang bagged his ninth career world title with his first crown in the 200m freestyle in 1:44.39. American Townley Haas took silver, .65 behind, followed by Russian Aleksandr Krasnykh.

In Rio, Sun became the first swimmer to win Olympic titles in the 200m, 400m and 1500m frees. Now, he’s the first man to complete the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free set at worlds. Ledecky recorded that feat at a single worlds in 2015.

Canadian Xu Jiayu followed his Olympic silver medal with a gold in the 100m backstroke, edging 2012 Olympic champion Matt Grevers by .04. Rio gold medalist Ryan Murphy earned bronze.

Great Britain’s Adam Peaty broke his 50m breaststroke world record twice on Tuesday, in the preliminary heats and the semifinals. Peaty lowered the mark from 26.42 to 25.95 in the non-Olympic event.

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Lilly King beats Yulia Efimova again, breaks world record (video)

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Lilly King stared toward Yulia Efimova before the race. She glanced at her afterward.

In between, King handed her Russian rival another beating, this time in world-record fashion at the world championships in Budapest on Tuesday.

King won the 100m breaststroke in 1:04.13 to back up her finger-wagging Olympic 100m breast title with her first world title.

Countrywoman Katie Meili earned silver in 1:05.03, followed by Efimova getting bronze in 1:05.05.

“The rivalry is definitely there. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon,” King said, according to The Associated Press. “Obviously, it’s very awkward between the two of us. We’re competitors. We don’t really like each other too much.”

King smashed the previous record of 1:04.35 held by Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, but she didn’t exactly feel confident Tuesday afternoon.

“I was actually, like really freaking out when I got to the pool,” King told media in Budapest. “I was like very nervous. Then I got in for warm-up, and I felt a lot better. I was feeling very confident going into the race.”

Once on the pool deck, King looked very much the trash-talking Indiana Hoosier who in Rio said Efimova shouldn’t be allowed to compete for previously failing two drug tests.

After introductions Tuesday, King stood staring at the lane next to her, where Efimova happened to be. Efimova did not appear to reciprocate.

“It’s always going to be a showdown,” King said, noting how impressed she was by Efimova’s semifinal swim Monday, when the Russian missed the world record by .01 and finger-wagged after.

King smirked, got up on her block and swam the fastest first 50 meters by a half-second over Efimova.

As Efimova faded in the last 25 meters, King surged to the wall. She turned around, saw the scoreboard and slammed her right arm into the pool.

Then she looked ever so briefly toward Efimova’s lane, turned back and raised both of her arms in the air.

Efimova said afterward that last year’s loss hurt more, according to the AP.

“There’s still pressure from the media, but it’s more fun,” Efimova reportedly said. “The Olympic Games were the worst.”

King and Efimova are slated to go head to head again in finals of the 200m breaststroke (Friday) and 50m breaststroke (Sunday). They are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in both events this year.

Women’s 100m Breaststroke Results
Gold: Lilly King (USA) — 1:04.13

Silver: Katie Meili (USA) — 1:05:03
Bronze: Yulia Efimova (RUS) — 1:05.05
4. Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) — 1:05.65
5. Shi Jinglin (CHN) — 1:06.43
6. Kierra Smith (CAN) — 1:06.90
7. Jessica Vall (ESP) — 1:06.95
8. Sarah Vasey (GBR) — 1:07.19

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