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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.

Michael Phelps reacts to Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Fallon’s impersonation (video)

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Michael Phelps made a few interesting bits of headlines in about a 12-hour span.

*At MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday night, Phelps revealed he was listening to rapper Future when making his famous #PhelpsFace at the Rio Olympics.

*Also at the VMAs, Phelps was seen making an oh-my-god reaction to Jimmy Fallon‘ dressed as Ryan Lochte.

Phelps expanded on Lochte’s gas-station incident on TODAY on Monday morning.

“It’s always hard to see a friend and a competitor go through a hard time like this,” said Phelps, who compared it to his well publicized past issues. “I know what it feels like, and I’ve been through it before. Hopefully, he can come out of this a better person. I’ve reached out to him a couple of times. I think he understands a lot. He will be able to grow from this.”

*Finally on TODAY, Phelps unveiled his newest Wheaties box commemorating his lifetime achievements — records of 28 Olympic medals and 23 gold medals.

Phelps said he swam 2,000 yards in the pool the day after he got home from Rio. It’s not because Phelps is preparing a comeback — he’s definitely retired — rather Phelps doesn’t want to gain 30 or 40 pounds like he did after his first retirement in 2012.

VIDEO: Phelps co-hosts ‘America’s Got Talent’

‘Final Five’ meets Beyoncé at VMAs (video)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Four of the Final Five gymnastics greats from the Rio Olympics wished ailing teammate Gabby Douglas well and got hugs from best female video winner Beyoncé on Sunday night at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Simone Biles, in a girly red mini dress, had an attack of the giggles as she shared the stage with Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian.

“The fifth member of our team, Gabby Douglas, is having medical issues and unfortunately couldn’t make it tonight,” Biles said. “Feel better Gabby!”

The four took turns introducing Beyoncé and her contenders for the award. Kocian said, “Together with our teammate Gabby we accomplished something bigger than ourselves.”

Between them, the five won nine medals, breaking the record of eight won by the 1984 and 2008 USA women’s gymnastics teams.

“The five women nominated for best female video worked hard to be on top of their games,” Raisman said from the VMA stage. “They’re role models for us as we hope to be to a younger generation of women.”

VIDEO: Biles welcomed home with cheerleaders, band, police escort

I love Kanye more than Kanye loves Kanye

A photo posted by Laurie Hernandez (@lauriehernandez_) on