Aja Evans

Olympians throwing ceremonial first pitches, a brief history

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Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Aja Evans sought advice before throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday.

She knew just the person to ask — her uncle, retired MLB outfielder Gary Matthews — among others. The best advice?

“Aim high,” she said.

Evans got the job done, getting the ball over the plate before the White Sox-Twins game. Other Sochi Olympians were throwing out first pitches this week, including hockey silver medalists Brianna Decker and Jessie Vetter and skeleton bronze medalist Matt Antoine at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Monday.

Olympic ski slopestyle bronze medalist Nick Goepper is slated to throw out the first pitch at the Reds’ first night game Wednesday.

There have been some fabulous and, more memorable, forgettable first pitches by Olympians over time. It is common for Olympic stars to throw first pitches at MLB games shortly after the Summer or Winter Games finish.

The most notable is certainly nine-time Olympic track and field champion Carl Lewis, who has run the gamut in at least three ceremonial first pitches in MLB and NCAA baseball. He bounced the ball to home plate, airmailed another pitch and gave up entirely and sprinted from the pitcher’s mound, as detailed in this video post last year.

One must sympathize the most with artistic gymnasts, who are among the least trained Olympians when it comes to throwing a baseball 60 feet at a strike-zone target.

“Hopefully I’ll make it to the catcher,” 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson once said.

She had trouble doing so at an Iowa Cubs game near her home in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2010, but was respectable when moving in front of the mound for a throw at Dodger Stadium in 2009.

Fierce Five gymnast Jordyn Wieber stepped in front of the mound and made it to home plate on one bounce at a Detroit Tigers game after the 2012 Olympics, doing so with a boot on her right foot due to stress fracture.

Three of Wieber’s teammates, Gabby DouglasMcKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, threw simultaneous first pitches at Dodger Stadium in 2012. Maroney, the high-flying vault world champion, was the only one to do so from the pitching rubber and clearly had the strongest arm.

The multi-talented eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno showed a stellar windup and accuracy on this first pitch, also at Dodger Stadium.

Swimmer Jason Lezak looked calm and collected throwing a smooth, but not particularly fast, accurate strike in LA. Another swimmer, Jessica Hardy, risked throwing her pitch while wearing her two 2012 Olympic medals.

Ice dancing silver medalist Ben Agosto received a perfect score from the judges, according to the stadium announcer, for his first pitch at Safeco Field in 2012.

Even Yuna Kim has thrown out a first pitch, at a South Korean baseball game while wearing a “2018” jersey for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Three-time Olympic basketball champion Diana Taurasi was just a bit outside on a throw at Chase Field.

“A little wild thing,” Taurasi said. “I wanted to throw it with a little heat.”

Then there are the quirky first pitches we saw out of South Korea last year — rhythmic gymnast Shin Soo-ji‘s whirligig pitch that has received more than 11 million YouTube views and 2012 gold medalist archer Ki Bo-bae, who made a mascot whiff with a bow-and-arrow pitch.

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Lance Armstrong’s $100 million trial set for November

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 20:  Lance Armstrong (C) heads out with cyclists on December 20, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. The disgraced Tour de France rider is in New Zealand to film a commercial, and put out a call on social media for local riders to join him on a ride along the Auckland Waterfront.  (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong‘s $100 million legal fight with the federal government has been set for a November trial.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper on Thursday set a Nov. 6 trial start in Washington. Armstrong’s legal team had asked to postpone trial until 2018 because of a potential scheduling conflict.

The government wants Armstrong to pay back the $32 million the U.S. Postal Service paid his team for sponsorship, plus triple damages.

Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis initially filed the whistle-blower case in 2010, accusing him of violating the sponsorship contract by taking performance-enhancing drugs. The government joined the case in 2013 after Armstrong admitted cheating and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

Landis, who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for cheating, could collect up to 25 percent of damages awarded.

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Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin set for busy weekend

Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin
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Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin are slated for one of the busiest race weekends of their careers, streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting Friday morning.

Vonn and Shiffrin are each expected to race Friday, Saturday and Sunday in World Cup action in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

The schedule:

Friday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 8:30 a.m. ET

Saturday — Super-G
4:30 a.m. ET

Sunday — Super Combined
Super-G run: 4:30 a.m. ET
Slalom run: 7:30 a.m. ET

Plenty is at stake in the first races since the world championships.

Vonn, who earned downhill bronze at worlds, hopes to move closer to the career World Cup wins record of 86 held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark. She picked up her 77th victory last month, her only win in eight races since coming back in January from knee and upper arm fractures.

Vonn returned quickly, with little training, and said at worlds she was unable to put her hair in a ponytail due to a lack of grip in her right hand from November broken arm surgery. She duct-taped her right glove to her ski pole for her final two races at worlds.

Vonn last won a super-G on Jan. 24, 2016, and last won a combined event on Jan. 27, 2012.

Shiffrin, who took slalom gold and giant slalom silver at worlds, enters the weekend with a hefty 414-point lead on her closest challenger in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing.

It would take a collapse in the final 11 races over the next month for Shiffrin not to become the third U.S. woman to take the crown after Tamara McKinney and Vonn.

It looked as if Shiffrin and defending overall champion Lara Gut would battle for the title, until Gut suffered a torn ACL and meniscus damage in a world championships super combined warm-up two weeks ago, ending her season.

Shiffrin, already a multiple Olympic medal favorite, could be poised for her first World Cup podium in super-G or super combined this weekend. She was a career-best fourth in her most recent super-G at a World Cup stop last month.

The youngest Olympic slalom champion will also benefit from the fact that Friday and Sunday’s combined races feature a super-G and a slalom rather than a downhill and a slalom. Shiffrin is stronger in super-G than downhill.

After Crans-Montana, the World Cup schedule has three more stops — a downhill and super-G at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, followed by a giant slalom and slalom in Squaw Valley, Calif., and the four-race World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colo.

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