Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn feels ‘100 percent’ heading to season debut

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Lindsey Vonn‘s healing left ankle no longer aches or gives her any sort of discomfort whatsoever when she steps into her ski boot.

The four-time overall World Cup champion pronounced she’s ”definitely 100 percent” ready for the giant slalom race in Aspen, Colorado, later this month.

Now, a new dilemma: Finding some snow. Vonn flew back from Europe for a long weekend that included a photo shoot in New York, a friend’s wedding in Vermont and the Broncos-Packers game in Denver.

With the slopes in her hometown of Vail not open — 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.8 Celsius) there Tuesday — Vonn may train at nearby Copper Mountain. Or head back to Europe. Or simply do what she’s been doing since breaking her ankle in a training crash in New Zealand nearly 12 weeks ago — working out intensely in the gym.

Bottom line: She’s raring to race.

”I have a really good feeling about this season,” Vonn said in a phone interview. ”This is going to be a really good year.”

Sitting out the season opener in Soelden, Austria, was a difficult choice for Vonn. She was on the sideline as Italy’s Federica Brignone won the giant slalom on Oct. 24, while American Mikaela Shiffrin finished runner-up. Vonn possibly could’ve given it a go, but ”I was worried that if I hit a bump or something, I would have problems. I erred on the side of caution, because I’m really happy with where I am at.”

She will also sit out a slalom event in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 14. But that’s by design since she no longer competes in the slalom.

Vonn’s keeping her goals modest this season. Well, as modest as someone can after winning a women’s record 67 World Cup races over her career. Vonn simply hopes to defend her titles in the downhill and super-G disciplines.

If it so happens, chase after her fifth big crystal globe as well, which would make the 31-year-old Vonn the oldest female skier to win the overall title. The record is held by Swiss great Vreni Schneider, who was 30 when she won in 1995.

”For me, it’s just to try to continue to win races,” said Vonn, the Olympic downhill gold medal winner at the 2010 Vancouver Games who couldn’t defend her crown in Sochi because of a knee injury. ”Because whenever I can focus on skiing and trying to win one race at a time, that’s when I accumulate the most amount of points. That always puts me in a good position for the overall.”

These days, Vonn looks around at her fellow racers and barely sees anyone she knows. Austrians Nicole Hosp and Kathrin Zettel retired this season and Tina Maze of Slovenia took a break. Last season, Vonn’s good friend Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany stepped away.

”I’m seeing more and more of my friends coming to watch the races instead of being a part of them,” said Vonn, who returned last season from serious knee injuries to break the record for most women’s World Cup wins. ”And then, some of the girls that are racing against me are literally half my age. It’s awesome.

”Don’t know if you can hear my sarcasm — really awesome,” she chuckled.

Another member of the younger generation is quickly revving up to speed as Shiffrin plans to venture into super-G events this season. Vonn’s biggest piece of advice for Shiffrin? Just keep being Shiffrin, the fearless skier who won the slalom at the world championships in Beaver Creek, Colorado, last winter.

”She’s done so much in her career already that I don’t really know if I have any advice I can give her that she doesn’t already know,” Vonn said. ”Speed skiing requires time and getting used to the tracks. It’s something I’m sure she’ll master and I have no doubt she will be successful at as well.”

As for Vonn, her confidence is soaring as she gains more trust in an ankle that no longer causes her pain.

”I’m skiing really well,” Vonn said. ”I’m 100 percent ready for the season.”

MORE: Watch Vonn go under cover as a ski mountain safety officer

Tonga flag bearer from Rio says he qualified for Winter Olympics

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Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless, oiled-up Tongan flag bearer from the Rio Games, said he qualified for the PyeongChang Olympics in cross-country skiing on Saturday.

“This was my last race possible, and we did it,” Taufatofua said in an interview with Olympic Channel, which also reported that he qualified. “This is a miracle.”

Taufatofua said he qualified at the final weekend of the Olympic qualifying period in Iceland, which is more than 9,000 miles from his home archipelago.

The last two events before qualification ends were Saturday’s freestyle race and a classic race scheduled for Sunday. Saturday’s results have not been posted yet.

Taufatofua completed a journey this season that included races in Colombia, Turkey, Poland and Armenia.

Taufatofua said he had seven chances to qualify for PyeongChang before Saturday and failed in all of them, finishing last each time (The official results show Taufatofua beating skiers from Malaysia and Mexico in some of these races.).

Taufatofua scrambled to make it to Iceland from Croatia this week. He said his group drove three days through a blizzard, an avalanche closing off the road at one point.

“People don’t see the hard work that goes behind,” he said. “They just see the shiny guy that walks with the flag.”

Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule in Rio, two weeks after his viral appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

He announced in December 2016 that he was switching to cross-country skiing in a bid for PyeongChang.

Cross-country, while a physically taxing pursuit, is one of the easier Winter Olympic sports to gain qualification for athletes from nations without much Winter Games history.

“I decided to find the hardest sport possible because I needed a new challenge,” Taufatofua said. “The goal was to do it one year, and we did it.”

Taufatofua debuted at the 2017 World Championships and was 153rd of 156 finishers in the 1.6km sprint freestyle.

It took Taufatofua 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds to complete the course in Lahti, Finland, which was about 10,000 miles from Tonga. The top qualifier clocked 3:11.72.

How will he dress at the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony, where outdoor temperatures are likely to be below freezing?

“One step at a time,” Taufatofua said. “Right now, I just want to go and party. I destroyed myself just to get here.”

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary.

Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

I raced through 5 countries in the last 24hrs to try and get to my race in Croatia. I sat in a taxi for 6 hrs driving through Armenia into Georgia in the middle of the night. I sat on the front seat of the @turkishairlines plane, sprinted through the airport and snuck through the business class fast transit lane and somehow managed to arrive at the gate 15 min before departure for my flight to Croatia. Once there I found that @turkishairlines had shut the gate early even after their delayed initial flight from Georgia, leaving me stranded. After remembering a scene from a James Bond movie, I pressed all the buttons on the aerobridge door to see if I could somehow open it and sprint down to the connecting flight, unfortunately that didn’t work, and luckily I didn’t get arrested. So here I am sitting at Istanbul airport missing the race that could have possibly gotten me to the Olympics. It was always going to be a long shot but I had to give it a shot and I did. Soo many times in life we will get disappointed. When this happens I have two options. I can sit on that chair crying about what could have been and how unfair life is…. or I can go and find some good quality chocolate, pull out my notepad and start planning “what’s next”— I always did like chocolate…

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Summer Britcher upsets Olympic luge favorites at World Cup

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American luger Summer Britcher beat the last two Olympic champions from powerhouse Germany to win a World Cup in Lillehammer, Norway, on Saturday.

It’s the most impressive victory for a U.S. luger since Erin Hamlin‘s world title in 2009.

Britcher, a 23-year-old qualified for PyeongChang, became the first U.S. woman to win a non-sprint World Cup outside North America since Kate Hansen in 2014.

But Hansen, whose victory was the first by a U.S. woman at any World Cup since 1997, didn’t have to go through the top Germans.

Britcher edged 2014 Olympic champion Natalie Geisenberger by .033 on Saturday. Fellow Germans Julia Taubitz and 2010 Olympic champion Tatjana Huefner were third and fourth.

Full results are here.

Britcher’s previous three World Cup wins, all in the 2015-16 season, were all on North American tracks.

All three women on the U.S. Olympic luge team — Britcher, Sochi bronze medalist Hamlin and Emily Sweeney — have won at least one World Cup since the start of the 2016-17 season.

That breeds hope that the U.S. can claim its second Olympic singles luge medal in PyeongChang to follow up Hamlin’s breakthrough in 2014.

Germans won 12 straight full World Cup races on European tracks coming into Saturday.

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics