French cyclist Robert Marchand, 105, reacts after setting a record for distance cycled in one hour, at the velodrome of Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, outside Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. The Frenchman set a world record in the 105-plus age category -- created especially for the tireless veteran -- by riding 22.547 kilometers in one hour. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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105-year-old Frenchman sets cycling world record

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — Nearly a century ago, Robert Marchand was told by a coach that he should give up cycling because he would never achieve anything on a bike.

He proved that prediction wrong again on Wednesday.

In a skin-tight yellow and violet jersey, the 105-year-old Frenchman set a world record in the 105-plus age category — created especially for the tireless veteran — by riding 22.547 kilometers in one hour.

Marchand had ridden faster in the past on the boards of the Velodrome National, a state of the art venue used to host the elite of track cycling. But he had warned before his latest attempt that his current form was not as good.

“I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left,” Marchand said after his effort. “Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time. I’m now waiting for a rival.”

Three years ago at the same venue, Marchand covered 26.927 kilometers in one hour to better his own world record in the over-100s category.

Still, impressed fans and chanted “Robert, Robert” during the last minutes of his ride. Marchand received a standing ovation once he completed the last of his 92 laps and was then mobbed by dozens of cameramen and TV crews.

“He could have been faster but he made a big mistake. He has stopped eating meat over the past month after being shocked by recent reports on how animals are subjected to cruel treatment,” Marchand’s physiologist, Veronique Billat, told The Associated Press.

By way of comparison, the current overall world record for one hour is 54.526 kilometers (miles) set by British rider Bradley Wiggins in 2015. But Wiggins, who smashed the previous record using the world’s leading track cycling equipment, is now retired.

Marchand, who lives in a small flat in a Parisian suburb with a meager pension of about 900 euros ($940), keeps pedaling and stretching every day. As if time had no effect on him.

“He’s got two essential qualities. A big heart that pumps a lot of blood, and he can reach high heart beat values that are exceptional for his age,” said Billat, a university professor. “If he starts eating meat again and builds more muscle, he can better this mark.”

Marchand, a former firefighter who was born in 1911 in the northern town of Amiens, has lived through two world wars. He led an eventful life that took him to Venezuela, where he worked as a truck driver near the end of the 1940s. He then moved to Canada and became a lumberjack for a while.

Back in France in the 1960s, Marchand made a living through various jobs that left him with no time to practice sports.

He finally took up his bike again when he was 68 years old and began a series of cycling feats.

The diminutive Marchand — he is 1.52 meters (5-foot) tall and weighs 52 kilograms (115 pounds) — rode from Bordeaux to Paris, and Paris to Roubaix several times. He also cycled to Moscow from Paris in 1992.

Ten years later, he set the record for someone over the age of 100 riding 100 kilometers (62 miles).

“If the president of his teenage club who told him he was not made for cycling because he was too small could see him today, he would kick himself,” Marchand’s coach and good friend Gerard Mistler told the AP.

According to Mistler, the secret behind Marchand’s longevity relates to his healthy lifestyle: eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, no smoking, just the occasional glass of wine and exercising on a daily basis.

“He never pushed his limits, goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 6 a.m., there’s no other secret,” Mistler said. “If had been doping, he would not be there anymore.”

To stay fit, Marchand rides every day on his home trainer and puts himself through outdoor training sessions on the road when the weather is good enough.

“One needs to keep his muscles working,” said Marchand, a faithful reader of communist newspaper L’Humanite.

“Reading a lot keeps his mind alert,” Mistler said. “He does not watch much TV, apart from the Tour de France stages.”

At 105, Marchand is not making plans for the future. His coach would not be surprised to see him back on the boards, though.

“Setting goals for himself is part of his personality,” Mistler said. “If he tells me he wants to improve his record, I’ll be game. Robert is a great example for all of us.”

MORE: Lance Armstrong sets goal for 2017

 

Ted Ligety out for rest of season

SOLDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 25:  (FRANCE OUT) Ted Ligety of the USA takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on October 25, 2015 in Soelden, Austria.  (Photo by Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Ted Ligety will undergo back surgery and miss the rest of the Alpine skiing season, the latest in a series of health setbacks for the double Olympic champion, according to his social media.

Ligety, who won the combined at Torino 2006 and the giant slalom at Sochi 2014, said he had “stabbing (nerve) pain all the way down my leg” since the season-opening race in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23.

“That has no (sic) allowed me to ski at the level that I expect of myself,” was posted on Ligety’s social media Monday. “I have seen many doctors and therapists, undergone an array of treatments and therapies to no effect. Unfortunately surgery (microdiscectomy) means my season over … I will be back strong and fast again.”

Ligety also ended last season prematurely, after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. He also suffered three herniated disks in his back and tore a hip labrum in 2015.

Of his last seven giant slaloms dating to last season, Ligety has failed to finish four times and placed fourth, fifth and 11th.

Ligety’s World Cup giant slalom podium drought is his longest since he notched the first top-three finish of his career in 2006. He racked up 40 podiums in a decade.

Ligety, 32, also owns the last three world giant slalom titles, plus five World Cup season titles in the discipline, in addition to his Sochi gold.

If healthy, Ligety would have tried next month to become the first male Alpine skier to take gold at four straight world championships.

With Ligety’s absence, the U.S. will have zero past men’s Olympic or world gold medalists at a world championships for the first time since 2001.

Worlds are in St. Moritz, Switzerland, from Feb. 6-19.

MORE: Franz Klammer stars in commercial with Alpine skiing champions

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships