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Tonga flag bearer debuts at cross-country skiing world championships

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Tonga’s famous flag bearer from the Rio Olympics made his cross-country skiing competition debut at the world championships on Thursday, a step as he hopes to compete in PyeongChang.

His first race, after taking up the sport a month ago, went about as expected.

Pita Taufatofua was 153rd of 156 finishers in the 1.6km sprint freestyle qualification. Full results are here.

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

Taufatofua managed to beat two skiers from Venezuela and one from Montenegro but fell well short of the cutoff to advance to the quarterfinals. That’s typically the top 30 skiers.

“In terms of what I have to develop, pretty much everything,” Taufatofua said one month ago in an Olympic Channel interview. “I’m coming from the beginning, absolute beginner.”

Taufatofua could qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics next winter because cross-country skiing is inclusive at the Winter Games. For Sochi, skiers qualified from Bermuda, Brazil, Dominica and Togo.

In Rio, Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule, two weeks after his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

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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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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