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‘Worst skier alive’ makes it to cross-country worlds after deportation

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — For a Venezuelan cross-country skier who had only trained on wheels beneath a bright sun, the slopes of Finland proved a mighty challenge.

Adrian Solano wobbled nervously backward as he exited the starting gate at the world championships this week. He fumbled into the white powder after sliding down a small hill. And he tried awkwardly walking up an incline while others raced by him.

By Thursday, sports commentators circulating videos of his near-comedic cross-country performance online had dubbed him the worst skier alive.

Solano, however, teetered along, unfazed.

“From here to the Olympics!” he proclaimed in an interview with Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet.

Solano’s saga has hit a nerve among Venezuelans and angered the country’s highest officials, who are denouncing France for deporting the athlete in January while he was trying to get to Sweden to train on snow. Airport migration officials in Paris allegedly doubted his story, thinking his journey to the slopes was a ploy to leave his beleaguered country.

“We will issue a strong statement to the French government for their affront against a Venezuelan athlete,” Venezuela’s foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, wrote in a Tweet Wednesday.

Stuck back in Caracas, Solano’s supporters started a GoFundMe page that brought him to Finland just in time to compete.

The only problem: He hadn’t practiced skiing on snow, only on wheels in Venezuela’s scorching heat.

In the first race, a 10km qualifying round, Solano failed to finish. He completed the first 3.5 kilometers in 37 minutes and 39 seconds — the same amount of time it took other competitors to finish the entire course. In the 1.6km cross-country sprint he finished last in 156th place, taking nearly 14 minutes.

“Embarrassing!” wrote one critic on his Instagram page, who went on to accuse him of receiving sponsorship from the Venezuelan government while countless go hungry.

“My friend,” he wrote in response, “I swear I am not here because of the government. I arrived thanks to people who heard my story and supported me.”

Still, many others are rallying to support Solano and his dream of one day waving the Venezuelan flag in the winter Olympics.

“I achieved a dream,” he said in his interview with the Norwegian newspaper. “This pushes me to try more every day.”

MORE: Famous Tonga flag bearer debuts at cross-country worlds

Quizás e caído muchas veces pero lo que realmente cuenta es que siempre seguiré levantándome

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Michael Phelps still has ‘no desire’ to come back

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Michael Phelps says he has “no desire” to return to competitive swimming, but he is eager to stay involved with the sport and cheer on those who follow in his enormous wake.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while promoting a healthy pet food campaign, Phelps said he is excited about the birth of his second child and numerous opportunities away from the pool.

It was around this time four years ago when Phelps got serious about ending his first retirement, but he now seems content with his decision to step away again after the Rio Olympics.

His wife, Nicole, is about four months pregnant. The couple already has a 16-month-old son, Boomer.

“I’ve got no desire, no desire to come back,” the 32-year-old Phelps said flatly.

Phelps has attended a handful of swimming meets since the Rio Games, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history added to his already massive career haul by claiming five gold medals plus a silver. A few months ago, he conceded to the AP that he was eager to see how he would feel about a possible comeback after this year’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Turns out, it had no impact.

Phelps said watching others compete “truly didn’t kick anything off or spike any more interest in coming out of retirement again.”

He is eager to follow the development of his heir apparent, Caeleb Dressel, who emerged as the sport’s newest star by winning seven gold medals at Budapest. The 21-year-old Floridian joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to accomplish that feat at a major international meet.

“I’m happy Caeleb decided to go off this year instead of last year,” Phelps joked. “I’m kind of happy to see him swimming so well when I’m not there.”

With Dressel and Katie Ledecky now leading the American team, the U.S. is expected to remain the world’s dominant swimming country heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Even without Phelps.

“It’s time to kind of move on,” he said, “and watch other people come into their own.”

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MORE: Michael Phelps: I’d give Conor McGregor a head start

Dutch cyclist returns from horrific Rio crash to win world title

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Dutch road cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten came back from this dramatic Rio Olympic crash to win her first world title on Tuesday, taking the time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“This one is really beautiful without the crash in Rio, but this makes the story really, really special,” an emotional van Vleuten said. “Actually, I still cannot believe it. … This season I’m surprising myself what I can do. To be world champion in the time trial, I never thought I’d be able of this.”

Van Vleuten, 34, covered the 13-mile course in 28 minutes, 50.35 seconds, topping countrywoman Anna ven der Breggen by 12 seconds.

Australian Katrin Garfoot took bronze, 19.02 seconds ahead of Chloe Dygert, a U.S. Olympic silver medalist in track cycling. American Amber Neben, the defending champion, was 11th.

Full results are here.

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title.

Van Vleuten wasn’t out long. She raced at last October’s world championships, placing a career-high fifth in the time trial. She then won La Course in France, a two-day race, in July.

“To be an athlete is to have really ups and downs,” van Vleuten said Tuesday. “Sometimes really downs, but the downs make the ups even more beautiful, I think.”

Van Vleuten’s first celebratory act Tuesday was to climb past two barriers and into her mother’s arms.

“Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her,” Van Vleuten said in a news conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “My father died in 2008, and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We’ve dealt with bad things together in the past, so it’s important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father.”

The world championships continue Wednesday with the men’s time trial at 7 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live.

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MORE: World Road Cycling Championships broadcast schedule