AP

‘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

What is the Alpine skiing team event?

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The Alpine skiing team event will make its Olympic debut in PyeongChang

How to watch
Friday, Feb. 23, 9:00 p.m. ET
LIVE EVENT STREAM

Olympic skiing has always been an individual sport. Simply, the fastest skier down the mountain wins the gold medal.

But the world’s best skiers will have to rely on their teammates for the first time in the team event, which is making its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

The team event will feature 16 teams, or nations, of four athletes (two men and two women). The 16 teams will be arranged in a bracket-style, single-elimination format. Think NCAA March Madness.

A skier from each of the two competing nations will race down the course in a series of head-to-head slalom races. The winner will earn a point for his or her team. The team with the most points after four heats will advance. If the teams have the same number of points, the winner will be the nation with the lower combined time of its fastest male and female competitor.

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of two reserves.

France won the team event at the 2017 World Championships. The U.S., competing without Mikaela Shiffrin, was knocked out in the first round by Canada.

“It’s a really fun event,” said American AJ Ginnis. “The atmosphere—the fact that you get to race with girls and guys and it’s a team effort is really cool.”

Men’s snowboard big air preview

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Now that Anna Gasser of Austria has successfully captured the first-ever Olympic gold medal in women’s snowboard big air, it’s almost time to crown the first-ever Olympic champion on the men’s side.

Big air snowboarding has progressed tremendously in recent years, and there’s been a lot of build-up to these Olympics, so expect heavy tricks to come out quickly in the final.

Or as Mark McMorris put it: “There’s probably [going to be] some mind-boggling s—.”

Every time there’s a big air event, there’s always talk about “quads” — a type of trick that features four inverted flips. It’s such a progressive trick that only two riders have landed a quad in competition, only a few others have done it in training, and many are hesitant to even try.

Read the full preview at NBCOlympics.com