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Ted Ligety finally healthy again as Alpine season starts

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The last time Ted Ligety felt this confident, this healthy and this fast on his skis was ages ago.

Oct. 25, 2015, in Soelden, Austria, to be more precise — the date of his last World Cup victory.

Since that day, the U.S. Alpine skier tweaked his back, frayed the cartilage in his hip, torn the ACL in his right knee and wrenched his back again — to the point where he needed season-ending surgery last January to fix herniated disks.

Almost immediately after the surgery he felt better.

Three months after the procedure, he was training again.

And now, Ligety’s progressed to the place where he can actually envision himself defending his Olympic giant slalom title at the Winter Games in PyeongChang in February.

“I’m excited to have a year where I can be healthy and start to push my skiing,” said Ligety, who will race Sunday in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. “That will be a huge relief, because if I can keep on this trajectory I’m on right now, I know I can ski fast.”

Ligety tried to grit through the pain of a balky back a season ago.

It turned out to be too much to bear for the skier who’s a five-time World Cup giant slalom season champion, five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“Every time I hit a bump, I was in 9 out of a 10 pain,” Ligety said. “Trying to do that every single turn for a World Cup race is really difficult. That was extremely frustrating, but that’s the life of an athlete.”

The persistent back trouble came on the heels of tearing his ACL during a training mishap in Oberjoch, Germany, in January 2016.

The skier once referred to as “Mr. GS” by his rivals has also dealt with hip issues.

Given all the time he’s missed over the years, Ligety doesn’t feel like anywhere near the favorite heading into PyeongChang.

That distinction, in his mind, belongs to six-time defending World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who’s currently sidelined after breaking his left ankle in August when he straddled a slalom gate during practice.

The Austrian Hirscher could be back for World Cup races in Beaver Creek, Colo., that begin Dec. 1.

“I’ve got to raise my game for sure,” said Ligety, who has a giant slalom gold from Sochi to go with the combined crown he captured in Torino. “When I was winning races a couple of years ago, that’s the level these guys have surpassed. I have to go beyond what I’ve done in the past. That’s good the sport is evolving and getting better. That’s definitely an inspiration to me, to push myself even harder, to try and figure out ways to get faster.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always thrived when there have been changes and I’ve needed to come up with something new to get faster.”

Over the last few months, he’s been diligently training and feeling no pain in his surgically repaired back.

None whatsoever.

“My body feels very solid now,” he said. “It’s now about getting back up to speed and getting race ready.”

Ligety became a father in late June when he and wife Mia welcomed Jax Ligety into the world.

He recently posted on Instagram how the “duffel bag life is tougher these days,” after a training trip to New Zealand.

The plan is for the family to follow him around the World Cup circuit beginning in January and carry into the Olympics.

“It’s definitely hard to balance, in the sense you don’t want to miss anything,” Ligety said of ski racing and fatherhood. “I want to do all the stuff that involves being a dad, and being there for my kid and watching him grow up. I’m balancing those two things.

“At least I’m my own boss in this job, so I’m able to work my schedule around day time to get my workouts in and still be with him.”

Now 33, Ligety’s started to contemplate just how much longer he wants to keep racing. He’s already launched a successful company, Shred, which makes goggles, sunglasses, gloves and other products.

“The road is coming closer to an end, but it’s not next year or the year after that. We’ll play it year by year, I guess,” Ligety said. “I’d like to leave on a high note.”

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”

Houston Texans turn TD celebration into relay race (video)

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The relaxation of NFL celebration rules generated another Olympic sport-themed touchdown celebration on Sunday.

Four Houston Texans players combined to make up a relay team in Sunday’s 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Running back Lamar Miller led off after scoring on a seven-yard pass.

Miller, who reportedly ran a 100m in 10.71 seconds as a 16-year-old, handed the football off to DeAndre Hopkins, followed by Braxton Miller and finally Bruce Ellington on anchor.

“I think [Hopkins] came up with that out there,” said Lamar Miller, who briefly sprinted at the University of Miami. “He was like, whoever scored, we should do a relay.”

Unlike some recent U.S. men’s 4x100m teams at the Olympics and world championships, the Texans got the baton around clean.

“No rehearsal,” Lamar Miller said. “I think we would be a great 4x100m team.”

Last month, the Green Bay Packers celebrated like a bobsled team.

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