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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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USOC CEO Scott Blackmun diagnosed with prostate cancer

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Scott Blackmun, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will not travel to South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The 60-year-old executive sent an email to staff Monday notifying them of his diagnosis and said he would have surgery later this week.

Blackmun is beginning his ninth year as the USOC’s leader.

He said physicians recommended he start treatment as soon as possible, and the treatment could prevent him from traveling to PyeongChang at all.

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Joss Christensen left off Olympic team; full U.S. freestyle skiing roster

Joss Christensen
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Joss Christensen, who led a U.S. ski slopestyle podium sweep in Sochi, was left off the 29-athlete team for PyeongChang on Monday.

Christensen attempted to come back from a May ACL tear (with meniscus damage) but was unable to finish on the podium in any of the Olympic qualifiers.

Here’s the full roster:

Aerials
Ashley Caldwell — 2010, 2014 Olympian
Kiley McKinnon
Madison Olsen
Mac Bohonnon — 2014 Olympian
Jonathon Lillis
Eric Loughran

Halfpipe
Maddie Bowman — 2014
Annalisa Drew — 2014
Devin Logan — 2014
Brita Sigourney — 2014
Aaron Blunck — 2014
Alex Ferreira
David Wise — 2014
Torin Yater-Wallace — 2014

Moguls
Tess Johnson
Jaelin Kauf
Keaton McCargo
Morgan Schild
Casey Andringa
Emerson Smith
Troy Murphy
Brad Wilson — 2014

Slopestyle
Caroline Claire
Devin Logan — 2014 (in slopestyle)
Darian Stevens
Maggie Voisin — 2014 (did not compete in Sochi)
Nick Goepper — 2014
Alex Hall
Gus Kenworthy — 2014
McRae Williams

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster now over 200 athletes; full list

In slopestyle, Christensen’s Sochi podium mates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper earned automatic Olympic spots earlier this month.

World champion McRae Williams and Alex Hall got the nods for two spots picked by a committee on Monday. They ranked Nos. 3 and 4 behind Kenworthy and Goepper in Olympic qualifying standings, while Christensen was eighth.

Sochi women’s slopestyle silver medalist Devin Logan became the first American to make an Olympic team in two different freestyle skiing events — slopestyle and halfpipe.

In aerials, 2017 World champions Ashley Caldwell and Jonathon Lillis were added to the team Monday. So were Mac BohonnonEric Loughran and Madison Olsen.

Kiley McKinnon was the only aerialist to automatically qualify earlier this month.

Caldwell is going to her third Olympics. She finished 10th in 2010 and 2014, competing in the former as the youngest U.S. athlete across all sports as a 16-year-old.

Last season, Caldwell added her first world title to a resume that already included six World Cup victories and the 2016 World Cup season title. She finished third, seventh, ninth, 13th and 31st in five World Cups so far this season.

Lillis, 23, is going to his first Olympics. He won last season’s world title in a huge surprise, having never won a World Cup event (and only finishing on the podium once before). He has a best finish of sixth in six World Cup events this season.

McKinnon and Bohonnon swept the World Cup season titles in 2015. They also went to elementary school together in Connecticut.

Six of the eight halfpipe skiers qualified earlier this season. The additions Monday were Annalisa Drew and Aaron Blunck, who were the top performers from Olympic qualifiers who didn’t clinch automatic spots.

The halfpipe team is the exact same as in Sochi except for Alex Ferreira replacing Lyman Currier.

Maddie Bowman and David Wise are the defending Olympic gold medalists from the event that debuted in Sochi.

Of the eight moguls skiers, only Brad Wilson has Olympic experience, finishing 20th in Sochi.

The top medal hope is Jaelin Kauf, a 21-year-old daughter of two moguls skiers. Kauf qualified automatically for the Olympic team earlier this month and leads the World Cups standings.

Andringa is a great story. The 22-year-old lived in a tent with his brother in Steamboat Springs, Colo., this summer to supplement training costs. He raced World Cup for the first time on Jan. 6 and placed seventh and fifth in his first two starts to earn a spot on the team.

The top U.S. moguls skier the last two Olympics — Hannah Kearney — retired in 2015.

The U.S. is not sending a ski cross racer to the Olympics for the first time. The event debuted in 2010, and the U.S. has never earned a medal.

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