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Men’s Alpine skiing season storylines

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Three storylines for the Olympic men’s Alpine skiing season ahead of Sunday’s World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria …

1. Marcel Hirscher’s comeback

The Austrian had been on such a roll — a record six straight World Cup overall titles — that he looked like a contender for four gold medals in PyeongChang (slalom, giant slalom, super combined and team event).

Then, on Aug. 17, Hirscher broke his left ankle in training (video here). It’s Hirscher’s first major injury since he became the world’s best skier in 2012, and it comes less than six months before what should be the last Olympics of his prime.

He’s likely out until December, missing the opening technical races of the season in Soelden and Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12. Hirscher has been so strong that he would have won the overall title the last two seasons if one excludes his points from Soelden and Levi.

So a seventh straight overall title is still possible, but it just got more difficult. Combine that with the pressure on Hirscher this season to deliver his first Olympic gold medal come February. It may well be a legacy-defining season for him.

“The only thing I can do next season is [lose],” Hirscher said in March, via NBC Olympic research. “Because if I’m finishing second, in the Austrian press, it would be a disaster.”

2. The men out to dethrone Hirscher

If there is a new overall champion this year, it could be any type of racer.

In the last two seasons, three very different skiers made up Nos. 2-4 in the final standings, within an average of fewer than 100 points of each other — France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norwegians Kjetil Jansrud and Henrik Kristoffersen.

Come February, they will be vying for medals in different Olympic events, but until then all chase the World Cup overall.

Pinturault fits the mold the best. He’s 26, a prime age, and an all-around racer capable of winning giant slaloms and combineds while making the top 10 in slalom and super-G. He won four races last season, breaking Jean-Claude Killy‘s record for World Cup victories by a Frenchman.

Jansrud and Kristoffersen are opposites. Jansrud, 32, has succeeded the injury-plagued Aksel Lund Svindal as Norway’s downhill king. Kristoffersen, 23, emerged as Hirscher’s biggest slalom rival in this Olympic cycle.

If Pinturault is strong across the board, it’s unlikely that Jansrud and Kristoffersen can rack up enough points in speed and technical events, respectively, to challenge him.

3. State of the United States

The Americans are at risk of leaving the Winter Games without a men’s Alpine medal for the first time since 1998.

In 2016, the U.S. men went a calendar year without a World Cup win in any discipline for the first time since 1999. (Travis Ganong broke that skid in January, but on the same day that three-time Olympian Steven Nyman suffered a season-ending crash.)

Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety hasn’t won in two years, his last two seasons cut short by myriad injuries.

The next three months will be key. Ligety will try to re-establish himself as Mr. GS, beginning Sunday in Soelden.

Nyman, the top American downhiller since Sochi, suffered a complete tear to his MCL and PCL and a partial tear to his ACL on Jan. 27. At 35, he’s not much older than the top European speed racers. It’s not out of the question that, once he returns to the World Cup circuit, he can join the Olympic medal conversation.

Ganong, 29, went more than one year between top-five finishes on the World Cup before winning that downhill on Jan. 27.

He has excelled enough on the big stage — fifth in his Olympic debut in the Sochi downhill and downhill silver at the 2015 Worlds — to contend in PyeongChang even if he doesn’t impress in the lead-up races.

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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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