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Australia names its first indigenous Winter Olympian

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SYDNEY (AP) — Figure skater Harley Windsor is set to be the first indigenous Australian to compete in the Winter Olympics after being selected for PyeongChang, just a little over a decade after he stumbled into a sport he knew nothing about.

Windsor and Russian-born teenager Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya, the junior world pairs champions, secured an Olympic spot with a bronze medal in a qualifying competition in Germany in late September and were among the first four athletes to be confirmed in the Australian team on Thursday.

Brendan Kerry and Kailani Craine were selected to compete in the individual figure skating events in PyeongChang.

The 21-year-old Windsor, from western Sydney, said his selection “feels like an amazing and mind-blowing accomplishment.”

“I grew up in the Aboriginal community and have always been around Aboriginal culture,” he said, “so it’s been a huge part of my life and something that I’m very proud of.”

There have been 51 indigenous Australian Summer Olympians, including Cathy Freeman, who ignited the Olympic cauldron at the 2000 Sydney Opening Ceremony and won 400m gold the following week.

“She was such … a great inspiration for me when I was young,” Windsor said. “I hope I can give other young indigenous athletes some inspiration that they are able to get to the highest level in winter Olympic sports just like we’ve done in summer sports.”

Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll said Windsor’s selection was historic for the Olympic movement in Australia.

“Just as Harley has stated he wants to, we hope that he provides inspiration to young indigenous athletes that they can follow in his path and compete at a high level in winter sports,” Carroll said.

Windsor fell into figure skating by accident at age 8 when his mother took a wrong turn while looking for a fast-food restaurant and mistakenly drove into the car park of a small ice rink.

Windsor asked his mother if he could take a look inside and, after persuading her to let him strap on a pair of skates, he slid onto the ice and was instantly hooked.

“I just really liked it so I asked if could come back the next week, then the next week, then the week after that,” Windsor told The Associated Press. “I didn’t think it would go anywhere but when I started to get serious, I actually started to enjoy the sport even more.

“It was hard work but because I had started to fall in love with the sport and I started improving really quickly, in some ways it wasn’t difficult because I just enjoyed it so much.”

Windsor almost quit the sport in frustration two years ago because he was unable to find the right partner in Australia, but his Russian coach suggested he go to Moscow to find a perfect match.

It was there that he was introduced to Alexandrovskaya, a classically trained pairs specialist who also was struggling to find the right partner and toying with the idea of quitting.

The pair quickly forged a good working relationship and although they train mostly in Moscow, Alexandrovskaya agreed to give up her dream of competing for Russia and applied for Australian citizenship. The 17-year-old Alexandrovskaya was granted citizenship last month.

“To be honest, at first I didn’t know it was going to go so well but the more we skated together the more we started to figure each other out,” Windsor said. “I think it works well for us because she’s a bit more fiery on the ice and I’m a bit more calm so it kind of balances out.

“We have our fights and stuff, obviously, but we mix really well and train very well and we’re both strong competitors.”

Craine will also make her Olympic debut in PyeongChang after winning a berth in the women’s individual competition. The 19-year-old Craine, who has more than 120,000 Instagram followers, has been dreaming about the Olympics since she was eight.

She went to the Olympic ice rink in PyeongChang earlier this week but said she refused to have her picture taken with the Olympic rings until she had formally secured a place on the team.

“And now I have,” she said. “It seems so surreal. It’s all I’ve ever wanted my whole life and now it’s crazy to think it’s happening.”

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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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