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U.S. ski racers produce nude calendar to raise money

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VAL D’ISERE, France (AP) — A group of American skiers are taking it all off in an effort to raise some money.

Five female and six male ski racers have joined together to pose in a nude calendar they hope will help them overcome high costs — and scarce funding — on the professional ski tour.

Called “Under the Suit: The Bodies of the Ski Team,” the calendar features the skiers in naked action shots: Either on the slopes or mountain biking in Chile and New Zealand, or pumping iron at their local gym in Park City, Utah.

Skiers below “A” team level pay their own travel costs, ranging from $15,000 to $35,000 each season. The original idea for calendar came from Brennan Rubie, who is racing at “C” team level.

“It’s tough for us because we have to raise a bunch of cash,” the 25-year-old Rubie told The Associated Press. “We’ve all reached out to our parents, our parents’ friends.”

Athletes should get up to $4,000 each from sales, which Rubie says is “a big chunk of money that can really take some stress off.”

Jacqueline Wiles, a member of the “B” team who is also unfunded, features on the calendar taking off into the air — naked except for a ski helmet, gloves and boots. Teammates Breezy Johnson and Alice McKennis are also in the calendar.

“I think the target is raising around $110,000,” Wiles told the AP recently at the French resort of Val d’Isere. “They want to get all the calendars out before Christmas … to be a stocking stuffer.”

Even though they are funded, two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety and Olympic super-G silver medalist Andrew Weibrecht have helped out.

“It’s cool to see everyone come together,” Weibrecht said.

Wiles and McKennis are a long way from enjoying the success of four-time overall World Cup winner Lindsey Vonn and Olympic slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin — who have won 99 World Cup races between them.

The 27-year-old McKennis won a downhill in the Austrian resort of St. Anton in January 2013 — her only podium — and Wiles has one top-10 finish.

Many are struggling behind them.

“Athletes are being more and more unfunded, having to find our own means. So this summer we tried to be creative,” Wiles said. “The men’s team did a bunch (of photos) in Norway. We did some in Chile, New Zealand — and in the gym in Park City.”

Aside from raising money, Wiles said the photos showcase athlete’s bodies in a “tasteful and strong” way. She has received positive feedback from mothers with concerns over anorexia, fearful that their daughters feel pressured to follow very slim role models.

“I think everyone really likes the idea of displaying our bodies in a very athletic, powerful position,” Wiles said. “We work hard to be physically fit for our sport, and I think it’s really cool to show our fans and family what our bodies go through.”

One of the most sensitive issues when doing the photos was passers-by.

“In New Zealand, we did it at a ski resort and there were other people hiking a different ridge. They could see me,” McKennis said. “When Jacqui (Wiles) and I went off the downhill jump in Portillo (Chile), there were definitely a few creepy spectators. One of our coaches, helping drive us in a snowmobile, actually stopped and yelled at them.”

While not opposing the calendar, the U.S. ski federation has been “very hands off with the whole project,” McKennis said.

“Just because it is something that they saw as something risky, that athletes are showing their naked bodies to the public,” McKennis said. “They were just like ‘We don’t want to be involved. If you’re going to do this, you need to do it separately.'”

Putting the calendar together ate into what little spare time the competitive skiers have.

“We’re racing, we’re training. It’s hard to be as proactive as we want to be with it,” McKennis said. “Evenings, whenever we can, we just try and fit it in. It can be really challenging.”

MORE: Ted Ligety’s struggles compounded by another injury

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics