105-year-old Frenchman sets cycling world record

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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — Nearly a century ago, Robert Marchand was told by a coach that he should give up cycling because he would never achieve anything on a bike.

He proved that prediction wrong again on Wednesday.

In a skin-tight yellow and violet jersey, the 105-year-old Frenchman set a world record in the 105-plus age category — created especially for the tireless veteran — by riding 22.547 kilometers in one hour.

Marchand had ridden faster in the past on the boards of the Velodrome National, a state of the art venue used to host the elite of track cycling. But he had warned before his latest attempt that his current form was not as good.

“I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left,” Marchand said after his effort. “Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time. I’m now waiting for a rival.”

Three years ago at the same venue, Marchand covered 26.927 kilometers in one hour to better his own world record in the over-100s category.

Still, impressed fans and chanted “Robert, Robert” during the last minutes of his ride. Marchand received a standing ovation once he completed the last of his 92 laps and was then mobbed by dozens of cameramen and TV crews.

“He could have been faster but he made a big mistake. He has stopped eating meat over the past month after being shocked by recent reports on how animals are subjected to cruel treatment,” Marchand’s physiologist, Veronique Billat, told The Associated Press.

By way of comparison, the current overall world record for one hour is 54.526 kilometers (miles) set by British rider Bradley Wiggins in 2015. But Wiggins, who smashed the previous record using the world’s leading track cycling equipment, is now retired.

Marchand, who lives in a small flat in a Parisian suburb with a meager pension of about 900 euros ($940), keeps pedaling and stretching every day. As if time had no effect on him.

“He’s got two essential qualities. A big heart that pumps a lot of blood, and he can reach high heart beat values that are exceptional for his age,” said Billat, a university professor. “If he starts eating meat again and builds more muscle, he can better this mark.”

Marchand, a former firefighter who was born in 1911 in the northern town of Amiens, has lived through two world wars. He led an eventful life that took him to Venezuela, where he worked as a truck driver near the end of the 1940s. He then moved to Canada and became a lumberjack for a while.

Back in France in the 1960s, Marchand made a living through various jobs that left him with no time to practice sports.

He finally took up his bike again when he was 68 years old and began a series of cycling feats.

The diminutive Marchand — he is 1.52 meters (5-foot) tall and weighs 52 kilograms (115 pounds) — rode from Bordeaux to Paris, and Paris to Roubaix several times. He also cycled to Moscow from Paris in 1992.

Ten years later, he set the record for someone over the age of 100 riding 100 kilometers (62 miles).

“If the president of his teenage club who told him he was not made for cycling because he was too small could see him today, he would kick himself,” Marchand’s coach and good friend Gerard Mistler told the AP.

According to Mistler, the secret behind Marchand’s longevity relates to his healthy lifestyle: eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, no smoking, just the occasional glass of wine and exercising on a daily basis.

“He never pushed his limits, goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 6 a.m., there’s no other secret,” Mistler said. “If had been doping, he would not be there anymore.”

To stay fit, Marchand rides every day on his home trainer and puts himself through outdoor training sessions on the road when the weather is good enough.

“One needs to keep his muscles working,” said Marchand, a faithful reader of communist newspaper L’Humanite.

“Reading a lot keeps his mind alert,” Mistler said. “He does not watch much TV, apart from the Tour de France stages.”

At 105, Marchand is not making plans for the future. His coach would not be surprised to see him back on the boards, though.

“Setting goals for himself is part of his personality,” Mistler said. “If he tells me he wants to improve his record, I’ll be game. Robert is a great example for all of us.”

MORE: Lance Armstrong sets goal for 2017

 

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

John McFall
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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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