Torin Yater-Wallace
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Torin Yater-Wallace healthy going into X Games after years of health scares

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U.S. Olympic halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace‘s last three Winter X Games in Aspen:

2014: Pulled out before the final while still recovering from a collapsed lung and two broken ribs suffered in separate fall 2013 incidents.
2015: Pulled out after suffering a concussion in a practice-week crash.
2016: Finished fifth, two weeks after being cleared to ski following an infection that affected his gall bladder, liver and lungs and put him on life support (which has been well documented).

“I’ve had a few years with this certain event that, for some reason, somebody doesn’t want me to compete there healthy,” Yater-Wallace said last week. “I’m not exactly one to set goals very often. I just want to compete and ski as best as I can and be happy with my performance. If I can do that, I would hope I get a good result.”

Yater-Wallace has endured more health scares than just about any other 21-year-old Olympian.

Before the setbacks, he was a teen sensation, making the X Games podium in 2011, 2012 and 2013, winning the Sochi Olympic test event and taking silver at the 2013 World Championships.

Though Yater-Wallace missed most of the 2013-14 season with the broken ribs and collapsed lung, he was still named to the Olympic team due to his international record. Less than 100 percent, Yater-Wallace fell on both of his qualifying runs in a rain-drenched Sochi halfpipe and finished 26th out of 28 skiers.

Neither of his next two seasons were smooth. But this year, he’s stayed in good health.

“When something like that happens, you really get a new appreciation for everyday life and the life that I’ve been fortunate enough to be living as a professional skier,” Yater-Wallace said, emphasizing the most recent and life-threatening scare, the infection a little over a year ago. “That first day, week and month of skiing, following me becoming healthy after that, I just had such a great smile on my face every day I was in the mountains, as cliché as it might sound as a skier, being happy, smiling in the mountains. It really was the only way I can describe it. It was amazing to be outside and breathing fresh air, not confined to the white walls of a hospital.”

After a month and a half back on skis, Yater-Wallace capped his comeback by winning X Games Oslo last February.

“I never appreciated a podium or a win at an event like I did that day,” said Yater-Wallace, who sees special breathing doctors monthly and uses an inhaler daily. “It felt like such a gift.”

He beat all of the world’s best halfpipe skiers in Oslo — Aspen X Games champion Kevin Rolland of France, Olympic champion David Wise and Gus Kenworthy, who competes in halfpipe and slopestyle and might just be the world’s best freestyle skier.

He’ll face them again Friday night in Aspen.

“We almost lost a friend last year,” Wise said last fall. “When you’re put through something like that, you get a new lease on life, and it makes you just that much more grateful to be around. That’s what I saw in Torin last year, and I think it’s going to contribute to his success as a skier. He’s not focused on the petty things anymore. He almost died last year.”

MORE: Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, eyes 2 Olympic golds

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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