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Ted Ligety finally healthy again as Alpine season starts

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The last time Ted Ligety felt this confident, this healthy and this fast on his skis was ages ago.

Oct. 25, 2015, in Soelden, Austria, to be more precise — the date of his last World Cup victory.

Since that day, the U.S. Alpine skier tweaked his back, frayed the cartilage in his hip, torn the ACL in his right knee and wrenched his back again — to the point where he needed season-ending surgery last January to fix herniated disks.

Almost immediately after the surgery he felt better.

Three months after the procedure, he was training again.

And now, Ligety’s progressed to the place where he can actually envision himself defending his Olympic giant slalom title at the Winter Games in PyeongChang in February.

“I’m excited to have a year where I can be healthy and start to push my skiing,” said Ligety, who will race Sunday in the season-opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria. “That will be a huge relief, because if I can keep on this trajectory I’m on right now, I know I can ski fast.”

Ligety tried to grit through the pain of a balky back a season ago.

It turned out to be too much to bear for the skier who’s a five-time World Cup giant slalom season champion, five-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“Every time I hit a bump, I was in 9 out of a 10 pain,” Ligety said. “Trying to do that every single turn for a World Cup race is really difficult. That was extremely frustrating, but that’s the life of an athlete.”

The persistent back trouble came on the heels of tearing his ACL during a training mishap in Oberjoch, Germany, in January 2016.

The skier once referred to as “Mr. GS” by his rivals has also dealt with hip issues.

Given all the time he’s missed over the years, Ligety doesn’t feel like anywhere near the favorite heading into PyeongChang.

That distinction, in his mind, belongs to six-time defending World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher, who’s currently sidelined after breaking his left ankle in August when he straddled a slalom gate during practice.

The Austrian Hirscher could be back for World Cup races in Beaver Creek, Colo., that begin Dec. 1.

“I’ve got to raise my game for sure,” said Ligety, who has a giant slalom gold from Sochi to go with the combined crown he captured in Torino. “When I was winning races a couple of years ago, that’s the level these guys have surpassed. I have to go beyond what I’ve done in the past. That’s good the sport is evolving and getting better. That’s definitely an inspiration to me, to push myself even harder, to try and figure out ways to get faster.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always thrived when there have been changes and I’ve needed to come up with something new to get faster.”

Over the last few months, he’s been diligently training and feeling no pain in his surgically repaired back.

None whatsoever.

“My body feels very solid now,” he said. “It’s now about getting back up to speed and getting race ready.”

Ligety became a father in late June when he and wife Mia welcomed Jax Ligety into the world.

He recently posted on Instagram how the “duffel bag life is tougher these days,” after a training trip to New Zealand.

The plan is for the family to follow him around the World Cup circuit beginning in January and carry into the Olympics.

“It’s definitely hard to balance, in the sense you don’t want to miss anything,” Ligety said of ski racing and fatherhood. “I want to do all the stuff that involves being a dad, and being there for my kid and watching him grow up. I’m balancing those two things.

“At least I’m my own boss in this job, so I’m able to work my schedule around day time to get my workouts in and still be with him.”

Now 33, Ligety’s started to contemplate just how much longer he wants to keep racing. He’s already launched a successful company, Shred, which makes goggles, sunglasses, gloves and other products.

“The road is coming closer to an end, but it’s not next year or the year after that. We’ll play it year by year, I guess,” Ligety said. “I’d like to leave on a high note.”

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It has been 7 years since Simone Biles last lost an all-around

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Simone Biles had braces but no driver’s license and “Harlem Shake” topped the Billboard Hot 100 the last time she was beaten in all-around competition, seven years ago this week.

Biles, then having just turned 16, took second to 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross at a tri-meet among the U.S., Germany and Romania in Chemnitz, Germany, on March 30, 2013.

It was just the third senior meet of Biles’ career in her first year as a senior gymnast. Since that runner-up, Biles has won 21 straight all-arounds through the October 2019 World Championships, rarely even challenged (though she has been defeated in unofficial national team camp competition).

Chemnitz marked one of the least consequential meets of Biles’ sterling career. She devoted one sentence to it in her autobiography, “Courage to Soar,” and noted she was distracted from the stress of competition on the overseas trip by daydreaming about a birthday present.

“Secretly, I hoped that when I got back home, a shiny new turquoise-blue Ford Focus would be waiting for me in our driveway,” she wrote.

Ross, speaking by phone last week, faintly recalled when asked the last time Biles was defeated.

“I think it was … were we in Germany?” she said. “Oh gosh, I don’t even know if I can remember it that well.”

Ross did remember training before the meet at a German national team gym.

“When we got to the arena we were all kind of shocked,” she said. “In elite, we’re all used to competing on podium or in these big arenas. It was more of just almost like a college meet. Like it was a basketball floor. Nothing was on podium.

“I don’t even remember how the scores were shown or anything. Those meets in the spring in elite we’re just trying to get our routines figured out and get more consistent.”

Ross was the all-around star of the U.S. program at the time, given fellow 2012 Olympians Gabby DouglasJordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman were taking breaks. She won both Chemnitz and the U.S. Classic (where Biles was pulled mid-competition by coach Aimee Boorman after early struggles).

Later that summer, Biles edged Ross by two tenths of a point combining scores from two days at nationals, and they again went one-two at the world championships.

“I felt like it was kind of the two of us,” Ross said. “This was her time to upgrade and make a name for herself. I definitely feel like I helped her and guided her a little bit. I feel like Martha [Karolyi] wanted me to teach her the ropes a little bit just because she always so fun and outgoing but definitely needed to try to learn and focus and understand what it was like to compete internationally and compete for Team USA.”

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

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Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.