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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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Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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