Arab history-maker Samir Azzimani carries fellow skier over line for 'moment of the Games'

Tonga's Pita Taufatofua (L) and Morocco's Samir Azzimani (R) lift Mexico's German Madrazo onto their shoulders as they celebrate at the finish line in the men's 15km cross country freestyle at the Alpensia cross country ski centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN
Updated 20 February 2018

Arab history-maker Samir Azzimani carries fellow skier over line for 'moment of the Games'

PYEONGCHANG: Morocco’s Samir Azzimani was involved in what might just be the defining image of this year's Winter Olympics.
Mexico’s German Madrazo was heroically skiing last to the line, proudly brandishing the flag of his country and smiling jubilantly. After crossing the finish after 15 kilometers of gruelling freestyle cross-country racing on Friday, he was lifted high into the air and onto the shoulders of two other athletes, including Azzimani, for whom just getting to the end was an achievement in itself.
The 43-year-old Madrazo came 116th out of the 116 who made it home, fully 25 minutes 51.5 secondss behind the winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland.
Two other competitors failed to finish and one was disqualified, underlining the achievement of even ending the race.
So as Madrazo, who had never even worn skis until a year ago, approached the finishing line in just shy of an hour, a large Mexican flag was thrust into his hand and a beaming smile formed on his exhausted face.
Spectators and athletes cheered and applauded him on his lone race to the finish.
There, Tonga’s Pita Taufatofua, who finished 114th, and Azzimani (111th) hoisted Madrazo into the air, all three smiling and laughing.
Azzimani made history by becoming the Arab world’s first dual-sport Olympian after competing in the alpine skiing event
at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Taufatofua, famous for peeling off and baring his chest at the Olympics, hoped he wouldn’t ski into a tree in his Winter Games debut. He also wanted to finish before it got dark.
Well, Taufatofua kept this clothes on for once and ticked both boxes, finishing 114th — almost 23 minutes behind the gold medallist, Swiss legend Cologna, but crucially avoiding the wooden spoon.
“I’m just happy I finished,” the 34-year-old told reporters. “Relieved. I mean, that was a long race. I’d rather finish toward the end of the pack with all my friends than be somewhere in the middle by myself,” said the Tongan beefcake, who competed in taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Games but lost in the first round. “We fought together, we finished together.”
Taufatofua laughed off suggestions he might be the most popular man at the Games after entering the stadium for the opening ceremony like a gladiator and brandishing the Tongan flag as if it were a spear.
“I don’t know about popular but I’m the coldest man,” said the self-confessed beach bum, teeth chattering.
Taufatofua, born in Brisbane but fiercely proud of his Tongan heritage, turned to cross-country skiing after Rio to make an unlikely Olympic return.
His sense of relief was palpable when he finished in one piece.
“I didn’t fall,” said Taufatofua, who revealed that he ate some “fiery kimchi” before the race to help keep warm.
“I was coming into the last lap thinking ‘please God, not in front of everyone, let me finish strong’.
“But I finished with the guys and that was important for me.”
Taufatofua, who used to strap planks of wood to his feet to mimic skis in sweltering Australia, was looking forward to sharing race tales with Madrazo and Azzimani.
“Everyone was at the front racing to come first,” said Taufatofua. We were racing not to come last but we’ll have a good laugh over it over dinner.”

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

Updated 18 April 2019

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

  • Medvedev eliminates 6th seed Tsitsipas in three sets

MONTE CARLO: Top seed Novak Djokovic and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in dominating wins to power into the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.

Djokovic extended his winning streak against US players with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Taylor Fritz.

The two-time tournament champion has now won nine in a row over Americans since losing at Wimbledon in 2016 to Sam Querrey.

“It was very challenging to play in these (windy) conditions,” Djokovic said. “Taylor just flattens the ball.

“We had five, six close games in the first set, I just managed to break his resistance midway through.

“After that, things went on my side and I felt more comfortable.

“This was one of these days where you just have to hang in there and try to put an extra ball back in the court — that was enough.”

Nadal repeated last year’s semifinal win over Grigor Dimitrov, beating the Bulgarian for the 12th time, 6-4, 6-1.

“I’m very, very happy, this is an important victory for me,” the second seed said after winning his 23rd consecutive set at the tournament.

“Grigor is a super talent and is very dangerous. It was a positive match for me.

“I had a good day, I can be happy with what I did on court.

“When you don’t play on clay for almost a year, every win is important for the confidence, especially as I’m coming back from injury.”

Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion started his clay season this week after missing a month with another knee problem and has title-holder points to defend here plus Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.

The king of clay is bidding for a 12th trophy in the principality. His record at the event is a staggering 70-4.

Nadal spent almost an hour in securing the first set but picked up the pace in the second as he ran out the winner.

He next faces Guido Pella, who defeated Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic will be playing his ninth quarterfinal here from 13 appearances at his home event.

Djokovic turned in a steady performance with a dozen winners and unforced errors, while his opponent committed nearly 30 unforced errors in 68 minutes.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 as Daniil Medvedev continued his run of form.

The Russian will next line up against Djokovic after losing to him in January in the Australian Open fourth round.

Tsitsipas was caught on the back foot facing three match points as he trailed 0-40 on his serve late in the second set. After saving the first two, the Greek botched the third to seal his exit after an hour and three-quarters.

Medvedev increased his leading total of ATP season match wins to 20 as a result after he beat Tsitsipas for the fourth time in as many attempts.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a break down in the third set.”

The player who stands a career-high 14th credits his rising form to a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months —  since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before,” Medvedev said.

“I had my best season last year — hopefully this year will be better.”

The Russian reached his first quarterfinal at the Masters 1000 level after winning his second match against a Top 10 opponent.

Tsitsipas, runner-up last season to Nadal in Toronto, suffered his eighth defeat of the season against 18 wins and will try and lift his game next week on the clay of Barcelona. 

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 7-5.