There was an error in this gadget

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The gender trap

We're familiar with drug testing for athletes, but officials at the Beijing Olympics will be taking things one stage further and examining competitors whose sex is in doubt. And it is far from being a new problem, as Emine Saner discovers

Athlete Heidi Krieger of the former German Democratic Republic

East German shotputter Heidi Krieger underwent gender reassignment surgery and changed her name to Andreas. Photograph: Joerg Schmitt/ Getty Images

For more than a year, officials in Beijing have been designing a special laboratory to determine the sex of any athletes taking part in this year's Olympic games. "Suspected athletes will be evaluated from their external appearances by experts and undergo blood tests to examine their sex hormones, genes and chromosomes for sex determination," says Professor Tian Qinjie. The tests will not be conducted on every female athlete, but will be required if serious doubts have been raised about an individual competitor - invariably one competing in the women's events. "The aim is to protect fairness at the games while also protecting the rights of people with abnormal sexual development," he says.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced sex testing in 1968 at the Olympic games in Mexico City, after the masculine appearance of some competitors, many pumped up by anabolic steroids, had started to raise questions about the gender of athletes in female events. Unsurprisingly, gender-determination tests were seen as degrading, with female competitors having to submit to humiliating and invasive physical examinations by a series of doctors. Later, the IOC decided to use a supposedly more sophisticated genetic test, based on chromosomes. Women usually have two X chromosomes; men an X and a Y chromosome. So, according to the rules of the test, only those athletes with two X chromosomes could be classed as women. However, many geneticists criticised the tests, saying that sex is not as simple as X and Y chromosomes and is not always simple to ascertain.

It is thought that around one in 1,000 babies are born with an "intersex" condition, the general term for people with chromosomal abnormalities. It may be physically obvious from birth - babies may have ambiguous reproductive organs, for instance - or it may remain unknown to people all their lives. At the Atlanta games in 1996, eight female athletes failed sex tests but were all cleared on appeal; seven were found to have an "intersex" condition. As a result, by the time of the Sydney games in 2000, the IOC had abolished universal sex testing but, as will happen in Beijing, some women still had to prove they really were women.

Transsexuals, who have had a sex change from male to female, can compete in women's events in the Olympics, as long they wait two years after the operation.

The following are some of the more famous instances when female athletes were caught in the gender trap.

Santhi Soundarajan

One of the most tragic recent cases is yet to reach a conclusion. Soundarajan, a 27-year-old Indian athlete, has had to endure public humiliation after she was stripped of her silver medal for the 800m at the Asian games in 2006. Soundarajan, who has lived her entire life as a woman, failed a gender test, which usually includes examinations by a gynaecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist and a genetic expert. The precise results of the test have not been made public, but it has been reported that the likely cause is a condition called Androgen insensitivity syndrome, where a person has the physical characteristics of a woman but whose genetic make-up includes a male chromosome. The Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley, who has undergone sex reassignment surgery, is one of a number of people who are calling for Soundarajan's medal to be reinstated. "It should never have been handled in such a gross manner, amounting to public humiliation because of their ignorance of her condition," Worley has said. "The Olympic movement has been dealing with intersex people since the 1930s. You'd think they would have got the hang of it by now." The humiliation and prospect that her career may be over has taken its toll on Soundarajan. In September, Indian newspapers reported that she had survived a suicide attempt.

Edinanci Silva

Born with both male and female sex organs, the Brazilian judo player had surgery in the mid-90s so that she could live and compete as a woman. According to the IOC, this made her eligible to participate in the games and she competed in Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens in 2004. In Sydney, she beat the Australian judoka Natalie Jenkins, who raised the issue of Silva's gender in a press conference, constantly referring to her as "he". "I have never fought that one before. My plan was not to grip with her, she's - he's - very strong," she said. Silva gave a mouth swab to officials, which proved she was female.

Dora Ratjen

In the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Adolf Hitler wanted to show the world the supremacy of the Aryan race - and he needed German athletes to win. Ratjen, notable for her deep voice and her refusal to share the shower room with the other female athletes, was Germany's entry for the women's high jump. She came fourth. Britain's competitor, Dorothy Tyler, who won a silver medal, remembers her. "I had competed against Dora and I knew she was a man," she says. "You could tell by the voice and the build. But 'she' was far from the only athlete. You could tell because they would always go into the toilet to get changed. We'd go and stand on the seat of the next-door cubicle or look under the door to see if we could catch them." Tyler held the world record for the high jump, but when officials wrote to her telling her that Ratjen had broken it, she wrote back. "I said: 'She's not a woman, she's a man,'" she says. "They did some research and found 'her' serving as a waiter called Hermann, so I got my world record back again." Dora, who had been born Hermann Ratjen, had in fact been a member of the Hitler Youth and said that the Nazis had forced him to enter as a woman.

Stella Walsh

At one point, Walsh, a Polish-American sprinter, was the fastest woman in the world. Born Stanislawa Walasiewicz in Poland in 1911, she grew up in the United States, although she represented her country of birth at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, winning gold and silver medals respectively for the 100m sprint. During her long career, she set more than 100 national and world records and was inducted into the American Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975. She lived her entire life as a woman, and even had a short-lived marriage to an American man. In 1980, Walsh was killed by mistake during an armed robbery at a shopping mall in Cleveland, Ohio. The postmortem revealed she had male genitalia, although this did not prove that she was a man as she was also found to have both male and female chromosomes, a genetic condition known as mosaicism.

Heidi Krieger

It is believed that as many as 10,000 East German athletes were caught up in a nightmarish state-sponsored attempt to build a race of superhuman communist sports heroes and force-fed cocktails of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. One of them was Heidi Krieger, a shot putter. When she was 16, her coach put her on steroids and contraceptive pills and she gained weight, built muscle and started to develop body hair. By 1986, aged 20, she was European champion. Her overdeveloped physique had put a huge amount of pressure on her frame, causing medical problems, while the drugs had caused mood swings, depression and resulted in at least one suicide attempt. By the mid-90s, Krieger underwent gender reassignment surgery and changed her name to Andreas. She had already been confused about her gender, but felt that the drugs had pushed her over the edge. "I didn't have control," Krieger told the New York Times four years ago. "I couldn't find out for myself which sex I wanted to be." At the trial in 2000 of Manfred Ewald, the East German sports official and architect of the doping regime, Krieger said "They just used me like a machine".

Original here

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olympians Prepare For Beijing's Bad Air

by Howard Berkes

Beijing Pollution Road
Guang Niu

Smog shrouded a road to an Olympic venue in Beijing, China, on July 27, 2008. Pollution levels in Beijing topped the scale that day, just 12 days before the Olympics. Getty Images

American triathlete Jarrod Shoemaker already knows what it is like to try to compete in a demanding endurance sport while breathing some of the world's worst air.

Shoemaker swam, biked and ran the Olympic triathlon course in Beijing for both training and competition in each of the last three years. The smog was especially difficult in the last two years, he says.

"You can really feel the particulate stuff getting into your lungs," Shoemaker says. "After the race, when we tried to talk or laugh or cough, it was pretty tough. You could feel it in your lungs. There was a burning."

Shoemaker says it was even challenging to simply stand on the sidelines while his teammates raced in the women's event.

"Trying to cheer was almost impossible, because we just couldn't take deep breaths," he says.

Most Athletes Not Affected

The Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee says most athletes will not have trouble with Beijing's bad air, with the exception of endurance athletes like Shoemaker. His event requires almost two hours of intense physical strain.

"There may be some risk for outdoor events that include minimum one-hour continuous physical efforts at high level," the IOC commission reported in March.

That includes sports such as the triathlon, road cycling, mountain biking, race walking, and the swimming and running marathons.

"It's going to be the toughest on those athletes, because they're going to be out there breathing hard for the longest amount of time," says Dr. Bob Sallis, a sports medicine physician and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

"It's going to have its biggest effect on those with an underlying lung disease, like asthma, or those who have allergic rhinitis that would be triggered by the smoggy air," Sallis says. "Certainly, those [athletes] are going to be at a disadvantage. And that's just going to be a fact of life."

Triathlete Julie Ertel has both asthma and allergies, "so I'm just trying to take inventory of when that gets to be bad and when that is fairly good," she says. "I've tried my different asthma medicines and my different allergy medicines, and I'm trying to find the perfect combination that helps me breathe the best."

That is a tricky calculation, because some of those medications could contain performance-enhancing substances banned by the IOC. Asthmatic athletes must apply for waivers for the medicines they need so they don't run afoul of anti-doping rules.

Working To Improve Air Quality

Chinese authorities are working very hard to make sure air quality is acceptable during the Olympics. They spent $10 billion on pollution controls since Beijing was named Olympics host in 2001, according to Jeff Ruffolo, a media consultant for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

"I think scientifically we've done everything possible and will continue up until games time and through games time to make it the best possible for athletes and visitors," Ruffolo says.

Beijing Organizing Committee spokesman Sun Weide says officials have taken drastic measures, such as relocating factories and restricting the number of vehicles on the roads to clear the air.

"We are confident that because of those extra measures, the air quality will be good for the athletes during the games time," Sun says.

Some anti-pollution measures were invoked in recent weeks, and Ruffolo says the effects were immediate. Two days after some of the strictest measures were enforced, Ruffolo reported "two days of rather impressive blue sky. ... It's been beautiful outside, and you just take it one day at a time."

Blue skies are not common in Beijing, so we asked NPR Beijing Correspondent Anthony Kuhn to take a look for himself.

"There has definitely been an improvement in the air quality," Kuhn says, but he noted that "blue sky" is a relative term in Beijing.

"The Beijing government calls days here with good air quality 'blue sky days,' " Kuhn says. "Sometimes it's hard to tell. Looking at the sky today, there's only a suggestion of blue peeking through the haze and the clouds."

Minimizing The Smog's Impact

The organizing committee and the IOC are monitoring air quality constantly. They have contingency plans for delaying endurance events if air quality isn't acceptable when competition is scheduled.

Athletes and coaches have been trying to figure out how to minimize the smog's impact on performance. Some teams are limiting exposure in advance of competition by avoiding Beijing and training elsewhere. U.S. athletes have been offered breathing masks that filter out some particulates. The masks are not intended for competition. They could actually hinder performance as much as bad air. Athletes would wear them outside of competition and training, again to minimize exposure.

"The benefits [of the masks] are as much psychological as they are physiological," says Darryl Seibel, spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee. "Whether or not these devices are necessary is something we won't know until we're actually in Beijing at the games. We're optimistic that the air will be of a suitable standard, [but] we are prepared in the event that we encounter conditions that are somewhat less than ideal."

"I think of [pollution] as one of many factors that I need to deal with during the race," says Philip Dunn, who will compete in the 50-km race walk, the longest track and field event in the Olympics. He plans to avoid Beijing before his event, except briefly for the opening ceremonies. But, he says, there isn't much else he can do.

"Most of my planning is going to be focused on simply getting used to the time zone [change and] getting used to the heat and the humidity," Dunn says. "Those are things I feel I have better control over."

In fact, some endurance athletes may use cooling vests before competition so they start their events refreshed. Proper nutrition and hydration can also help combat the effects of Beijing's stifling humidity and blistering heat. But there are no magic bullets for smog, except rain, which temporarily clears the air. Chinese officials have an extensive cloud seeding program under way to try to induce rain.

Dunn actually sees a potential advantage in the polluted air.

"I think of it as an equalizer," he says. "I think a lot of the athletes may be physically or psychologically affected more than I would be, and I tend to do better in races where the conditions are tougher."

Original here

IOC to probe apparent Internet censorship

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will investigate apparent censorship of the Internet service provided for media covering the Beijing Olympics, press chief Kevan Gosper said on Tuesday.

China, which has promised media the same freedom to report on the Games as they enjoyed at previous Olympics, loosened its regulations governing foreign media in January last year.

Despite these new regulations, which are scheduled to expire in October, foreign media in China have complained of continuing harassment by officials and Human Rights Watch released a report earlier this month saying China was not living up to its pledges.

Attempts to use the Internet network at the Main Press Centre to access the website of Amnesty International, which released a report on Monday slamming China for failing to honor its Olympic human rights pledges, proved fruitless on Tuesday.

Gosper said the IOC would look into anything that interfered with reporters doing their jobs in reporting the Games.

"All of these things are a concern and we'll investigate them but our preoccupation is that the media are able to report on the Games as they did in previous Games," he told Reuters.

"Where it's not happening, we'll take the matter up with BOCOG and the authorities immediately," he said, referring to the Beijing Olympic organizers."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said media should be able to access the Internet as usual but he also conceded that sites related to Falun Gong, the spiritual movement China considers a cult, would be blocked.

"As to sites related to Falun Gong, I think you know that Falun Gong is a cult that has been banned according to law, and we will adhere to our position," Liu told a news conference.

He suggested that difficulties accessing certain websites could be the fault of the sites themselves.

"There are some problems with a lot of websites themselves that makes it not easy to view them in China," Liu said.

"Our attitude is to ensure that foreign journalists have regular access to information in China during the Olympic Games."

The Games officially open on August 8 but the Athletes' and Media Villages are up and running and the Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre are already teeming with some of the more than 20,000 media accredited to cover the event.

"As I've said before, this is a country that does have censorship within its media, but we've been guaranteed free access, open media activity for media reporting on the Olympic Games at Games time," Gosper said. "We are now in Games time."

Gosper also said that there had been complaints that the Internet service provided for media was too slow.

"We're looking into that and we've tracked that information into BOCOG immediately because free access to the Internet also means normal speed," he said.

But Gosper, making his first tour of the press centre since his arrival from Australia, said he was pleased with how things looked with just 10 days to go.

"The build-up is always nervous but so far, so good."

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck, Editing by Nick Macfie)

Original here

Internet sites still blocked for Olympic reporters

Foreign journalists use Internet services provided at the Main Press Center at the Olympic Green in Beijing, Tuesday, July 29, 2008. After months of promising the Internet will be uncensored for journalists during the Beijing Olympics, the IOC delivered a stark clarification on Tuesday, many Internet sites will be blocked under controls applied by China's communist government. The blocked Internet is the latest broken promise on press freedom at the Beijing Olympics, which China's authoritarian government is hoping will show off an open, modern country and the rising political and economic power of the 21st century. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

By Stephen Wade

BEIJING—Olympic organizers are backtracking on another promise about coverage of the Beijing Games, keeping in place blocks on Internet sites in the Main Press Center and venues where reporters will work.

The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve information, particularly on political and human rights stories the government dislikes. On Tuesday, sites such as Amnesty International or any search for a site with Tibet in the address could not be opened at the Main Press Center, which will house about 5,000 print journalists when the games open Aug. 8.

"This type of censorship would have been unthinkable in Athens, but China seems to have more formalities," said Mihai Mironica, a journalist with ProTV in Romania. "If journalists cannot fully access the Internet here, it will definitely be a problem."

The censored Internet is the latest broken promise on press freedoms. In bidding for the games seven years ago, Chinese officials said the media would have "complete freedom to report." And in April, Hein Verbruggen and Kevan Gosper -- senior IOC members overseeing the games -- said they'd received assurances from Chinese officials that Internet censorship would be lifted for journalists during the games.

China routinely blocks Internet access to its own citizens.

Gosper, however, issued a clarification Tuesday. He said the open Internet extended only to sites that related to "Olympic competitions."

"My preoccupation and responsibility is to ensure that the games competitions are reported openly to the world," Gosper said.

"The regulatory changes we negotiated with BOCOG and which required Chinese legislative changes were to do with reporting on the games," Gosper added, using the acronym for the Olympic organizers. "This didn't necessarily extend to free access and reporting on everything that relates to China."

Journalists trying to use the Internet on Tuesday expressed frustration, and some also complained about slow speeds. Several said it might be an intentional ploy to discourage use.

IOC officials have said the Internet would be operational by "games time," which began Sunday when the Olympic Village opened.

In a related event, Amnesty International released a report Tuesday accusing China of failing to improve its human rights record ahead of the Olympics.

The group said that in the last year, thousands of petitioners, reformists and others were arrested as part of a government campaign to "clean up" Beijing before the Olympics. It said many have been sentenced to manual labor without trial.

Beijing organizers have been backtracking on the freedom to report.

Rights holders such as NBC, which has paid about $900 million to broadcast the games, and non-rights holders have faced roadblocks, red tape and changing rules as they prepare to cover unexpected events away from the venues.

Broadcasters have complained about having permits rescinded, being forced to give notice a month ahead of time about the location of satellite trucks, and facing harassment from bureaucrats and police about renting office space or getting parking permits for their vehicles.

Earlier this month, broadcasters tried again to get Olympic organizers to lift restrictions on live broadcasts from Tiananmen Square. Alex Gilady, a senior IOC member and a senior vice president of NBC Sports, has pushed for more live time from the iconic venue -- China is offering six hours daily, and no interviews. Others are pressing to lift the ban on live interviews.

"Don't push the issue," responded organizing committee executive vice president Wang Wei, according to an official who attended the meeting. It was Wang who led Beijing's 2001 bid, and who said after winning: "We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China."

NBC is promising to air 3,600 hours of coverage, and its owner, General Electric, is one of 12 top sponsors of the IOC. Some top sponsors have reportedly paid as much as $200 million.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports, said he would like to see more "openness" from Chinese officials. But he seemed to play down the news value of the Olympics. He said NBC was ready to cover stories as they come up, but "we're not going to cavalierly ... blow out sporting events to show news."

Olympic historian David Wallechinsky has criticized the IOC for giving the games to China. He's visited the country more than a half-dozen times in 30 years, and said the IOC and its sponsors were distracted by China's booming economy.

"There is so much money being made that the IOC has just turned a blind eye," Wallechinsky said. "The IOC wanted to believe it was all going to go well, and they weren't there when they should have been. You know, the Communist Party wants to control everything."

The IOC has maintained the Olympics are a sports event, and it should not intervene in politics. However, others have faulted the Swiss-based body for failing to hold China to promises made seven years ago when it won the bid.

"It is truly sad to see the IOC fail in this regard," said Vincent Brossell, a a spokesman for Paris-based press rights group Reporters Without Borders.

Rioting in Tibet four months ago, which sparked protests on international legs of the torch relay, was followed by the mobilization of an army of security personnel in Beijing -- 110,000 police, riot squads and special forces, augmented by more than 300,000 Olympic volunteers and neighborhood watch members.

Cuban reporter Joel Garcia Leon, with the magazine Trabajadores, said he expected the censorship. But he was overwhelmed by other red tape.

"I'm surprised how tightly controlled and complicated everything is here," he said. "To get a phone number from China Mobile, I have to give them a copy of my passport and my mother's maiden name. This seems quite excessive and abnormal."

Original here

Man, 66, records 2 holes-in-one in same round

GAYLORD, Mich. - For somebody who'd been playing golf 50 years and never had a hole-in-one, Bob Hickey got the hang of it quickly. The 66-year-old Grayling man used a 7-iron to card his first-ever ace Thursday on the 167-yard 10th hole at Marsh Ridge in Gaylord. Then Hickey used an 8-iron to ace the 147-yard 17th hole.

According to a 2000 Golf Digest article cited by the Traverse City Record-Eagle, the odds of one player making two holes-in-one during the same round are 67 million to 1.

Hickey, who finished at 2-over-par 74, says he'd made two eagles but never came close to a hole-in-one before Thursday. The long-haul trucker says he thinks he benefited from "just pure luck."

Original here

NFL gives Internet a butt-pat, offers live streaming games

By Jacqui Cheng

Webcasting has officially made its way to the beer-and-football mainstream thanks to the National Football League, which has announced plans to stream live broadcasts of Sunday night football games this fall. These streams will be the first time the NFL's content is made widely available online, and the news means that the patented Madden "Boom!" will soon be coming to a laptop near you.

Both the NFL and its broadcast partner, NBC, will provide sites dedicated to the webcasts. In addition to the live TV feed that features commentary from Al Michaels and John Madden, both sites will feature a variety of extra content. These include highlight clips, views from multiple cameras, live statistics, and blog content. True fanatics may find the site worth visiting even if they have access to the TV broadcast.

The move is surprisingly forward-looking, given the NFL's historic anti-online stance when it comes to its games. As many Internet-using NFL fans know by now, the league keeps an extremely tight leash on even the tiniest of clips from its games. The organization even made headlines last March when it sent a series of DMCA takedown notices to Brooklyn Law School professor Wendy Seltzer because she posted a clip on YouTube that showed the NFL's own copyright notice. In August, however, the NFL took its first baby steps into the big, bad online world by signing a deal with DIRECTV that would allow some satellite subscribers to watch games streamed live to their PCs.

Still, the DIRECTV deal was pretty restrictive, making this new offering even more noteworthy. "We are taking a big leap here," NFL Network's Steve Bornstein told the LA Times. "We are looking at this as a learning opportunity to see what applications work online. We are trying to be innovative and creative to make the viewing experience better for our fans."

NBC plans to sell advertising for the webcasts (presumably they will be free to the public) and the revenues from the ads will be shared with the NFL. Given the massive mainstream appeal of NFL games, the potential for this venture to rake in the advertising dollars is huge. This ain't no live broadcast of an artsy-fartsy documentary or the Jackass 2.5 movie; this is Reggie Bush trying to become the second coming of Barry Sanders.

The NFL and NBC plan to begin offering streams on September 4, a Thursday night game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. After that, they will do regular broadcasts of Sunday night games.

If the league is successful, the move could open up the door to other mainstream TV content being broadcast live online, rather than delayed, as most network fare currently is. Live online House, here I come!

Original here

Brett Favre's waffling? Packers fans won't take it sitting down

Bill Dwyre:

Morry Gash / Associated Press
Charles Mollenkamp, 17, of Brookfield, Wis., shows his support to bring back Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, at a rally outside Wisconsin State Fair Park on July 14 in Milwaukee.
The quarterback is worshiped in Wisconsin, but his apparent desire to play elsewhere is likely to compromise that loyalty.

These are confusing times for the men and women on the bar stools in the Fox River Valley towns of Wisconsin.

With their shot and a beer comes the inevitable talk of Brett Favre. Some will be wearing their sacred No. 4 Packers jerseys as they belly up. Since the early 1990s, Favre has been the deity and they have knelt before him.
To live in this area for an extended period of time, to call Sheboygan or Appleton or Fond du Lac home, is to better understand it and its people. They work hard, pay bills on time, plan around Friday night fish fries, put the snow tires on in late October and live and die with their Green Bay Packers.

A Sunday afternoon during Packers season is slow death to a local business, unless that business is a sports bar. Even if it isn't snowing, the streets empty and the TV sets hum. For most, the big city is Chicago and the bright lights of New York and Los Angeles are TV images of scary crowds, scarier freeways and horrifying crime.

In many of these towns, there is little reason, or inclination, to lock your doors at night.
When Favre was delivered unto them, lo those 16 years ago, he was the answer to prayers that there could be a reincarnation of Bart Starr.

Starr was a soft-spoken Southerner who said yes-sir and no-sir, won big games in a quiet and efficient manner, and never, ever put ego before team.

Favre was perfect. He was right off a tractor in Mississippi. He was handsome, friendly, accessible to the public, down-to-earth. Better yet, after some growing pains, he became a quarterback so good it was scary.

Packers fans loved him in hundreds of ways and he responded in kind, with longevity, gutsy performances while injured, dozens of exciting comebacks, and even a Super Bowl title in 1997.

In Wisconsin, loyalty is hard earned and hard lost. Waffling is frowned upon.

So, when Favre announced in March that he was retiring and then quickly started to make noises about coming back, the people on the bar stools were both excited and confused. He was their guy, and they knew he could probably still play at a high level.

But their guy wouldn't say one thing and mean another. People change their minds, but Favre was starting to sound like one of those boxers -- retire for show and un-retire for dough.

Now, the confusion has to be at an all-time high. Are the Packers the bad guys because they want to move on, and started to do so with Aaron Rodgers once Favre said he was done? Has boy-next-door Favre been hiding all these years in blue jeans and T-shirts, when his real persona was to take the money -- in this case $12.7 million for next season -- and run, even if he said he didn't want it or need it four months ago?

Now, teams are in training camp. The Packers have Rodgers over center. Something needs to be settled soon, and surely will.

Favre is a great quarterback, probably even now, 10 weeks shy of his 39th birthday. At one point, the Packers were going to retire his beloved No. 4 jersey in a ceremony at their home opener, Sept. 8, against the division-rival Minnesota Vikings.

Now, talk is he might end up being the Vikings' quarterback. There is also talk he could go to the Bears, the only division rival hated more than the Vikings.

It is hard to know who is right and who is wrong here. Maybe the Packers, currently unwilling to release his rights, are the unreasonable ones. Maybe Favre.

There is only one certainty. If Favre quarterbacks either the Vikings or the Bears this season, knowing how Packers fans feel about those teams, the guy in the blue jeans and T-shirt will be a dead memory. There are some places where loyalty trumps money and ego, and Wisconsin is one of them.

If it happens, if Favre goes to the Vikings or Bears, the people on the bar stools will get used to it. There will be memories of the Bart Starr years to dig out.

And there will be rounds of shots and beers, to hoist in toasts to Aaron Rodgers.

Original here

Crooked NBA Ref Gets 15 Months In Prison

Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy arrives at Brooklyn federal court for his sentencing, Tuesday, July 29, 2008, in New York. Donaghy pleaded guilty in August 2007 to federal charges that he took payoffs from a professional gambler for inside tips on games. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

NEW YORK — Disgraced ex-NBA official Tim Donaghy admitted that he'd brought shame on his profession Tuesday as a federal judge sentenced him to 15 months behind bars for a gambling scandal that still has the league on the defensive.

U.S. District Judge Carol Amon sentenced Donaghy to prison time plus three years of supervised release, saying he'd let the sport down by taking thousands of dollars from a professional gambler in exchange for inside tips on games _ including ones he refereed.

"The NBA, the players and the fans relied on him to perform his job in an honest manner," Amon said. Donaghy listened with his arms folded but showed no emotion.

He told the judge that "I've brought shame on myself, my family and the profession."

Defense attorney John Lauro asked Amon to give his 41-year-old client probation, saying the ex-official was a gambling addict who destroyed "the career he loved" and needed treatment, not incarceration. Donaghy also had sought to make amends by revealing "the good, the bad and the ugly" about the league's officiating, the attorney added.

During the NBA finals, Donaghy said in a court filing that the league routinely encouraged refs to ring up bogus fouls to manipulate results, while discouraging them from calling technical fouls on star players.

In the end, Amon refused Donaghy's plea to stay out of prison, though she imposed a penalty that was not as tough as the 33 months he could have received. Donaghy must surrender to prison on Sept. 23.

Case closed for him. For the NBA, the damage lingers.

Commissioner David Stern has made several moves to quell doubts about the integrity of the NBA's officiating, with more developments to come.

Former Army Gen. Ron Johnson has been hired as senior vice president of referee operations, Bernie Fryer and Joe Borgia were promoted to new management positions and the league reassigned Ronnie Nunn, who had been the director of officials for five years.

Still pending is a league-commissioned review of officiating by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz. "I am conducting additional interviews and hope to obtain additional information from the government. My review is well-advanced but not complete," Pedowitz said Tuesday. No date has been set for the report's release.

Justin Wolfers, an assistant professor of business and public policy at Penn's Wharton School, who co-authored a study that said white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players, said the league needs to share all the information it has.

"Any fan who sees anything other than transparency will have questions," he said. "I think they want to be as much of an open book with fans, journalists and researchers as they can possibly be."

Perhaps most shocking were Donaghy's charges during the highly anticipated finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers that results were manipulated to help ticket sales and television ratings.

The allegations _ contained in court papers arguing that Donaghy deserved leniency for voluntarily disclosing the alleged corruption _ included one instance claiming referees rigged a 2002 playoff series to force it to a revenue-boosting seventh game.

Though the papers didn't name the teams involved, only the Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento Kings series went to seven games during those playoffs. The Lakers went on to win the championship.

Both Stern and the league's officials have said Donaghy made the claims to get a lighter sentence.

"We anticipate that the judge's sentencing decision, together with the changes we have made to our referee operations staff, will enable us to continue with the improvements we are making to our anti-gambling rules, policies and procedures," Stern said Tuesday.

"There is little comfort to be gained from the mandatory prison sentence, especially as it affects Mr. Donaghy's children and their mother, but hopefully the healing process can begin in earnest for all."

The NBA could get a break from the Olympics, where the U.S. team is a heavy favorite to bounce back from a bronze-medal performance in 2004 and win the gold. MVP Kobe Bryant and all-star LeBron James, who has guaranteed victory, will lead a loaded U.S. team.

Donaghy pleaded guilty last August to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce in the tips-for-payoffs scheme. "By having this nonpublic information, I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games," he told a judge at the time.

Lauro said that to clear his conscience, Donaghy began cooperating with prosecutors even before he was charged, and claimed he "provided the government a roadmap" to widespread misconduct in the NBA.

"He told it all _ the good, the bad and the ugly," Lauro said. "He had to do it because it was the right thing to do ... The bottom line is that Mr. Donaghy has been a model cooperator."

Prosecutors have said that though he deserved credit for helping make the case against two co-defendants _ both former high school classmates of Donaghy _ nothing else he alleged was criminal.

At a sentencing last week, James Battista, a professional gambler and admitted drug addict, got 15 months in prison for making bets based on inside tips. Thomas Martino, the scheme's middleman, was sentenced to a year and one day for paying the referee thousands of dollars for the tips. The three men attended school together in Springfield, Pa.

On Tuesday, the judge called Donaghy "more culpable" than the others. "Without Mr. Donaghy, there was no scheme," she said.

The league had demanded nearly $1.4 million in restitution. But the judge last week set the restitution at $217,266, to be paid jointly by the three defendants.

"Tim acted in a completely selfish and unforgivable way, and has forever compromised the way people look at sports and officiating," said Lamell McMorris, spokesperson for the National Basketball Referees Association. "However, NBA referees will continue to officiate with the highest level of integrity and professionalism."

Original here

Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd are 'elderly statesmen' of American youth brigade

Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Kobe Bryant (10), who is approaching his 30th birthday, and 35-year-old Jason Kidd (foreground) are by far the elder statesman of a youthful U.S. Olympic basketball team.


MACAO -- After enough embarrassments to last the rest of time, the U.S. international basketball program set out to reclaim the game Dr. James Naismith invented in Springfield, Mass., and the world proceeded to steal, starting with the Americans' triumphant return in the 2006 world championships.

Well, until the semifinals, anyway.

With a new managing director, former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo; a new coach, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski; and a serious new regime, the U.S. embarked on its bright new era two years ago, finishing . . .


The result of all that new structure was a shocking loss to Greece in the semifinals in Saitama, Japan, so maybe something was still missing.

How about a grown-up or two?

In the absence of anyone older, the mantle of leadership fell on Krzyzewski's captains, 22-year-old LeBron James, 22-year-old Carmelo Anthony and 24-year-old Dwyane Wade.

Krzyzewski doesn't plan to name captains this time but he doesn't have to. With or without titles, the leaders are 35-year-old Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant, who'll turn 30 Aug. 23, the day before the Olympic basketball final.

"The team two years ago was truly not the team that would have represented us in the world championships," Colangelo said, "only because some guys were not available.

"To start with, Kobe [who had arthroscopic knee surgery]. To start with, Jason Kidd [who was excused for family reasons].

"The team performed well but if you were to be critical, you'd say: Young in the backcourt, small in the backcourt, lack of leadership overall because our group was basically a young group.

"Here you're talking about Kobe and Jason, two elderly statesmen, if you will, leaders, competitors. They truly are the leaders of this team. The younger players -- I'm talking about Carmelo, LeBron, Wade, all of them -- they defer to Kobe and to Jason as leaders."

Bryant and Kidd joined the team for last summer's qualifying Tournament of the Americas. The turning point was the first possession of the first game when Bryant batted the ball away from 20-year-old Venezuela point guard Greivis Vasquez, dived on the floor after it and, after Vasquez got it, jumped back up and stole his pass.

An awed Vasquez marveled about watching Bryant on TV all his life and "all of a sudden he was guarding me like it was the last game of his life."

It wasn't actually a coincidence. As a Maryland freshman, Vasquez had just missed a triple-double in his first game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, scoring 13 points with 12 assists and nine rebounds as the Terrapins upset Duke.

Not that Krzyzewski and his staff took it hard but they still talk about Vasquez's triple-double as if he actually got it. When they finished telling Bryant about him, Vasquez was the second coming of Manu Ginobili.

"It was more of a personal challenge," Bryant said. "Duke had had a problem with him. He had a triple-double against them so the coaches were talking him up, saying he did a number on them so could I please pay him back for what he did to them?"

"They beat us on our home court and he had a triple-double, as a freshman," said Duke assistant Chris Collins. "We just told Kobe he's a young player, very flamboyant, very Ginobili-style. We said, 'Hey, if you let him score and do some things early, he's probably going to let you know about it.'

"Kobe came out in the first two minutes and kinda put that to rest."

The rest of the Tournament of the Americas went like that, with the U.S. going unbeaten, winning by an average of 37.5 points.

"I think a spot was open for both of those guys to come in and lead in their own way," Anthony said. "Kobe came in and told everybody, what the team needed him to do, what Coach K needed him to do, he was going to do that. Everybody says that but everybody doesn't always do that. . . .

"They're two totally different personalities. Kobe's more laid back. He's starting to open up a little bit more with the guys around him, which is a good thing, which we're all looking for.

"Jason's just more like a leader all the time, a point guard on the floor and off."

Greece just earned a berth in the Americans' pool in Beijing. If a loss to Maryland could haunt the coaching staff, wait until Bryant hears about the horrors of 2006.

Original here

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nyack swimmer, 72, dies at Games

BINGHAMTON - Joel Schwartz loved to swim and was proud of winning competitions. At age 72, the Nyack man served as a role model for physical fitness.

His friends and fellow swimmers said yesterday that they were shocked to learn Schwartz died Friday night after suffering a heart attack while competing in a 1,500-meter freestyle swim at the Empire State Games.

Schwartz was leading the race after 35 of the 60 laps when he was stricken in the pool at Owego Free Academy High School.

"I am so sad to hear about Joel," said Kim Coons, who swam with Schwartz at the Rockland YMCA on Broadway in Nyack.

"He was a great swimmer, and he took it very seriously," Coons said. "Joel was a great athlete, but even more importantly, he was a tremendous human being."

Coons, 52, a member of the YMCA's board of directors, called Schwartz a role model, citing his dedication not only to swimming but also to staying fit.

"He showed me how to stay in shape and remain competitive as I age," Coons said. "He had such a positive attitude. Any day I ran into Joel at the pool was going to be a good day for me."

Paul McClintock, the Empire State Games Masters swimming coordinator, said Schwartz led the 60-lap race for the 70-74 age group.

"He got to the shallow end of the pool and rolled over on his back in obvious distress," McClintock said. "The lap counter immediately pulled him over to the wall, and the lifeguards and EMT ran to him, took him out of the pool and immediately began CPR. They also had a defibrillator with them."

Owego's Fire Department and emergency squad responded to the high school pool around 7:35 p.m., Fire Chief Tom Taft Jr. said.

Taft did not identify the lifeguards but said, "Basically, they were certified and were high school students. They appeared to have done a great job, anything anybody could have done."

Schwartz was then taken to Wilson Regional Medical Center in Johnson City, where he was pronounced dead, said Fred Smith, executive director of the Empire State Games.

"We had an emergency life-support vehicle at the site, as we do at many of the events," Smith said.

Schwartz was the first athlete and third person to die in the 31-year history of the Empire State Games.

In 1986 at Buffalo, the Western region director Herb Moles suffered a heart attack right after the opening ceremonies ended. In the 1989 Games at Ithaca, a parent of a track athlete died.

McClintock said a moment of silence was observed prior to the 800 meters, in which Schwartz was scheduled to swim.

He also explained to the Masters swimmers in the session what had happened.

"This certainly casts a pall over the general actions of the athletes," McClintock said. "I had just spoke to him a few weeks ago, and I talked to him before the race. He seemed to be in good spirits and prepared for it."

Exercise was an important part of his life, as he swam and worked out in the fitness room at the YMCA, said Chuck Maze, the YMCA's chief executive officer.

Schwartz told The Journal News in an interview this year that he enjoyed training at the YMCA. He said he enjoyed the low-key atmosphere and that there was no informal competition to see who could lift the most weight.

Schwartz, a retired businessman, set an example for others at the YMCA.

He regularly swam the 60- by 20-foot pool. He used the exercise room with his wife, Debbie.

"He was well-liked by all, and I think he was one of the most physically fit YMCA members," Maze said. "We're proud of his many medals at the Empire State Games. He set an outstanding example for other members to become physically fit."

Schwartz also volunteered his time to raise money for the YMCA and awareness for physical fitness.

He and Coons recently competed in a biathlon sponsored by Toga Bikes to raise money for the Y and its aquatics program, which is used by adults, teenagers and children.

"He has such a great sense of humor and gave of himself to others," Coons said. "He was in such great shape. That's what makes this surprising. He will be missed by the community."

Original here

The List: Five Ways Beijing Will Be the Biggest, Baddest Olympics Ever

From massive construction budgets to an unprecedented security lockdown, the Beijing Games are already Olympian in proportion.

China Photos/Getty Images

A Bigger Budget

The numbers: At least $40 billion total, including $35 billion for new roads and subway lines, $1.8 billion for venue construction and renovation, and a $2 billion operating budget

Behind the numbers: At roughly 2.5 times what Greece spent on the 2004 Athens Games, China’s spending spree is far and away the biggest in Olympic history. Transportation carries the largest price tag. Beijing built a 14-million-square-foot terminal for its airport (one of the world’s largest enclosed spaces, according to The Wall Street Journal), along with 34 new bus routes and five new subway lines, one of which cost nearly $2 billion. Overall, construction has required 3 million tons of steel, including 110,000 tons for the $486 million “bird’s nest” national stadium alone.

YUI MOK/AFP/Getty Images

A Longer Torch Route

The numbers: 137,000 km (85,100 miles), 130 days, 20,000 torchbearers

Behind the numbers: Officially dubbed the “Journey of Harmony,” the 2008 Olympic torch relay has been anything but harmonious. Marred by protests and counterprotests, and labeled a “crisis” even by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, the torch relay has been a microcosm for the broader controversy surrounding the Beijing Games. Groups supporting autonomy for Tibet received most of the attention, but a variety of activists decrying China’s stance on democracy and promoting press freedom, Taiwanese nationalism, and a range of human rights causes made their voices heard. But although politics shortened the relay in some places (San Francisco) and torpedoed it in others (Taiwan), the torch relay did have some things going for it. China’s Olympic torch traveled the longest distance and included the greatest number of torchbearers since the tradition began in 1936 … under Adolf Hitler.


More Media Coverage

The numbers: 4 billion TV viewers, 3,600 hours of coverage in the United States

Behind the numbers: Aside from the timeless spectacle of international sport, interest in China’s rise and the controversy off the field make this year’s games must-see TV. Chinese media project a record 4 billion viewers will tune in throughout the 17-day games, which will be entirely produced and broadcast in HDTV for the first time. In the United States, NBC Universal plans to shoot more than 3,600 hours of coverage on its networks—tripling its previous high of 1,210 hours in Athens. After making limited amounts of coverage available in previous years on its Web site, NBC will provide 2,200 hours of streaming video online and will use the Olympics as a “billion-dollar research lab” to measure how viewers use different media platforms, according to the Associated Press. More than 20,000 accredited media will cover the Olympics for outlets worldwide, but they aren’t all happy about it: Journalists are already complaining that China has broken its word to allow the same media freedoms as previous Olympics.

China Photos/Getty Images

More Volunteers

The numbers: 1.5 million volunteers from a pool of more than 2 million applicants

Behind the numbers: Brimming with national pride and eager to show off their country to the world, Chinese people have been stricken with Olympic fever. Some 400,000 were selected to serve as “city volunteers” across Beijing, mostly helping foreign tourists navigate the language barrier. Others will help visitors cross busy streets and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. About 100,000 “games-time” volunteers will serve the Olympic and Paralympic games themselves, an increase over the previous record of 60,000 for the Athens Games. Some 400 have been rigorously training for weeks as cheerleaders, supporting “whatever team that needs it,” while another 400 have been practicing poise and posture for their role as medal presenters. The volunteers also have their own theme song, “I Am a Star.”


More Security

The numbers: $6.5 billion for Beijing, $300 million for Olympic venues, 1 million video cameras, 100,000 antiterrorism squad members

Behind the numbers: The Olympics are often a prime target for radical groups seeking attention while the entire world is focused on a single event. Ever since the terror of Munich ’72 and the Atlanta bombing in 1996, the threat of security breaches has been keeping Olympic organizers up at night. China, in an effort to ensure a “perfect” Olympics, has made Beijing the most protected city in the history of the games. (Security cost “only” $1.5 billion for the Athens Games and $1.4 billion for the 2006 Turin Games.) Along with Uighur militants from Xinjiang and Tibetan freedom advocates, the government has cracked down on activists, beggars, prostitutes, and stray animals—all of which threaten Beijing’s desire to project a modern image during the games. The security measures will include biometric keys (fingerprinting and iris scanning) for sensitive areas, Segway-riding antiterrorist bomb squads, and extensive video surveillance, according to the Virginia-based Security Industry Association. Activists worry that once the athletes and spectators depart, this massive new security apparatus will be used to monitor rights advocates and political dissidents with even greater sophistication than before.

Original here

Digital revolution could be Olympics' salvation

By Robert Woodward

LONDON (Reuters) - For the Olympic movement, the digital revolution is armed with a double-edged sword -- it has lured the younger generation away from sport but could open up the Olympic experience to a far wider audience.

"It (digital media) will have a transforming impact on the Olympics at multiple levels," says Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of Web-based video marketing platform The NewsMarket.

"It will change story-telling for the Games by making it more human and personal."

A Summer Games was one of the sporting and television highlights of the year for today's parents and grandparents.

In the 21st century, young people have a huge variety of sport, music and entertainment media to flick through, both on television and the internet, and the Olympics has no special aura for many of them.

"The Olympic Games are not that credible or relevant to most young people in the developed or developing world," says Alex Balfour, head of new media at the London 2012 organizing committee.

The average age of viewers for the 2004 Games in Athens was over 40 and shows no signs of falling.

"I will maybe watch highlight shows on TV later in the evening but I can never see myself watching it live," said Richard Cousins, a 19-year-old British student.

If the Games lose their cachet in years to come, billions of dollars from sponsorship and broadcasting rights that support the Olympic movement could melt away.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recognized the warning signs and took steps to attract a younger audience by introducing sports like snowboarding to the Winter Olympics, and BMX cycling which makes its debut in Beijing in August.

In February, the IOC went further by choosing Singapore to host the first summer Youth Olympics in 2010, a "key moment" in the words of IOC President Jacques Rogge.

"They (the Youth Olympics) will also be the platform through which youngsters will learn about Olympic values and the benefits of sport, and share their experiences with other communities around the globe," Rogge said.

Platforms and access to communities in the digital world could be just as important in deciding if the Olympics retain their high profile, experts said ahead of a Summer Games in Beijing which is being billed as the first digital Olympics.

"The Olympic Games will be played out on Facebook, YouTube and Flickr whether we like it or not. We need to engage not disengage with them," Balfour told a conference on sports and technology in London. Flickr is a photo-sharing Web site owned by Yahoo.


U.S. internet users viewed more than 12 billion online videos during May, according to digital research firm Comscore, a 45 percent increase over the year before. About one-third of those were on YouTube, owned by Google.

But fans expecting to visit the site to catch up on the day's action in Beijing next month are likely to be disappointed because the IOC is having problems adjusting to the share-it-all ethos of the internet.

In company with other major sports federations, the IOC keeps a very tight rein on its showpiece occasions and views video postings on sites like YouTube as a threat to its rights holders, who can broadcast on television and a number of digital platforms.

The IOC uses video-fingerprinting technology and Web-crawling (monitoring) techniques to prevent unauthorized content being uploaded and track illegal content on Web sites.

However, it has acknowledged the young's infatuation with social networking sites and the increasing power of citizen journalism.

In February, the IOC said it would allow blogging by athletes for the first time at August's Games. In 2010, the 3,500 competitors at the inaugural Youth Olympics will be urged to have their own blog.

"Technology is the key enabler for the Olympic Games," said Alexander Vronski, technology vice president for the Sochi Winter Games of 2014. "New media can engage nations."


Technological advances mean minority sports will get a greater share of the spotlight via streaming video on Web sites and digital television.

In the United States, NBC will offer 3,600 hours of coverage of the August 8-24 Games, triple its offering from the Athens Games, and about a third of this will be streamed over the internet.

3G mobile phone technology could also have a huge impact on the Olympics, allowing athletes and visitors in the Chinese capital to communicate their experiences to those back home.

"People taking photos and video with their cell phones will change the way we watch the Games," says The NewsMarket's Purushothaman.

"For the first time, digital technology will liberate how we all, sitting outside, see the Games." But the IOC will not allow spectators to publish on the internet photos and video taken inside Olympic venues.

"As the iPhone capabilities are growing by the day I can probably see myself using my iPhone to view Olympic clips on the go, maybe on my way to work or when out with my friends," said Richard Woods, 20, a public relations executive.

The long-term goal of the IOC in embracing modern technology is to try to get young people away from their video consoles and out into the fresh air to play sport and stay healthy.

One reason London was chosen to stage the 2012 Games was its pledge to engage young people in the Olympic project and to encourage them to participate actively in sport.

Jon Tibbs, whose public relations company has several Olympic clients, says the "digital marketplace has the potential to re-engage hundreds of millions of people with sport" and, as an added benefit to the Olympic movement, re-energize the interest of consumer companies in sponsoring the Games.

Rogge believes that once youngsters have been persuaded to play sport, they will realize digital competition -- even the active interactivity of Nintendo's Wii console -- is no match for the cut and thrust of sporting competition.

"You will never achieve in a video game," Rogge told The Times newspaper in May. "It is not really success."

(Additional reporting by Mike Buonaiuto and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Sara Ledwith)

Original here

After Sitting in 2004, Ready to Stand and Deliver

From left, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant of the U.S.


LAS VEGAS — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were more witnesses to USA Basketball’s meltdown at the 2004 Olympics than they were participants.

The three young stars, fresh off their rookie N.B.A. seasons, barely left the bench as Coach Larry Brown’s dysfunctional team spiraled downward to a third-place finish that became the low point for USA Basketball’s Olympic performances.

“The lowlight was not playing,” James said. “We knew we could have helped our team in certain situations throughout the game. Being away from your family for 38 days and not getting a fair opportunity to play, that was a lowlight for us three.”

Since that embarrassing performance, the entire USA Basketball organization has been rebuilt. The restructured USA Basketball has James, Anthony and Wade as its linchpins.

Jerry Colangelo, the Phoenix Suns’ chairman, was selected as USA Basketball’s managing director in 2005. He installed mandatory three-year commitments to end the revolving door of players cycling through the system, then bailing out of competitions at the last minute.

A sixth-place finish at the 2002 world championships and a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics had exposed as hubris the idea that a handful of American players could essentially walk out on the court and beat foreign teams that had practiced together for years.

“We have to go over and prove to the world that we’re just not high-paid showboat athletes,” Wade said. “We have to show that we know this game and respect this game and know how to play this game the right way. There’s a lot riding on this for the future of USA Basketball.”

Colangelo installed Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski as the coach of the national team and then approached 24 players in face-to-face meetings to invite them to be part of the program. That way, there would be a host of players familiar with the coaching staff, their teammates and the nuances of international basketball.

“This team has been a different team because it’s a team that’s been built for three years,” Wade said. “This is how we’re going to build. This is how we got back to the top of the mountain.”

There is no better way to quantify the revamping of USA Basketball than the amount of time that the team has practiced together.

The 2004 Olympic team practiced together for 20 days before the Athens Games. The core of the team heading to Beijing will have trained, practiced and played together for 89 days in the past three years.

By having a program that now includes more than 30 players, USA Basketball is able to have roster flexibility but still hold a sense of familiarity and stability.

“I think what comes across to me is that there’s a bond that’s taken place among a lot of these players,” Colangelo said. “They’re much more cohesive both on and off the court than they ever were. I think that’s going to pay dividends.”

So far, the results have been solid but not perfect. USA Basketball is 18-1 since Colangelo’s extreme makeover. In 2006 at the world championships in Japan, the United States team won by an average of 20.5 points. But a loss in the semifinals to a Greek team that did not have a single N.B.A. player forced the United States to settle for bronze.

At the FIBA Americas Championship last summer, Team USA went 10-0, with an average margin of victory of 39.5 points. Its final two victories were examples of its progress. Team USA lost to Puerto Rico by 19 points to open the 2004 Olympics, but in the FIBA semifinals, it defeated Puerto Rico by 44. Team USA lost to Argentina by 7 points in 2004, but in the FIBA final, the United States won by 37.

The success carried over here Friday in the opener of the United States’ exhibition schedule, as Anthony and Wade scored 20 points each in a 120-65 rout of Canada.

Aside from continuity, the biggest difference in this United States team compared with 2004 and 2006 is the quality of the players.

The 2004 Olympic team had a chemistry disaster in the backcourt with Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson. The 2006 world championship team started the decidedly unspectacular backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson for the later games in the tournament.

With the consummate distributor Jason Kidd in the backcourt with perhaps the world’s best player, Kobe Bryant, the starting lineup for Beijing will be appreciably better.

“One of the things people forget a little bit about was that team in 2004 wasn’t the team we would have been, necessarily, the team that we would have fielded, had certain players been available,” Colangelo said. “Kidd and Kobe were two examples. We had some problems sizewise in the backcourt and had lacked a little bit of maturity. The players were all very young.”

Brown’s reputation of being hard on young players carried over to the games in Athens. With Wade, Anthony and James mostly relegated to the bench, Brown relied on a group of mismatched talents like Marbury, Richard Jefferson and Shawn Marion.

“It was very comical,” Wade said of 2004. “You look at it and you shake your head. I look at the roster of that team. How did we take it? Everyone on that team was a good individual player, but when you put them together, it didn’t mix. It was like a bad mix of food.”

And it left a bitter taste in the mouths of the three holdovers. James said he did not know where his bronze medal is. He said he took it to his mother’s house after the Games and had not seen it since. Anthony called the United States’ 2004 performance “embarrassing” and said standing on the platform to accept the bronze medal was a surreal experience. “I didn’t like that feeling,” Anthony said. “I didn’t enjoy that feeling at all.”

Three years of preparation have left the Americans so confident that James issued a guarantee that the Americans would win the gold medal.

He is not the only one with a gold-or-bust mentality. Anthony said the Americans would “have to beat ourselves” to lose.

And if Team USA does climb the podium for gold as expected, Anthony, James and Wade may appreciate it the most because they have seen the depths of American basketball firsthand.

“I’ve been waiting four years for this moment,” Anthony said. “I’ve been waiting four years for this gold medal. It’s going to be special.”

Original here

Brett Favre will not report to Packers practice on Monday

Morry Gash / Associated Press
Brett Favre said Packer GM Ted Thompson asked him to wait to report to training camp. "I don't want to be a distraction to the Packers, and I hope in the next few days we can come to an agreement that would allow me to continue playing football," Favre to's Peter King.
By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Brett Favre won't be reporting to practice today when the Green Bay Packers open training camp. But that doesn't mean the retired quarterback is going to give up his fight to return -- probably with another team.

According to an ESPN report Sunday, Favre has signed a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking to be reinstated but has yet to fax it to league headquarters.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that as of late Sunday night, the league had not received the request.

Favre said he is open to a trade, not just to Tampa Bay or the New York Jets, and is hoping Goodell can help bridge the quarterback's impasse with Packers General Manager Ted Thompson.

"I asked Ted [Saturday], 'Am I welcome in the building if I report?' and Ted was just about shattered," Favre told ESPN. "He said, 'Brett, you can't do that -- you'll get me fired.' I told him I'm not trying to get anybody fired. So Ted asked me to let the guys report and let's try to resolve this over the next two or three days."
Favre said Thompson is not receptive to the idea of giving him a chance to win the starting job from Aaron Rodgers in a quarterback competition at camp.

Favre said the commissioner is "willing to help but he has to be careful.

"I told him I could easily send in this letter [of reinstatement] but they really don't want me there and it'll be a big circus. They play this both ways. Privately, they don't want me there. Publicly, if I sent in the letter but didn't show up right away, they could always fine me or say, 'See, why isn't he here? He really doesn't want to play.' Give me my release and see if I want to play or not."

Original here

NYPD probes cop in YouTube body-check video

Posted by Steven Musil

A New York City police officer was stripped of his gun and badge after a video posted on YouTube showed him body-checking a bicyclist during Friday's Critical Mass bicycle ride.

The video (see below), which was shot by a tourist and posted on the video-sharing site Sunday, shows bicyclists whizzing past uniformed officers during the Times Square protest. One officer begins to stride across the street, picking up speed and violently tackling a bicyclist into a crowded sidewalk.

The video sparked an immediate public outcry and led the department to place the officer, identified by several news agencies as Patrick Pogan, 22, on desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The bicyclist, Christopher Long, 29, was charged with blocking traffic, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and assault, prosecutors said.

Critical Mass is a leaderless mass bicycle ride typically held on the last Friday of each month in cities around the world. The event, which originated in San Francisco in 1992, is alternately referred to as a celebration and a protest against automobile-choked streets.

Original here

Pictured: The moment 100 skydivers came together mid-air to form a 747-sized diamond

For a few precious seconds these 100 skydivers linked up, thousands of feet above Florida.

It was all the time they needed to break the world record for the largest number to gather in a single formation.

One slip and their huge diamond of pinks and greens would have collapsed, sending them crashing into one another and plummeting from the sky.

Take two: The 100 skydivers were able to 'dock' together - gripping the canopies of each other's parachutes - on their second attempt

Roughly the size of a 747 jet, the successful formation broke the previous record of an 85-way canopy formation set in 2005.

A canopy formation, one of the most difficult manoeuvres for parachutists, is built by parachutists flying their parachutes in proximity to each other and then taking grips ("docking") on other jumpers' parachutes.

The practice of building such formations is known by several names; canopy formations (CF), canopy formation skydiving (CFS) or canopy relative work( CRW or CReW).

The 100 jumpers were able to join together on a second of two attempts, using their hands and feet to hook up to adjacent parachutes.

The skydivers exited five planes flying at staggered altitudes to execute the formation.

Sparkling: The diamond formation, made of 100 skydivers jumping from five different planes, is roughly the size of a 747 jumbo jet

The stunt took seven years of planning and training. Each skydiver had to learn how to link up with his lower neighbours by locking his feet into their lines and grabbing their canopies with his arms extended behind him.

Brian Pangburn, a participant and one of the organisers of the record jump, explained the technical complexities behind the record.

'The canopy formation is probably only done by about five per cent of skydivers in the world,' explained the 43-year-old.

'The planning for this was very precise.

'We had five planes, three Otters and two CASAs, which carried the jumpers.

'The way you build it is that the gut on top starts and then he grabs the guy coming from underneath and so on. So we actually built it from the top going down.

'The first plane, which was at 21,000 ft carried the first nine jumpers. They pulled their cords immediately after exiting the plane to get into position.

Starburst: The formation begins to break apart - the most dangerous part of the stunt

'Exactly two minutes later we had another plane empty out the next 25 jumpers and two videographers from 18, 000 ft.

'Two minutes after that at 15,000 ft we had another aircraft with another 25 jumpers.

'And then at 12, 000 ft we had the last two planes carrying 20 and 21 jumpers.

'It took us 11 minutes from the moment the first jumpers exited to when everyone hit the ground so we didn't have much time.

'We also knew we had to break apart at no lower than 4,000 ft so that everyone to land safely on the ground.

'It was close but we got the record just at the last moment.'

Using specially designed advanced technology and aerodynamic PD Lightning CReW parachutes the jumpers were travelling at 1, 200 ft per minute.

The success of the formation was built around solid communication.

'Only three people out of the hundred could transmit messages - two in the air and one from the ground,' explained Brian.

'Each docking had to be exactly right so the communication had to be spot on.

'The most dangerous portion was breaking the formation which is know as a 'starburst'.

'When we broke it down we send off the bottom row and start counting backwards.'

Buckle up: The skydivers in one of the five planes prepare for the dangerous jump

For Brian one of the hardest tasks was to find enough participants to break the world record.

'The canopy formation is probably only done by about five per cent of skydivers in the world,' explained the 43-year-old.

'It was very difficult for us to find the talent and we had to look around the world to get this record done.

'Fifty-six per cent of the team were from America, the other 44 per cent were from countries all over the globe - Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Russia, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Egypt, Argentina and Canada.'

Brian, who is also a member of the US Skydiving team and trains canopy formations all over the world, has been part of the organising team since 2000.

'I got involved in the 100 way record because after the Germans broke the 53 record back in 1996 they proclaimed it to be a physical impossibility to build anything larger.

'That sounded like a challenge to me so we decided to see how big we could go.

'But we never dreamed of going to 100 until 2003 when we put up a 70 way and then in 2005 we got the world record 85 way.

'It wasn't until then that we thought 100 might actually be doable.

'Over the years we have gained a pretty good group of people from around the world who could get it done.

'As we got more and more credibility we were able to attract better people from around the world.'

However such was the skill levels involved, Brian and his team had to assemble the best skydivers in the business - from all over the world.

'We started the training camp in February and we would invite people from around the world to what we called a try out/raining camp and we would evaluate their performance and we had a certain criteria they had to meet.

'They had to dock with in a certain time period and they docked nice and smooth. Then we gave them a formal invitation to participate in the record.

'From the time we started in February I was only home 21 days. We were going around the world evaluating people it took a lot of time to do that.'

Brian found that not only the language, but also the different styles of techniques played a large factor in deciding the final team.

'It is kind of difficult with the language barrier and with all the different cultures of skydiving.

'Some people are used to doing things some ways and we ended up having to change a few mindsets to say we are going to go out and do things this way. Everybody had to thinking the same way.

'Between the actual language communication and the techniques they were two of our biggest obstacles that we had to face.

'Three of us went around to pick the talent and it was a difficult chore because there were a lot of talented people around the world and some were better than us but we had to have the same techniques in order to make this thing work.

'The Russian were talented but some didn't make the team because they wouldn't adopt the same techniques.'

Videographer Norman Kent documented the world record as he parachuted next to the formation.

'In the case of the 100 record my job was much more complicated,' said the 52-year-old.

'The concept of the 100 canopy is a little bit crazy. You jump out of an aeroplane and arrive and open your parachute and then you're going to go and mess with it so that is off the wall.

'I know a lot of skydivers look at them and say to these guys, are you nuts?'

Despite the months of planning, Norman still had to work on instinct to get the best shot.

'There's a lot of guess work involved in this type of photography,' he explains.

'This is a nerve wracking drama and you are in the middle of it.'

Original here