Monday, April 7, 2008

Protests cut short Olympic relay

French police and protesters scuffle in Paris - 7/4/2008
Hundreds of protesters were on the streets of Paris

The Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay has been cut short following anti-Chinese protests along the route.

Security officials extinguished the torch at least three times due to the protests before it was carried on a bus to the relay's end point.

It comes after 37 people were arrested in London as protesters disrupted the torch relay there on Sunday.

The Olympic flame is being carried through 20 countries before arriving for the Beijing Games in August.

Flame protected

The Paris relay started to go wrong almost from the start, despite the presence of 3,000 police along the route, riding motorcycles, jogging or on skates.

A member of the French Green party was restrained by police after attempting to grab the torch from the first of Paris's 80 torch bearers, former world 400 metres hurdles champion Stephane Diagana, Reuters news agency said.

"Nothing's happening as it was meant to," Mr Diagana told French TV.

"It's a shame. It's sad because of what this symbol represents but it can be explained by the context we're aware of."

Police were forced at least three times to put out the torch and carried it onto a bus, as police cleared protesters from the route.

On the second occasion, the flame was being relayed out of a Paris traffic tunnel by an athlete in a wheelchair when it was taken onto a bus because protesters booed and began chanting "Tibet", the Associated Press news agency reported.

The flame itself has been kept alight the whole time in a safety lantern.

The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid peaceful resolution in Tibet
Jacques Rogge, IOC President

Later, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe cancelled a ceremony to welcome the torch relay after Green party activists hung a Tibetan flag and a black banner depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs from the Hotel de Ville (city hall).

Activists have hung Tibetan flags or the black banners from several other Paris landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral.

Several hundred protesters have been involved in the demonstrations, near the Eiffel Tower and along the torch's zig-zag route through Paris to a stadium in the south of the city.

Finally, after several delays, security officials decided to put the torch on a bus to take it to Stade Charlety, where it arrived 30 minutes late at 1530 GMT.

Pro-Tibet activists and Chinese supporters scuffled outside the stadium before police intervened.

Olympic appeal

China condemned what it called an "attempt to sabotage and destroy" the torch relay.

"The Olympic flame belongs to the people around the world," said Wang Hui, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee.

"So the behaviour of a few separatists would not gain sympathy from people and will cause strong criticism and is doomed to fail."

A Tibet protester tries to block the Olympic torch relay in London 6/4/08
China has expressed disgust at the torch protests in London

The Paris relay was meant to be a colourful advertisement for the Beijing Games, instead it has turned into a grotesque embarrassment, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

US Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on President George W Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics unless China improved its human rights record.

Speaking in Beijing earlier on Monday, IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was concerned over both the recent unrest in Tibet and the torch protests.

"The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and calls for a rapid peaceful resolution in Tibet," Mr Rogge said.

He criticised the attempts to disrupt the torch relay, saying violent protests, "for whatever reason," are "not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games".

London's relay saw protesters trying to douse and even snatch the Olympic flame as athletes and celebrities carried it through the city.

The demonstrations have been sparked by China's security crackdown in Tibet following a series of protests against Chinese rule which swept the region last month.

Tibetan exile groups say Chinese security forces killed dozens of protesters. Beijing says about 19 people were killed in rioting.

The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, on 24 March and is being relayed through 20 countries before being carried into the opening ceremony at the Beijing Games on 8 August.

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One of these three will be watching the playoffs at home

With a little over a week left in the season, one of these three will be watching the playoffs at home.

The Western conference has been so crazy this season that there are only 10 days left and only two teams have clinched a playoff spot. There isn't a single division or seeding that has been decided. Everything remains up for grabs. One of the more intriguing races remaining is the three-team battle for the final two spots in the West playoff picture. Sunday could very well go a long way in deciding how it will shape up.

ABC's doubleheader features the Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Hornets (1 ET) followed by the Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns (3:30 ET). The Warriors and Mavs, along with the Denver Nuggets are all within at least one game of each other. All three teams could win 50 games this season, yet one of them will not be joining the playoff party. Here's how I see it all shaking down:

#7 Dallas:

Thanks to a critical victory over the Warriors on Wednesday night and the unexpected early return of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks now have the inside track on the No. 7 seed. Owning the tie breaker over Golden State should give Dallas the extra cushion it needs to gain the advantage. Their remaining opponents also help Dallas' cause. After playing Phoenix on Sunday, the Mavs schedule lightens up down the stretch, including two games versus Seattle.

Jason Kidd is the key. He needs to find some of his offensive confidence in order to provide the type of threat that will alleviate the pressure of having his defender sit in the lap of Nowitzki and Josh Howard. The Mavs are the most complete team of the three and their defense is still good enough to steal a win or two on nights when they struggle offensively. Neither Golden State nor Denver can make that claim.

#8 Denver:

The Nuggets and Warriors play one more time and that game could go a long way in determining the last playoff spot in the West. The Nuggets ultimately have a good shot at grabbing the No. 8 seed because, quite simply, they are playing better basketball at the right time. Denver may be undisciplined, but they win games by merely having more fire power than their opponents. Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony have been constants and now J.R.Smith is playing the best basketball of his short career in terms of contributing on a more consistent basis.

If it comes down to the last game of the season, it is hard to deny the sheer will of Iverson, who has played in more meaningful games than any other player involved in the chase for the final playoff slot.

#9 Golden State:

When the Warriors are heading to their off-season homes as the playoffs begin, they will look back on the beating in Dallas on Wednesday as their fate-sealing moment. Their putrid effort defensively combined with a 2-for-20 shooting performance from Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington in the biggest game of the season will prevent the Warriors a chance to cause another stir in the first round of the playoffs. Due to the fact that the Warriors lose tiebreakers with both the Mavs and Nuggets, in order to get in they will most likely need to sweep their four remaining games with the bottom feeders on their schedule, as well as win at least two of three from New Orleans, Phoenix, and Denver.

That is a tall order for a team that won't be able to grind out a victory with tough defense and rebounding. Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson can light up a scoreboard, but the team's lack of defensive commitment leaves them with a margin for error that is much too small to overcome Denver or Dallas.

ESPN analyst Tim Legler is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime

Dimes Past: March 29-30 | 30 | 31 | April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6

Coach Of The Year Is Buzzing

By J.A. Adande |

Since the Chris Paul-should-get-MVP-if-the-Hornets-win-the-Western-Conference argument seems to be gaining momentum, the same logic should apply to Byron Scott for Coach of the Year.

Coach of the Year often is a way to cover up bad predictions. When a team surpasses all expectations and does better than anyone expected, instead of saying we were wrong, we can just hand a guy a trophy and say, "What a great job he did."

No one had the Hornets atop the loaded Western Conference. They weren't supposed to be there at any point in the season, let alone this late.

How much of the Hornets' success is because of Scott, and how much is because of Paul? And by nature, wouldn't an MVP almost disqualify his coach from Coach of the Year honors? The awards have gone to a player and a coach from the same team only 10 times -- most recently to Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix in 2005.

One reason the awards would seem to be conflicting is that a quality of an MVP is leadership. Another is elevating his teammates to higher levels. It's hard to view Doc Rivers as a top Coach of the Year candidate when Kevin Garnett has had such an obvious impact on the entire culture of the Celtics ... including taking the extra steps to make sure there wouldn't be tension and jealousy among him, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

In New Orleans, Paul has been the maestro on the court, lobbing alley-oops to Tyson Chandler, finding David West in the right spots, kicking the ball out to Peja Stojakovic for 3-pointers and scoring himself seemingly at will.

Read the rest of J.A. Adande's story

How The West Is Won
By John Hollinger |
Earlier this week John Hollinger gave his analysis of the Western Conference playoff contenders, here was his take on the Phoenix Suns.

Glass half-full: We've won 10 out of 13, and the three losses were at Detroit, at Boston and at Denver.

Glass half-empty: We're still only 13-9 with Shaquille O'Neal.

Key factoids you might not know: I slammed Suns president Steve Kerr for trading for Shaq; based on the contents of my inbox, it appears one or two Suns fans noticed this. I still have some misgivings about the deal, especially once you get into next year and the year after, but it's hard not to notice how well the Suns are rolling right now.

The key has not been the play of Shaq, who continues to have an insanely high turnover rate. (Seriously, how do you make three turnovers a game if you're taking only eight shots?) Rather, it's been his apparent impact on Amare Stoudemire. The Suns made this deal in part to move Stoudemire out of the center spot, so you have to give them credit for the results.

In 22 games at power forward, Stoudemire has been the best player in the league. No, really, he's been that good. He has averaged 29.4 points on 58.2 percent shooting and averaged nearly 11 free-throw attempts.

But the number that maybe is most important is 36.7. That's how many minutes per game he's played with Shaq, after averaging only 33.0 before the trade because he was in foul trouble too often. Stoudemire's foul rate is still fairly high, but it has declined just enough that he's able to play his regular minutes.

A pessimist would note the Suns have shot unbelievably well on 3s during the recent hot streak, and that's unlikely to hold up over an extended period. But if Stoudemire keeps playing this freakishly well it's not going to matter too much, because right now the difference between New Stoudemire and Old Stoudemire more than offsets the difference between Shawn Marion and Shaquille O'Neal. I'd have never thought that possible, but it's happening.

Remaining schedule: It could be worse. Road games against San Antonio and Houston won't be fun, but they have two gimmies (home vs. Minnesota, at Memphis), and they should be able to handle home games against Dallas and Golden State.

Crystal ball says: The way they're playing they might grab six of the final seven and steal the division crown from L.A. The unfortunate thing is they probably have to win six of the seven, because the Lakers own the tiebreaker. So the smart money remains on the Suns ending up with the No. 5 seed and a brutal first-round pairing against Utah.

It's possible they could move up to No. 3 even if they don't win the division, because the Suns still play San Antonio and will own the tiebreak with a victory. But again, this scenario pretty much depends on them winning at least six of their last seven.

See the rest of John Hollinger's column

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Girl named 'Alexa Rodriguez' attacked by hawk at Fenway

BOSTON - A 13-year-old girl touring Fenway Park on a school trip was attacked by a resident red-tailed hawk that drew blood from her scalp Thursday.

She wasn't seriously hurt, but some observers saw an omen for a certain New York Yankees slugger in the attack at the home of the Boston Red Sox. The girl's name is Alexa Rodriguez.

Vince Jennetta, a teacher who chaperoned her class trip from Memorial Boulevard Middle School in Bristol, Conn., told The Boston Globe that Alexa is "a little shaken, but OK."

The hawk was perched on a railing in the upper deck behind home plate while the group toured the stadium. The hawk flew at the girl and swooped with its talons extended, scratching her scalp.

A single egg lay in the hawk's nearby nest in an overhang near the stadium's press booth.

The nest and egg were removed at the direction of state wildlife officials.

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