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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Radically Extreme The Danny Way

Here is a little background information about Danny Way. Danny went pro in 1989 at the age of 15 and was a child prodigy. To this day he is well known for his technical innovation and for paving the way of skateboarding over-sized structures.

In addition to being the only person to ever leap from a helicopter onto a vert ramp on a skateboard, Way has also set and broken six world records. He currently holds the world records for highest air out of a quarterpipe at 23-feet, 6-inches, and distance on a skateboard at 79-feet. He set the last record in 2004 at X Games X with officials from Guinness World Record on-hand.

Danny has had some personal setbacks and they come along with the job. Some of those setbacks include a broken neck in 1994, a dislocated shoulder, and injuries requiring seven surgeries between 1999 and 2002. Way has continually proven his athletic skills as well as his dedication to the progression of his sport. Highly regarded within the action sports community as a pioneer and a visionary, Danny has repeatedly challenged the limitations set by other athletes and himself, breaking his own records when no one else could.


Danny Way Bomb Drops from Helicopter into a Half pipe
In 1997 Danny Way broke the world record for highest air at 16 feet 6 inches. Then after he broke that record, he bomb-dropped out of a hovering helicopter into the same monstrous ramp just for fun.

Danny Way Jumps the Great Wall of China
Danny Way Jumps the Great Wall of China
Danny Way already held the world records for distance (24 meters / 79 feet) and unaided height (7.14 meters / 23.5 feet) while skateboarding, but that wasn’t enough. Today, Danny Way set a new world record. Danny Way is the first person to leap the wall without a motor vehicle and land successfully.

Danny Way Bomb Drops From The Fender Stratocaster atop the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas
Danny Way Bomb Drops From The Fender Stratocaster atop the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas
On April 6, pro skateboarder Danny Way smashed the “Bomb Drop” world record by freefalling 28 feet from the Fender Stratocaster guitar atop the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas onto a ramp below.

Key Facts of the world record jump:
-Freefall World Record – measured and confirmed by Guinness Book of World Records: 28’/8.53m
-Height of drop-in spot on guitar: 78’/23.77m;
-Height of the landing ramp 56’/17.1m. Width of landing ramp 24’/7.27m; Flat bottom 64’/19.4m;
-Height of quarterpipe 27’/8.2m; Width of quarterpipe 48’/14.54m.
-Previous record 12’ 3.6” held by Adil Dyani.

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Chariot racing to be revived in Rome in 2009

ROME, July 8 (RIA Novosti) - The ancient sport of chariot racing is to be revived in Rome in the fall of 2009, the organizers of the races announced on Tuesday.

Chariot races were very popular in ancient Rome and were featured in the original Olympic Games. A chariot race was first described by Homer in his Iliad.

"The races will last for three days, starting from October 17, 2009... Chariot racers from around the world are expected to compete," Franco Calo, one of the promoters, said.

He said the races would be held at the Circus Maximus, an ancient chariot racing venue which is now a park.

Chariot racers are, understandably, far and few between, and anyone hoping to participate will have to take lessons before heading for the starting line.

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School sports programs fight to stay alive in struggling economy

Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High boys' basketball coach Bob Cimmino has his work cut out for him raising funds to support the school's athletic programs. Forget the wins, which hit 300 in February. Forget the four New York state public school titles in eight years. Of all the statistics Mount Vernon (N.Y.) boys' basketball coach Bob Cimmino keeps, he cherishes one the most. He's 82-for-85. In his time as the Knights' varsity coach, all but three of his players have gone on to college. Cimmino, a social studies teacher who counts Chicago Bulls star Ben Gordon as a program alum, considers sports a critical part of any high school's curriculum.

The Mount Vernon school board disagrees. Two weeks ago, the board eliminated funding for high school sports after a school budget tax levy failed for a second time, forcing the district to draft a $187.4 million austerity budget that also required the elimination of 115 jobs -- 51 of them teaching positions. The decision left Cimmino, Knights football coach Ric Wright and the rest of Mount Vernon's coaches scrambling to raise the $950,000 required to fund the athletic program for the 2008-09 school year. If they can't raise at least $300,000 by August, the coaches said, Mount Vernon's fields and courts could be empty for a long time. Cimmino, a Mount Vernon native, doesn't want to imagine that possibility. "It'll be a devastating thing," he said.

More than 3,000 miles away in Alameda, Calif., coaches and athletes at Alameda and Encinal high schools received the same dire news in March. California's budget crunch had forced the Alameda school district to cut sports, music programs and advanced placement classes to the bone. But students at both high schools -- aware that the school district receives funding based on attendance -- demonstrated their might by walking out of class en masse. The attention garnered by the walkout probably saved the sports program; last month, a $120 parcel tax passed by the slimmest of margins and saved funding for sports.

The situations in Mount Vernon and Alameda aren't isolated. Throughout the country, inflation, rising gas prices and a stagnant economy have forced school districts to rethink how they fund sports. Some have instituted or raised "user fees" that charge parents for their children to play. Some, such as Mount Vernon, have ordered schools to seek private funding. Meanwhile, others have started down a slippery slope of small cuts that can only lead to more drastic ones. If recent events are any indication, school-sponsored sports may soon be only a memory.

"The way everything is going, it could be a completely different landscape in a few years," said Jay Stewart, the athletic director at Florida's St. Lucie County. "High school athletics are in danger."

Last month, Stewart banned his football coaches from traveling more than 75 miles to an away game. He also said that after this year's contracts expire, schools must slice their regular-season football schedules to nine games. Other sports already had cut their seasons, but the idea of football cutting its schedule would have seemed heretical a few years ago. Stewart worries that soon, schools in Florida will have to seriously consider cutting junior varsity sports. Without that feeder system, Stewart said, varsity sports could find themselves on the chopping block as well.

Florida's troubles aren't difficult to trace. High gas prices have forced would-be tourists to stay home. Without those tourists, the state doesn't collect as much sales-tax revenue (Florida has no state income tax). With less revenue, the state has less available to give to school districts. Despite that, districts still must adhere to a state constitution amendment, passed by voters in 2003, that limits class size. With most of the money earmarked for the classroom, districts have struggled to pay for helmets, for volleyball nets or for gas to fill buses for away game trips. "It's the perfect storm," Stewart said. "It's the class-size amendment. It's the reduction in funding. It's the bad economy. All that hit at the same time."

Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon doesn't know where he would have been if he didn't play sports at Mount Vernon High.

Wright, the Mount Vernon football coach, shudders to think about what might happen if he can't raise enough money for his team to play this season. "Football really is the key to everyone else playing," Wright said. "If football doesn't play, nobody plays." And if no one plays, Wright isn't sure what's left for those students to do after school. "It's a tough town," Wright said. "Sports are the alternative."

Mount Vernon is a four-square-mile city in Westchester County bordered by the Bronx to the south, Yonkers to the west and New Rochelle to the east. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Mount Vernon is, economically speaking, an average New York town. The median household income is $41,128, while the state average is $43,393. In Mount Vernon, 14.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to 14.6 percent throughout the state. According to the FBI, however, Mount Vernon has a higher violent-crime rate than its neighbors. In 2005, the FBI counted 431.9 robberies per 100,000 people in Mount Vernon compared to 199.2 per 100,000 in the New York City metro area. Aggravated assaults (329.8 to 239.8) and gun assaults (54 to 17.6) also were more frequent in Mount Vernon than in New York City.

Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young knows the statistics. He also knows from experience how to avoid becoming one. Young's prowess on the track and in the classroom at Mount Vernon High helped pay his way to Morehouse College. Young, who has no say in how the school district allocates its funds, believes his office now must pick up the slack. He worries that if the athletic department can't raise the money, he'll have to pump more money into the police department and youth services. "These kind of programs teach these kids character," Young said. "They teach them to have self respect. And, just very bluntly, if we don't have sports, some of these kids are not going to school."

So to avoid throwing a significant portion of the town's high school population onto the street at 3:10 every afternoon, Young has launched the Save Our Sports program to help solicit private donations. Last month, the Bulls' Gordon traveled to Mount Vernon on a day's notice to help drum up support for the program. "I don't know where I'd be," Gordon said at a press conference to introduce the program, "without the support created by the Mount Vernon sports program... It kept us all off the streets."

In Grand Meadow, Minn., Grand Meadow High assistant wrestling coach Jim Richardson shares Young's belief that money not spent on sports eventually will be spent on law enforcement. Richardson has a unique perspective; he's also Grand Meadow's police chief. "I'd rather deal with them on the field or in the gym," Richardson said, "than at 2 a.m. in a cornfield." Recent budget cuts forced Grand Meadow to eliminate baseball, softball and golf. Richardson worries the cuts eventually will cost more than they save. "In America, it's all about investing," he said. "What do you want to invest in?"

Cutting sports also can turn a school into a ghost town. In March, California's Alameda Unified School District faced a mass exodus of athletes and honor students to other schools when the district decided to chop funding for sports and advanced placement classes. So the students decided to stage a mass exodus of their own to prove how valuable those programs were.

At California's Encinal High, which produced Willie Stargell, Dontrelle Willis and Jimmy Rollins, quarterback/safety/right fielder Jonathan Brown joined other student leaders in organizing a peaceful walkout that brought the district's two high schools to their knees for a day. Brown, the son of a police captain who is drawing football interest from Colorado and the Air Force Academy, said the students had to show the community how much the programs meant.

"We waited for everybody to get to school," Brown said. "At second period, everybody walked to the front of the school. A few people had bullhorns, saying we were going to walk all the way to the administrative offices to see the superintendent. That's on the other side of town, so it was a long walk."

Superintendent Ardella Dailey met with the students and explained that for the district to fund the programs, voters would have to pass Measure H, a $120 tax hike paid by each property owner. For the next two months, students rallied to support the measure, but when the polls closed June 3, it appeared the measure had fallen just short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. But over the next few days, as the absentee ballots came in, the pendulum swung. The measure passed by 34 votes.

"Luckily it did," Brown said. "Because if it didn't pass, a lot of people were going to be leaving."

Pay to play

As money grows tighter for taxpayers across the nation, levies such as Measure H aren't going to save sports funding everywhere. To make matters worse, some districts have placed athletics on the sacrificial altar so many times in order to ram through a tax increase or to squeeze out additional funding, voters have begun to consider it an empty threat.

School sports turned into political football earlier this year in Manchester, N.H. In April, athletic director Dave Gosselin warned that the district might not be able to find funding for athletics in the $140 million budget proposed by Mayor Frank Guinta. The mayor argued that if the district used the money more efficiently, it could afford to fund sports. In an interview with the Union-Leader, one of Guinta's predecessors, a veteran of an earlier budget crunch, agreed.

"This is an exercise designed to whip the parents into a frenzy," former mayor Raymond Wiezorek told the paper. "It wouldn't occur to them to ever take a good look to see if there's another way to do things that might cost a little less. ... [Government] never makes the adjustments that a private business has to make to survive. In government, how do I survive? I send people a larger tax bill. I don't ever have to worry about changing anything."

In May, Manchester's school board approved a budget that would continue to fund athletics. But without additional tax dollars, what is a cash-strapped district to do? Bob Kanaby, the director of the National Federation of High School Associations, said schools in nearly 40 states charge students to play sports.

As the economy has faltered, those user fees have risen in many districts. Last September, The Boston Globe reported that 27 schools in metro Boston charged students to play sports. Fees ranged from $75 per sport at North Middlesex Regional in Townsend, Mass., to $250 a sport with a $1,000 per family cap at Stoneham High, where a new garbage collection fee -- on top of the user fees -- saved sports in 2007. In Brainerd, Minn., parents and coaches formed a foundation to fund Brainerd High's sports programs after the district eliminated funding. In spite of their efforts, parents will have to fork over $380 a child in activity fees this school year. In Lakeville, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb, a failed tax levy forced a mid-year activity-fee hike from $90 to $230. Lakeville North High athletic director Byron Olson said the increase didn't affect team sports this past spring, but it did curb participation in individual sports such as track and tennis.

Olson worries that districts are pricing low-income families out of sports. Unlike other schools that charge user fees, Lakeville North has yet to raise enough money to create a fund that would allow poor students to have their fees waived. Olson fears the disparity will make an already obvious class system even worse. He also worries that some students may never try new sports because their parents aren't willing to spend the money.

"We're going to lose some students because they can't afford it," Olson said. "It goes against everything that we stand for."

User fees also introduce other issues. For instance, parents grow more frustrated when their child sits the bench. Didn't they pay so she could play? Also, coaches and school athletic directors turn into glorified accounts receivable clerks. They must track down every check and manage mountains of extra paperwork.

For these reasons, schools in much of the country have fought user fees, either by raising money to cover shortfalls or by convincing local governments to provide enough to keep them running. But when the money evaporates, some schools have no choice. The coaches at Mount Vernon in New York never wanted their athletes to have to pay. Now, they must consider the possibility. "It's on the table," Cimmino said.

Potential solutions

The surest way to keep school sports afloat is to raise money that can directly fund athletic programs. Anyone who has ever eaten at a crab boil or had their car washed by a high school softball team knows most high school coaches are master fundraisers. But can they raise six- and seven-figure sums if they must forge ahead without public funding?

Wright, the Mount Vernon football coach, hopes he can. He has secured a $25,000 donation from filmmaker Jeff Cooney, a former Mount Vernon resident who previously had spent that amount every year to provide academic coaches for the football team through the National Football Foundation's Play it Smart program. The academic coaches have volunteered to work for free this year so Cooney could repurpose his donation.

Still, Wright knows he needs more than a few big donors. He'll take anything he can get to help Mount Vernon's teams play this year. He suggests that if 5,000 people gave up one night at the theater, the school could fund the entire sports program into the winter. Raising money for this year is the first challenge. Keeping the programs funded is another story entirely.

In Texas, where education funding has not risen with the level of inflation for three years, Plano athletic director Gerald Brence runs what might be as close to a recession-proof program as possible. Brence hopes that in a few years, his department can take in enough revenue in ticket sales to fund itself. He said that if home football games for his district's three high schools can draw between 8,000 and 10,000 fans, the district should come close to breaking even. That way, he said, the district could continue to provide the necessities -- fields, equipment, transportation, officials -- while leaving any extras to school booster clubs. "If they want to run through a giant, inflatable helmet," Brence said, "that's something the booster club would have to provide."

Of course, not all communities are as affluent or sports-crazy as Plano. In other areas, districts may have to raise private funds for endowments or find more creative ways to get public funding. One potential solution is a tax-credit program. At Red Rock High in Sedona, Ariz., parents must pay a participation fee ($400 per family maximum) for their children to play sports. But those who pay the fee are eligible to receive a credit on their state income tax return. So they pay the same tax bill they normally would, but those dollars get earmarked for a program those taxpayers consider vital to their community.

At Mount Vernon, coaches and civic leaders will examine every option. The coaches already have offered to work for free, and they'll spend most of their free time fundraising to save the athletic program. Though the odds are against them, Cimmino, Wright and the other Mount Vernon coaches believe they can beat the buzzer and play this season.

"I promise," Cimmino said, "I'll have a big smile on my face in August watching coach Ric yell at his players."

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Bioengineering The Perfect Athlete

Will scientists ever create the perfect athlete?

Sure, someday. But creating drug-enhanced superhumans along the lines of Captain America or the Russian boxer who beat up Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV is a lot harder than you'd think.

In fact, the most talked about super-steroid, a drug designed to treat muscular dystrophy, failed in a clinical trial earlier this year and has been discontinued by Wyeth (nyse: WYE - news - people ), its maker.

Some drugs can dramatically improve the performance of weightlifters, sprinters and cyclists, and many current world records were probably achieved with the help of man-made chemicals. Steroids and Erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone manufactured to combat anemia in cancer and kidney dialysis patients, clearly increase strength and endurance, respectively. And because world-class athletes operate near the limits of human physiology, tiny differences add up. Tufts researcher Roger Tobin has estimated that a 10% increase in a baseball player's muscle mass could double the number of home runs he hits.

But the number of really effective performance-enhancing drugs may stop there. Many athletes who dope could be loading their blood with placebos, or worse. Human growth hormone (HGH) has been at the center of the doping scandal in baseball. But there is little evidence it actually works. When Stanford researchers pooled placebo-controlled clinical trials of HGH involving 300 patients, they found no benefit for muscle strength. Another placebo-controlled study conducted at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, found that athletes' performance improved whether or not they were taking real HGH because of the psychological impact of thinking they were taking strength-boosting meds.

Those studies may have involved too few patients to pick up an improvement in athletic performance from HGH, or athletes might need to take it for years at a time to get a meaningful improvement. In reality though, creating a new drug to do anything is tremendously difficult. Nine out of every 10 medicines that drug companies put into human testing fail, either because they're not safe, or because they aren't effective.

State Of The Art: Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Performance-enhancing drugs for athletes are no different. Steroids were invented 75 years ago. EPO sold by Amgen (nasdaq: AMGN - news - people ) and Johnson & Johnson (nyse: JNJ - news - people ) for its legitimate uses came around in the early 1980s, as did HGH, which is sold by Pfizer (nyse: PFE - news - people ) and Genentech (nyse: DNA - news - people ). Scientists are trying to develop other drugs that athletes might choose to abuse, including gene therapies, a spate of experimental medicines that turn normal rodents into mighty mice and new growth hormones. But no flood of super-steroids has yet emerged.

One of the most promising ways of increasing strength is by blocking a protein called myostatin that slows down muscle growth. Belgian blue cows, which lack the myostatin gene, are so covered with bulky, rippling muscles that they look like something out of a bovine superhero cartoon. Mice engineered to lack myostatin get far bulkier than if they are given steroids. In one documented case where a human baby lacked the gene to make myostatin, he was unusually strong. At age four he could hold a 7-pound barbell in each outstretched hand, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Given all that biological evidence, a drug that blocks myostatin would seem like a slam dunk as a treatment for muscular dystrophy--and as a drug ripe for abuse by athletes. Wyeth, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, created a myostatin-blocking drug and put it into clinical trials for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a muscle-wasting disease that kills hundreds of men each year before they reach their mid-thirties. Over-the-counter supplements that claimed to block myostatin took off as weightlifters.

But earlier this year, Wyeth published disappointing results about its myostatin blocker, MYO-029. And then, deep in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Wyeth quietly announced that it had canceled all testing of the experimental drug.

Se-Jin Lee, the molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University who discovered myostatin in mice in 1992, says it's "disappointing" that MYO-029 is dead, but he still believes blocking myostatin holds promise. Acceleron, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech firm, is still pursuing the approach. As for those dietary supplements, "They must be bogus."

But what really disappoints Lee is that discussion of a promising treatment for a devastating disease becomes entangled in discussions of doping. The benefits go far beyond the Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that is diagnosed in only 600 American boys a year, to diseases like cancer and AIDS. Such drugs could even have a big effect on the muscle weakening that comes with aging.

"Everybody gets old; everybody is going to lose muscle mass," Lee says. "If you look at the benefit of buying people five more years of independent living, it seems a little out of whack to be worrying about sports records."

And despite all the difficulties inherent in drug development, medicines that could enhance athlete performance are still moving forward. Acceleron and some other companies are working on several different drugs that hit myostatin. And Affymax (nasdaq: AFFY - news - people ), a Palo Alto biotech firm, is working on what may be a cheaper, easier to use version of EPO. These are baby steps, but also reminders that someday, performance-enhancing drugs will be able to really push the limits of what the human body can do--like it or not.

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A Wrestling Match That Was Meant to Be

Wrestling shoes spill out of a suitcase, near a diploma and a yearbook. Personalized Olympic business cards are stacked next to a pile of dirty laundry. An Olympic flag hangs opposite a “Terminator 2” poster.

This messy, cluttered, typically teenage bedroom belongs to Jake Deitchler, an atypical 18-year-old Olympian. While most of his fellow graduates of Anoka High School in Anoka, Minn., will spend the summer bumming off their parents, Deitchler is training for Beijing.

He finished high school in early April and took part in his graduation ceremony last month. Three weeks later, he qualified for the Olympics, becoming the fifth Greco-Roman Olympic wrestler from Anoka High and the youngest United States Olympic wrestler since Mike Farina in 1976.

“My life changed like this,” Deitchler said, shaking his head and snapping his fingers. “In an instant.”

Deitchler was talking during his first trip to Manhattan, during his first visit to a pub, as part of a USA Wrestling promotional tour late last month.

There, at a corner table underneath neon Bud Light signage, Deitchler tried to pinpoint where this crazy journey began. Best he can figure, it started in Brandon Paulson’s driveway.

Paulson won a Greco-Roman silver medal at the 1996 Olympics. He retired in 2004 after an epic triple-overtime loss at the Olympic trials, a defeat so painful he thought about it every day for years.

The match is still saved on his TiVo. The ending never changes: Paulson, resting on his knees, drenched in sweat, hands covering the agony written on his face.

“This is a wrestler’s classic, one for the ages,” the announcer says. “This will be tough on Brandon Paulson.”

After the loss, Paulson told reporters everything happened for a reason. When he returned to Minnesota, he found the Anoka High wrestling coach, Todd Springer, waiting in his driveway. He wanted to discuss a ninth grader named Jake Deitchler.

Soon, Paulson and Deitchler began working out. Paulson gave Deitchler his telephone number and told him to call anytime. Big mistake.

Deitchler called the next day, and the day after that, and most days for weeks and months and years. One Sunday, the workout stalker called six times.

“It was just one of those matches,” said Jason Deitchler, Jake’s father. “You can’t explain it. It was divine.”

Paulson and Deitchler are cut from the same competitive cloth. They compete in everything — foosball, wrestling, sauna sit-offs. During one practice session, the teacher tore his anterior cruciate ligament wrestling the student.

The more Paulson pushed, the more Deitchler responded. He stayed after practice every day, arrived at school before sunrise and left after sunset, won three state championships and more matches — 201, including the last 111 straight — than anyone in school history.

Only Deitchler did not make small gains. He made exponential leaps. He learned moves one day and used them in matches the next. Even before the Olympic trials.

“I thought of something on Monday,” Paulson said. “I showed him on Tuesday, and he beat the best guy in the world at his weight class with it later that week. That’s not normal. That’s not even coaching.”

Asked for a comparison, the talkative Paulson suddenly was silent. Told the progress sounds more typical of a prodigal violinist, he nodded.

“There’s nobody to compare him to in wrestling,” Paulson said. “He progressed faster than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

That statement means something in Anoka, a suburb north of Minneapolis that locals call the Halloween Capital of the World. Deitchler also wrestles for the Minnesota Storm, coached by Dan Chandler, a three-time Olympian and Anoka High graduate. The school has sent at least one Greco-Roman wrestler to every Olympics since 1968.

Deitchler did not end up at Anoka High by accident. Jason Deitchler had known his son would follow in the family wrestling tradition since the first weekend of his life, when Jake was born and Jason left for a college wrestling tournament the next day.

Dad became an all-American at Mayville State in North Dakota, and because Jake was born during his freshman year, teammates became extended family, a wrestling team that raised a wrestler.

Jason Deitchler moved the family to Minnesota. Eventually, he moved again, to Anoka, even though the house there cost an extra $70,000.

Jason fed Jake books, mostly self-help, biography and inspirational.

He built his son a wrestling room in the basement of their three-story home, complete with a mat, a dummy and the sauna he installed for Jake on his 16th birthday. They talked wrestling every morning, every meal, every night.


Despite the wrestle-mania upbringing, Deitchler waited until age 12 before adding the Olympics to his goals. Overhearing that, Paulson rolled his eyes and noted that was only six years ago.

Paulson always had an infatuation with the Olympics, religiously watching the winter and summer games. At Deitchler’s graduation party, it was Paulson who gave him the Olympic flag. During the two weeks before the trials, Deitchler found himself drawn to his bedroom, where he sat on the bed and stared obsessively at the flag.

In the Olympic trials in Las Vegas, Deitchler lost the first period of every match during qualifying. He beat the celebrated Harry Lester, a two-time world bronze medalist and a medal favorite in Beijing, in the 145.5-pound division with a move Paulson taught him earlier that week. He celebrated like any 18-year-old would — dinner at the Hard Rock, a 32-ounce Mountain Dew and this gem: “I’m off to the arcade now,” he quipped to reporters.

Folks in wrestling described the upset as one of the sport’s greatest.

People told Paulson the last match they saw that was that exciting was his triple-overtime loss in 2004. This time, the memory hurt a little less.

He thought back to his quotation. Everything happens for a reason.

“It was the ultimate thrill of victory, following the ultimate agony of defeat,” Paulson said. “That’s what I went through the last four years.”

After missing his prom and finishing classes two months early, Deitchler wants to retain some semblance of a normal life. He plans on wrestling next season at Minnesota, again following in Paulson’s footsteps. His goals are taped to the wall leading to the basement.

He taps them as he walks downstairs. National champion. Tap. World champion. Tap. Olympic champion. Tap.

Until then, he must confront the whirlwind. One day, Deitchler is at his graduation party with 200 friends, picture montages and medals lining the garage, family telling him to do his laundry before leaving for Las Vegas. The next, he is toppling wrestlers he once idolized. Then Manhattan, where he asked his mother, Racheal, if he could get a tattoo of the Olympic rings.

“Absolutely not, Jacob,” came the stern reply.

Kids these days.

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Afghan female runner missing, may be seeking asylum

LONDON -- The only female athlete on Afghanistan's team for the Beijing Olympics has gone missing from a training camp in Italy and apparently is seeking political asylum in Norway.

Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old runner who competes in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, hasn't been heard from since leaving the training center in Formia last week. Her luggage and passport also were gone.

"The IOC accepts that athletes sometimes feel they have to make hard choices to improve their lives," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Thursday. "It would appear this is what has happened in this case."

Ahdyar, part of Afghanistan's four-member Olympic team, had been training for the Aug. 8-24 Games on an IOC scholarship program that assists athletes from smaller and less-developed nations.

She began training in April at a high-performance center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and moved in early June to the pre-Games facility in Formia, south of Rome, where she was supposed to stay until July 7.

"She's gone missing," Moreau said. "We don't have any official information. We only know that she might be seeking asylum in Norway."

The IOC has had no word from Ahdyar and is in contact with Afghanistan's national Olympic committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations.

"On July 4, she left with her bags and passports, and we have not heard from her since," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "We have heard nothing from her directly."

In Kabul, the deputy chairman of the Afghan Olympic body, Sayed Mahmoud Zia Dashti, said Ahdyar had a leg injury and was receiving treatment in Italy.

"I can confirm that she has injured her leg and that she has will not participate in the Beijing Olympics and that her family in Italy is taking care of her," he said.

There had been fears that Ahdyar's disappearance could be linked to death threats from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan opposed to women running in the Olympics.

Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, because the Taliban regime in power at the time barred women from taking part in the Games.

The 2004 Athens Games marked the first time Afghan women competed in the Olympics, with Robina Muqimyar running in the 100-meter heats and Friba Razayee competing in judo.

Afghanistan is fighting a Taliban insurgency six years after the hardline regime's ouster, and women are still considered second-class citizens. Taliban militants often target organizations and individuals who champion women's issues.

Ahdyar's family of eight lives in a mud-brick house in one of the poorest parts of Kabul.

"We are scared, really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family," Ahdyar's mother, Moha Jan, told The Associated Press in March. "These problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."

Ahdyar, who competes wearing a head scarf and long pants, runs the 1,500 meters in about 4 minutes, 50 seconds -- a full minute slower than the world record.

According to the IOC, she began running in road races in 2004, moving to track competition two years later. She broke the national records for the 800 and 1,500 in 2007.

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Beijing wants dogs off menu during Olympics

In an unusual Chinese campaign against canine-based cuisine, Beijing has called on local hotels and restaurants to stop serving dog meat during the Olympic Games next month.

The move is part of a broad drive by the Chinese capital to present its best possible face during the games. It reflects concerns among senior officials that the sight of roast or stewed dog might offend visitors from western nations.

In a low-profile order issued recently in the name of the municipal food safety office, the capital’s catering industry association was told to “advocate” to its members that they “suspend use of dog meat dishes during the Olympic period”.

Hotels and restaurants playing a direct role in preparations for the games were targeted for special attention by other government departments, as were those in “key control areas” such as those along the routes to be used by the Olympic flame relay.

The campaign recalls efforts by South Korea – where dog meat is highly popular – to ban its consumption during the 1988 Seoul Olympics after fierce criticism from western animal rights groups.

Though little used in local Beijing dishes, dog meat has long been available in the capital at Korean restaurants and those offering the cuisines of southern Chinese provinces. Though the government has not specified any punishments for defiant dog-servers, the Olympic instruction is having some effect.

Maoxianglou, a restaurant serving food from south-western Guizhou province, said on Thursday it had been ordered not to sell its signature “Huajiang Dog”, a dish reputedly good for people suffering from high blood pressure or frequent night-time urination.

“We are not allowed to sell it during the Olympic period – and it’s not clear what will happen afterwards,” said a restaurant employee.

As in other Asian nations, dog consumption is facing increasing opposition within China, where the custom of keeping canine pets has become popular among newly wealthy urbanites.

Although the current campaign is backed by Guo Jinlong, Beijing mayor, one industry official suggested there were doubts among the bureaucracy about how to enforce it and concerns that visitors from South Korea might be disappointed at not being able to eat dog.

Still, it appears that dedicated dog devourers will not be denied the dish completely during the games, which open on August 8. A manager at Gourou Dawang, a restaurant in southern Beijing whose name translates as “Dog Meat King”, said it was trading as normal.

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Favre seeks unconditional release from Packers, sources say

HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Three days after a conference call with Packers team officials in which quarterback Brett Favre emphatically expressed his desire to play in 2008, Favre on Friday formally asked by letter for his unconditional contractual release, sources close to Favre and the team said.

The letter was sent by Favre's agent, James "Bus" Cook, via overnight mail on Thursday and arrived at the Packers facility Friday morning.

Cook, on behalf of Favre, expressed a desire to have an amicable parting, as the Packers have been reluctant to embrace his return. Favre announced his retirement in early March.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy weren't available for comment Friday.

In a statement, the Packers said: "Brett earned and exercised the right to retire on his terms. We wanted him to return and welcomed him back on more than one occasion.

"Brett's press conference and subsequent conversations in the following weeks illustrated his commitment to retirement," the news release added. "The finality of his decision to retire was accepted by the organization. At that point, the Green Bay Packers made the commitment to move forward with our football team."

During a conference call on Tuesday that included Thompson, McCarthy, Favre and Cook, sources say that the quarterback stated emphatically that he wanted to play again.

Favre was reminded by the Packers' brass that he said publicly and privately in March that he wasn't 100 percent committed to football, sources said. Favre acknowledged his state of mind at the time, but added that he never felt he was 100 percent committed in March of previous years, either. Favre felt he had to make a decision to retire because the Packers were pressing him for an answer, a source said.

During the conference call on Tuesday, neither Thompson nor McCarthy was openly receptive or enthused about Favre's desire to unretire, the sources said, prompting Favre to direct Cook to request his release from the team. Favre has three years remaining on his contract at a total of $39 million. He currently is on the reserve-retired list.

Favre prefers a mutual parting rather than have to force the Packers' hand by writing a letter to request his reinstatement to the active 80-man roster. Under league policy, the team would have to comply or release him.

Aaron Rodgers, who will be entering his fourth season with the Packers, is Favre's heir apparent. ESPN.com's Ed Werder interviewed Rogers, who was playing at celevbrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Friday.

"There's nothing I can tell you about the situation," said Rogers, who refused to comment further.

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Cook's letter did suggest that Favre's accomplishments for the franchise merited the team honoring his request to be released, also asking that the action be taken "with no strings attached." Favre does not want to be traded, sources said, because he wants the freedom of choice to play for another franchise.

Favre has been in communication with McCarthy during the past month about his desire to play but until this week had not spoken with Thompson.

Favre did not wish to speak publicly about his situation when approached while working out Friday morning at a local high school in Hattiesburg. He appeared to be in excellent physical condition and threw the ball with ease, even throwing it 50 yards "on a rope" with high school receivers. He has been throwing and running with the team for more than a month.

Favre was relaxed and in a positive frame of mind, joking and telling stories about himself, former teammates and coaches. He planned to continue working out next week.

Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN. ESPN.com's Ed Werder contributed to this report.

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With Luck, a Rocky Landing


Vladimir Prochazka

A rock jumper attempting a Grade 4 leap, the second-most-difficult category, in the Adrspach region of the Czech Republic.

ADRSPACH, Czech Republic — Exactly a decade has passed since a man called Oxygen first hurled himself across Amerika. Known for his jumping ability, Oxygen, a lanky Czech, catapulted to legend status by leaping a nearly 10-foot-wide abyss separating two 100-foot sandstone spires.

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Vladimir Prochazka

Jan Prochazka, a rock jumper in the Adrspach region of the Czech Republic. Broken ribs and spinal injuries are common in the sport.

Today, Petr Kops, 21, is wearing Oxygen’s hand-me-down pants.

“I did not know Oxygen personally, but my sister did,” Kops said. “I wear his trousers for good luck.”

Minutes later, Kops was standing at the edge of a 70-foot chasm called Broken Bones. He announced that he was about to damage his ankle. Then he jumped.

While it may seem suicidal, leaping across a gaping crevasse is actually an extreme sport that is gaining in popularity.

Called rock jumping, or simply jumping by the locals, this adrenaline-charged activity is taking place in the Adrspach-Teplice Rocks, a remote nature preserve in the northeast part of the Czech Republic.

Known for its roughly 11 square miles of phallic sandstone formations, the region has been a breeding ground for lifelong rock climbers, including Jaroslav Houser, 63, the purported conqueror of more than 1,000 sandstone spires.

In their frenzy to subdue as many unclimbed tower tops as possible, seasoned climbers like Houser unwittingly gave rise to rock jumping in the Adrspach.

“The objective is to get to the top of as many towers as you can,” said Vladimir Prochazka, known as June Bug, a 59-year-old climber and a collector of Czech rock climbing histories. “You try to reach the hardest summit, sometimes by jumping.”

Because jumping is often the most logical way to get to a descendible tower, almost every climber encounters a basic-level jump at one time or another, he said.

In most cases, climbers jump with a rope tied around their waist.

If they miss the landing — which is not uncommon — they plummet into the wall of the base tower.

“Jumping requires fearlessness, a fair amount of agility, and a high threshold for pain,” Prochazka said. “Broken ribs and damaged spines are fairly common.”

Still, there are those who prefer to spice up their experience by jumping without a rope. Among the most well known of these adventurers are Petr Prachtel and his wife, Zorka, who helped create the sport in the 1960s and ’70s, a time rock jumping’s early practitioners refer to as a golden age.

After meeting in college, the inseparable climbing partners became legendary for their escapades on the tower tops of the Eesky raj nature preserve in the central Czech Republic. Here, they pioneered countless jumps, sometimes without the safety of a rope.

“Back then, there were several jumpers in on the scene,” Prochazka said. “This healthy competition helped the sport flourish.”

While many climbers jump out of necessity, few people specialize in the sport. In fact, some local climbers frown upon it.

“A few of the old-timers say that jumping has no place here,” Prochazka said. “But there is always some lunatic who goes crazy for it and becomes the dominant jumper in the region.”

For years, the alpha jumper title of the Adrspach — and some say the world — has belonged to Oxygen.

By the time he arrived on the scene in the mid-1990s, local jumping aficionados had developed a grading system.

A Grade 1 jump is an easy crossover from one tower to the next, and may be executed by any reasonably skilled climber. As the grades rise, so do the required levels of precision. At Grade 4, the jump does not offer a flat landing surface, forcing the leaper to land monkey style, clutching the crevices of the opposite wall.

Most of the popular jumps range from Grades 2 to 3, and few jumpers have successfully landed a Grade 4. Until Oxygen came.

In 1997, Oxygen made history with Amerika — the only Grade 5 jump ever recorded.

“I don’t know how he even made it to the other peak — it seemed so far away,” said Prochazka, who witnessed the event. “Somehow, he managed to land on the crevice he picked out, but his body was leaned back, and it looked like he was in for a nasty fall. Then, he snatched a protruding pine tree, and a victorious war cry rang through the valley.”

Not long after his epic leap, Oxygen, whose name is Milan Zdvooily, disappeared from the Adrspach. He now is a gunsmith in London, and says he feels no need to replicate his jumps.

“I wonder if some crazy person will ever dare to make the jump,” he said, referring to Amerika. “People are always looking for something new, so maybe it’s possible.”

Indeed, contemporary jumping continues to attract individuals who appear to lack the self-preservation instinct. Seconds after predicting an ankle injury, Kops hollered a warrior cry and threw himself across the chasm.

His sandaled feet landed on the opposite tower with a flat thud, and his ankle promptly swelled to twice its natural size. Kops could barely walk, but somehow this did not deter him from executing two more jumps.

When the day was over, he nursed his injury with a half-liter of lager at the buffet near the entrance to the Adrspach rocks.

Kops attributed his affinity for jumping to “camaraderie and adrenaline,” and while he did not feel confident enough to try to match Oxygen’s leap, some of the old-timers suggested that the future of rock jumping depended on people like him.

“My prediction is that jumping will only live on thanks to a handful of individuals,” Prochazka said. “The only way this would change is if a new generation arrived on the scene. Their thirst for adrenaline could make it into a massive sport.”

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