Sunday, August 17, 2008

McEnroe forfeits tennis match after obscene gesture

NEWPORT, Rhode Island -- John McEnroe defaulted in his opening match at a Champions Cup tennis event after an extended argument with the chair umpire ended with the player making an obscene gesture toward the crowd.

McEnroe, famous for his volatile on-court temper and brushes with officials, contested a call in his opening match against MaliVai Washington when umpire Ray Brodeur warned him for an audible obscenity.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion continued arguing with Brodeur and was issued two additional code violations. As the row continued, fans at the Tennis Hall of Fame began to yell at McEnroe to continue playing, at which point he responded with an obscene gesture that resulted in him forfeiting the match.

"He crossed the line," Joe Venison, the Champions Series co-founder and supervisor, said in an e-mailed statement today. "All players must abide by the same rules."

McEnroe will continue in the eight-player round-robin tennis event, with a match against Karel Novacek tomorrow.

McEnroe agreed to the first three code violations and denied making a gesture toward the fans, which the umpire was certain he saw, Venison said.

"There are a lot of things I can deal with, disputed line calls, stoppage in play," Washington said. "I have an issue when my opponent starts berating people, fans, and umpires."

McEnroe, a member of the Tennis Hall of Fame, competes in the Champions Series in addition to working as a television commentator at Grand Slam events.

The series is an international tennis circuit for champion tennis players over 30.

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Spitz, other Olympic greats marvel at Phelps

BEIJING -- Carl Lewis, the American track and field star of the 1980s and 1990s, said, "The reality is, congratulations."

Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal of the Beijing Games on Friday, tying his Athens mark and closing in on Mark Spitz's record. Phelps blew away the 200m IM field and set a world record.

Soviet-era gymnast Larisa Latynina, in a note, wrote to say, "You have shattered all sort of records with truly inspiring Olympic character."

And Mark Spitz, the American swimmer whose 1972 mark of seven gold medals in one Olympics Michael Phelps broke with his eighth on Sunday, said, "When I look at Michael and I think of the lore of what he has done over the last four years -- it's more remarkable than myself."

As Phelps' completed his quest to make history, those who made history before him paused Friday in appreciation -- not only to reflect on the magnitude of what the 23-year-old swimmer from Baltimore has already accomplished here at the Water Cube but to unhesitatingly and unreservedly offer praise.

Even -- make that especially -- Spitz, one of four athletes who, before these Beijing Games, was tied atop the record books with nine career Olympic gold medals apiece.

The others: Paavo Nurmi, a Finnish distance star of the 1950s who died in 1973; Latynina, who won nine gold, five silver and four bronze medals in gymnastics and still holds the mark for most career medals, 18; Lewis; and Spitz.

"In ceding my record for most Olympic gold medals, I do it with little regret," Latynina, now 73, wrote in a letter to Phelps she had sent Friday afternoon by fax.

"I am sure," she added, "we share the joy of competition and a timeless joy for excellence."

Lewis, now 47, said in a telephone interview of his nine golds, "I did mine last century. Michael is taking off this new century. He's a great leader for the Olympic movement. I know him personally, I think he's a great kid and I wish him congratulations."

Asked if he believed Phelps ought now to be considered the greatest Olympic athlete of all time or if he -- or someone else -- deserves that title, Lewis said, "I don't really believe that exists. Everybody brought something to the table.

"I say, wow, we have somebody else who's amazing. Let's just tune in -- that's where I am."

In a telephone interview Friday, Spitz said of Phelps, "I've always marveled at the fact that in the last four years," in the aftermath of the 2004 Athens Games, in which Phelps won six golds, eight overall, "he has had to live with a lot more expectations and anxiety that I had to deal with.

"I was under the radar circle. Only in swimdom circles did people understand what I was trying to do. And only after four days of an eight-day competition did people from other venues start to understand what was happening at the swim venue in Germany."

For months now, Spitz, 58, has waged a campaign to convince those who need convincing that he genuinely, truly appreciates Phelps' achievements.

In Omaha in early July, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, for instance, Spitz, in a news conference, said, "Hey, it's OK -- records are made to be broken, including mine. Thirty-six years is a long time."

Spitz's efforts ran into a glitch earlier this week when an interview he conducted in Hong Kong with Agence France Press noted that he would not be here in Beijing and quoted him as saying, "I am going to sit there and watch Michael Phelps break my record anonymously? That's almost demeaning to me. It is not almost -- it is."

Spitz said Friday the words came in response to a hypothetical question and suggested the article included some "poetic license."

He said, "After having done hundreds and hundreds of articles and interviews with people over the last six months, it was bound to happen -- some article taking off in a different direction. I don't begrudge that happening. This is part of the process of interpretive evaluation."

He also said of his remarks, "It was never done to embarass Michael."

The reasons Spitz are not in Beijing are simple.

For one, sponsor obligations didn't include a trip here.

For another, Spitz doesn't automatically go to every edition of the Summer Games. He didn't go to Seoul in 1988 or Barcelona in 1992, for instance.

Moreover, it would be presumptuous in the extreme for anyone to invite Spitz to Beijing on the assumption Phelps would win eight -- indeed, that would be demeaning to Phelps' rivals.

Even with six medals in hand, eight is no sure thing. Phelps must contend Saturday in the 100m butterfly with longtime rival Ian Crocker. If Phelps wins that race, there's the 4x100m medley relay -- and, in a relay, anything can happen.

Finally, there's this: Spitz is due to fly to Michigan this weekend to watch his teen-age son play basketball.

In the meantime, Phelps won eight gold medals Beijing. And, beyond that, probably, the London Games in 2012. He now stands at 16 Olympic medals overall for his career. Just two shy of Latynina's all-time mark.

"We're watching," Spitz said. "It's amazing."

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Epic eight: Phelps makes history

BEIJING -- A journey that started four years ago after his six gold medals in Athens and included 17 swims over nine days here ended triumphantly for Michael Phelps on Sunday.

Phelps earned his unprecedented eighth Olympic gold medal of the 2008 Olympics as he swam the butterfly leg of the Americans' world-record win in the 4x100m medley relay to close out the swimming competition at the Water Cube.

Jason Lezak held off Eamon Sullivan of Australia in the freestyle leg, with the Americans finishing in 3:29.34. Australia took the silver in 3:30.04 and Japan the bronze.

Lezak said he was inspired by the celebrities on hand to watch history in the making.

"I looked up and I saw Kobe and LeBron, the best basketball players in the world, and I love basketball," he said. "I thought there's no way I was going to let those guys down," he said.

Aaron Peirsol led off in the backstroke leg, Brendan Hansen swam the breast and Lezak anchored, the same three who won gold in Athens. Phelps swam the prelims of that race in Athens, giving up his finals spot to Ian Crocker. The American men have never lost the medley relay in the history of the Olympics.

"Hats off to this guy right here," Peirsol said of Phelps in an NBC interview on the pool deck after the race. "He did something that's never been done before. We're happy to be a part of it."

Hansen called Phelps' 8-for-8 the greatest achievement in sports.

"Every single athlete in the world right now needs to tip their hat to Michael Phelps because what he did this week was amazing," he said.

Phelps tied Mark Spitz with his seventh gold medal a day earlier in the 100m butterfly, winning by the slimmest of margins, .01 of a second over Milorad Cavic.

His quest was almost derailed in Day 2 of the meet in the 4x100m free relay, but Lezak's unbelievable anchor leg kept the quest alive. he touched ahead of Alain Bernard of France by .08.

"It wouldn't have been possible without the help of my teammates." Phelps said. "For the three Olympics I've been a part of, this is by far the closest men's team that we've ever had. I didn't know everybody coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single person very well. The team that we had is the difference."

Phelps set world records in seven of his eight swims, with only the 100m fly mark not broken. He also won the 400m IM, the 200m IM and the 200m fly, breaking his own world mark in each, and led off the 4x200m free relay.

It was nine days of magical moments for Phelps, and he said the collective effort is what he'll remember most.

"Every race, from one to the other," he said. "It's the whole thing. It's a great experience."

"Everything had to go perfect. Everything had to fall perfectly into place and I was able to have probably the best week of my life."

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