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Monday, August 18, 2008

Nadal wins gold medal in Olympic tennis

By STEVEN WINE

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Dinara Safina of Russia reacts during her Gold medal singles tennis match against compatriot Elena Dementieva at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)


BEIJING (AP) — Rafael Nadal will become No. 1 in the rankings Monday, and he is No. 1 at the Olympics.

The Spaniard won a gold medal Sunday, overcoming two set points in the second set and holding every service game to beat Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

The gold medal was the first ever for Spain in Olympic tennis.

Nadal was already assured of taking over the No. 1 ranking Monday for the first time, ending Roger Federer's reign after 4 1/2 years. Nadal has won 38 of his past 39 matches, including victories over Federer in the finals at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Elena Dementieva earned the gold in women's singles, taking advantage of 17 double-faults by fellow Russian Dinara Safina to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

In women's doubles, Venus and Serena Williams of the United States won the gold, beating Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain 6-2, 6-0. The sisters celebrated with shrieks, then shared a hug.

Men's singles has traditionally been an upset-filled event at the Olympics, and Nadal is the first player ranked in the top five to win the gold.

He took charge against Gonzalez from the start, breaking serve in the second game. Nadal didn't face any break points until the 12th game of the second set, when he was down 5-6, 15-40.

Gonzalez failed to convert the set points, pushing a volley wide and putting a forehand in the net. The Chilean made five unforced errors in the tiebreaker to give Nadal a commanding lead.

Nadal ripped a backhand passing shot to break at love for a 3-1 lead in the final set, and erased two more break points to hold for 5-2.

He needed four match points to close out the victory, ripping one last forehand that Gonzalez barely could reach. Nadal collapsed to his back in jubilation.

The No. 5-seeded Dementieva closed out her victory with a forehand winner, then fell to her knees before walking to net for a congratulatory hug from Safina. Dementieva, who won the silver medal at Sydney in 2000, snapped Safina's 15-match winning streak.

"I never expected a medal — gold, silver or bronze," said Dementieva, 26. "It's unbelievable. For me this is the best moment in my career. I'll never forget it."

Dementieva has been plagued for much of her career by a shaky serve, but it was a frustrated Safina who struggled to put the ball in play. After double-faults she flung her racket, banged it against the concrete and smacked a ball into the stands, but the tantrums failed to help.

Dementieva also packed more punch from the baseline and hit twice as many winners, 26 to 13.

Russia swept the medals in women's singles when Vera Zvonareva beat Li Na of China 6-0, 7-5 to win the bronze. That victory made Russia the first nation to win all three medals in one tennis event since Great Britain did so in the 1908 women's singles.

Tennis was not a medal sport between 1924 and 1988.

The Williams sisters improved their lifetime Olympic doubles record to 10-0. They won the doubles gold at Sydney but didn't play in Athens four years ago because Serena was hurt.

"It does mean more for me to win it with Serena, to share this kind of moment with your sister," Venus said. "I mean, we are practically joined at the hip."

Yan Zi and Zheng Jie of China beat Ukraine's Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko for the bronze, 6-2, 6-2.

The women's singles final began with only about a thousand spectators in the 10,000-seat stadium, but it was mostly full by the end 2 1/2 hours later.

Dementieva lost her first three service games and needed 14 points to hold for a 1-0 lead in the second set, giving her a toehold in the match. A flurry of errors by Safina in the final game of the second set helped Dementieva break to even the match.

Safina said she felt the toll of playing nine matches — three in doubles — in the past week.

"I was not the freshest today physically," she said. "To serve, you have to push yourself up, to jump up. And when the legs are a little bit slow, it just doesn't go."

In the final set, Safina broke her racket when she double-faulted three times to lose serve and fall behind 3-1. She served with a chance to reach for 4-all but committed four unforced errors and her final two double-faults.

Dementieva then served out the victory to complete the best week of her career. She beat eight-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

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The Guinea Pig Olympics

Ever since Heracles blessed Olympiad with a stadium in honour of his father, Zeus, the sporting heroes of the day have taken part in the Olympic games. But man is not the only species to hold competitive sporting events

Tattoo? Symbiote? What the Hell is That Thing On Olympian Kerri Walsh's Shoulder?

For the longest time I thought the black sinewy thing on Olympic beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh's shoulder was either a confused Alien face sucker, a horny spider, a bad tattoo decision (a la Mike Tyson), or all of the above. Turns out I was way off, and it's actually Kinesio athletic tape from a company in Albuquerque. And upon further inspection, the hype surrounding the $15 tape appears justified, and goes way beyond helping athletes.

In addition to gracing the shoulder of one of America's finest looking athletes, the Kinesio tape also boasts magical properties, like the ability to assist and support muscles without inhibiting a joint's range of motion. Kinesio tape has actually been around for a while, and is available for a range of uses, but it took the modern-day Olympic games (and the right "spokeswoman") to see orders shoot up from 250 a month to 1,600 in a weekend.

John Jarvis, director of Kinesio USA, says the tape has graced the bodies of Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, countless baseball and football players, and cycling superman Lance Armstrong.

Surprisingly, Forbes notes that athletes comprise only 10% of Kenesio USA's customers. The largest market is pediatrics, where doctors have been helping children deal with neurological disorders for the past 25 years. With disorders like cerebral palsy, for example, the tape is used to help strengthen weak muscles. Kerri Walsh is great and all, but that's the real reason I can get behind this product. [Forbes]

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US Crushes Spain in Basketball

Team USA's Dwyane Wade takes a shot during a preliminary match agaisnt Spain.
Team USA's Dwyane Wade takes a shot during a preliminary match agaisnt Spain. USA won 119-82.

That's probably enough talk about statement games for Team USA in the Olympic basketball competition. Tonight's 119-82 destruction of Spain, the 2006 World Champions, was more like a throwback game: a throwback to the days of the Dream Team, when the US seemed to play a different class of hoops than its competitors. Spain has NBA star Pau Gasol, slick point guard Jose Calderon, and an established style of success in international ball. Yet tonight they got obliterated, wilting against the absolutely withering defense the US team has brought to Beijing.

"We had 28 turnovers and that's just a staggering number," Gasol said after the game. "You just don't have a chance with that many turnovers." The US led by 16 at the half, by 23 after three quarters, and played with relentless ferocity to the final buzzer. The only drama for the drained Spanish fans in attendance was whether Gasol & Co. were going to be able to break 80.

So far in the run-up to the medal rounds, the US basketball team has been on a higher athletic plane than its opposition. One statistic tonight shows just how otherworldly that plane is: Team USA scored 32 points off of fast breaks. Spain scored none. As US forward Carmelo Anthony said afterward, "I don't think I've seen that before."

And for the first time in this tournament, when Spain did manage to get the US into a half-court game, the Americans responded with the kind of shooting efficiency that some skeptics wondered whether they possessed. Anthony in particular was sniping from three-point land with positively European brio — shooting four of six from behind the arc. Consistently, the US swung the ball crisply in the half-court game, found the open man, and then nailed long-range jumpers: Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince (three of four) and Deron Williams all made three pointers. Overall, Team USA shot 12 of 25 from three-point land.

Though anyone close to Team USA is too polite to say it, if they shoot that well in next week's medal round, they're not likely to play a close game. The "Redeem Team'' is half way to redemption, and at this point it's hard to see what might stop them. Just ask Gasol. "They wanted to make a statement tonight, and they did," he said. "They are for real, and they are very serious about this. It's hard to keep up with that intensity."

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Uniform Is Only Thing Different About Favre

Tim Larsen for The New York Times

Brett Favre completed 5 of 6 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in his Jets debut.

By JUDY BATTISTA

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The touchdown pass proved that Brett Favre still prefers to throw to tight ends in the red zone. And the little fake jump pass was Favre reaching back into his personal highlight reel. But the most important play of his eagerly awaited debut for the Jets, the one that proved that Favre really might change everything for his new team, might have came earlier, on his first drive.

After Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington sacked Favre on a blitz for a 10-yard loss, Favre popped up off the ground, guard Alan Faneca straightening his shoulder pad for him. Last season, the Jets became used to Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens struggling to their feet, battered and bruised behind a gruesome offensive line. But Favre is football’s ironman and his legendary durability, nearly as much as his arm, allow the Jets to hope that even a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer in the twilight of his career can transform a team.

The Jets lost to the Redskins, 13-10, but more than the result, this game represented an important milestone for Favre and for a franchise that desperately needs him to feel at home. And fast.

“It was like starting all over again,” Favre said. “I had some feelings I haven’t felt in 17 years. It was a little weird. For the most part, I felt comfortable in this uniform. I had a number of people, mostly in Redskins uniforms, saying it don’t look right. It’s going to start looking right. It was a little awkward, but I knew we had to get through that.”

The arm looked fine, and afterward, Favre said it felt great, even though he had complained during the week that it felt tired. He took 14 snaps Saturday, completing 5 of 6 passes for 48 yards, including a 19-yard bullet on third down to Jerricho Cotchery on the deep left side — Favre said it was his favorite play of the night — and a 4-yard touchdown pass to the rookie tight end Dustin Keller.

When Favre moved the offense close to the end zone, camera flashes went off, a sight more often seen in the postseason than the preseason. And when Keller scored, half-full Giants Stadium — even Favre apparently can’t draw people back from the shore for a preseason game — erupted, and Favre was engulfed by his new teammates. After the game, Favre signed the touchdown ball and gave it to Keller.

“I felt like I threw the ball well,” Favre said. “Ten days ago, I was doing yard work. I’d be lying if I said I felt perfect out there. I wanted to get this game over with. It was a positive anxiety, a positive nervousness. It’s better than not having any feeling at all.”

Favre and Coach Eric Mangini had most hoped to see that Favre could smoothly operate the offense all the way down to being able to break the huddle and call the play without trouble. After exactly one week of practice, Favre still does not know much of the playbook — he had about 40 plays total in his arsenal Saturday — and he cannot remember everybody’s name, but even under a full moon, there were none of the mishaps the Jets feared. He gave way to Clemens with the Jets leading, 7-3, and many in the crowd left with him.

Favre played just two drives, and a better read on his readiness for the regular season will have to wait until Saturday against the Giants, when he will probably play at least a half, the longest stretch of work he is likely to get before the season opener Sept. 7 at Miami. Favre said he would play as long as Mangini allowed him to against the Giants, adding that he had actually hoped to play longer Saturday.

But considering that he had done little more than throw to a high school team since his first attempt at retirement five months ago, Favre seemed surprisingly crisp, his only incompletion coming when an off-target short pass to Thomas Jones fell to the turf.

“It’s important to give him a comfort level coming into the game,” Mangini said. “I thought it was an excellent start.”

Clemens, who 10 days ago was competing for the starting job, was 5 of 12 for 63 yards, and he did not lead the Jets to a score. (Brett Ratliff did, going 13 for 19 for 148 yards and setting up Mike Nugent’s 43-yard field goal.)

The Jets acquired Favre in part to invigorate an offense that had been moribund last year, no matter who the quarterback was. Favre’s quick connection with Cotchery seemed to suggest that he will become Favre’s preferred deep target, an element of the offense that was largely absent last season.

But the Jets also wanted Favre because he adds instant excitement to a team that usually struggles for attention. Fans on Saturday wore new Favre jerseys — next to those wearing Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington and even Glenn Foley jerseys, testimony to how many quarterbacks the Jets have cycled through while Favre was building his résumé in Green Bay.

“I’m not going to say I haven’t second-guessed the decision,” Favre said. “When I step on the field, as I did tonight, I knew I made the right decision. I feel like I’m a Jet. Does that sound awkward or funny? Maybe. It’s still a little bit awkward. But I feel like I’m here for a reason.”

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