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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Report: Lance Armstrong to Return for 2009 Tour de France

Lance Armstrong will end his retirement and hopes to compete in the 2009 Tour de France, according to a cycling journal report.

The 36-year-old seven-time Tour de France champion will compete in five road races with the Astana team in 2009, the cycling journal VeloNews reported on its Web site on Monday, citing anonymous sources.

Armstrong's manager Mark Higgins did not immediately respond to a voice mail left by The Associated Press.

The move would reunite Armstrong with Johan Bruyneel, now the team director for Astana.

VeloNews reported Armstrong also will compete in the Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia and the Dauphine-Libere.

The Astana team, however, was not allowed to compete in this year's Tour after Alexandre Vinokourov was kicked out of the 2007 Tour for testing positive and the team quit the race.

VeloNews, which said Vanity Fair will publish an extensive article detailing Armstrong's comeback, said

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Former UFC champ Tanner dead at 37

By Jeff Cain, Ken Pishna, and Tom Hamlin/

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champion Evan Tanner was found dead near Palo Verde, Calif. on Monday. He was 37 years old. His management team at the Driving Force Sports management agency confirmed his death to

Tanner had trekked into the desert on a journey to “cleanse” himself, according to Douglas Vincitorio of Tanner’s management team. “He went out to the desert to do a ‘cleansing’ as he called it. Kind of like ‘Survivorman.’” These short trips were not new to Tanner, said Vincitorio. It is something that he has done numerous times over the years.

“What we were told is that (Sheriff’s officials who found Tanner) believe his motorcycle had run out of gas, so he went to walk out in like 115- to 118-degree heat,” Vincitorio said. “He was miles away from his camp. That’s where the helicopter found him. Right now, they just think that he succumbed to the heat.”

Lt. George Moreno of the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department has reported that Tanner set out treasure hunting on Wednesday, Sept. 3, asking friends to call for help if he didn’t return right away. Lt. Moreno says friends called the Sheriff’s Office on Friday, Sept. 5, and search and rescue teams looked for him throughout the weekend in temperatures up to 114 degrees.

The U.S. Marines used a helicopter to search by air Monday morning, finally spotting a body two miles from the campground where Tanner’s belongings were found earlier, according to Lt. Moreno. While a coroner has yet to confirm the body is Tanner’s, John Hayner, the owner at Driving Force Sports, says people close to to the fighter visually identified his body at the scene.

On Aug. 10, Tanner wrote a blog on Spike TV’s website, proclaiming his desire to start an adventure in the desert east of his new home in Oceanside, Calif. An avid outdoorsman and wandering spirit, he wanted to escape civilization for a while.

“I’m not just going out into the desert, I’m going out into the desert to hunt for lost treasure,” he wrote. “I’m going on a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey to solitude, to do some thinking, and to pay my respects to the great mysteries.”

On Aug. 16, Tanner wrote about collecting supplies for his journey, and wrote about the dangers he might face.

“I plan on going so deep into the desert, that any failure of my equipment, could cost me my life,” he said. “I’ve been doing a great deal of research and study. I want to know all I can about where I’m going, and I want to make sure I have the best equipment.”

Of course, this led followers of his blog to fear for his safety, as they often did when Tanner reported his frequent by-the-seat-of-his-pants adventures. In a blog dated Aug. 27, Tanner tried to calm his audience.

“This isn’t a version of ‘Into the Wild,’” he wrote. “I’m not going out into the desert with a pair of shorts and a bowie knife, to try to live off the land. I’m going fully geared up, and I’m planning on having some fun.”

But he also affirmed that things could go wrong if his equipment wasn’t up to snuff.

“I do plan on going back pretty far, so I did mention in one of my posts that I wanted to make sure to have good quality gear,” he said. “Any failure of gear out in the desert could cause a problem.”

On Sept. 2, Tanner wrote his final blog entry, documenting a training session at a facility in Oceanside.

The Amarillo, Texas native was a high school wrestling stand out who won the state championships his junior and senior years despite only getting into the sport as a sophomore. He entered mixed martial arts in 1997 encouraged by friends.

Tanner rose to the top of the mixed martial arts world by winning the UFC middleweight title over David Terrell at UFC 51: “Super Saturday” Feb. 5, 2005. He lost the title later in the year to Rich Franklin. Tanner, who had a career MMA record of 32-8 last competed in the UFC on June 21 losing to Kendall Grove by split decision.

“He will obviously be sorely missed,” said Vincitorio. Adding, “I think that Evan would want to be remembered as a very complex man with many layers, not just a fighter.”

Tanner was surely a unique personality. He’s eclectic spirit and competitive nature will be sorely missed in the MMA community.

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USOC will apologize to athletes for treatment

|Tribune reporter

The U.S. Olympic Committee is drafting a letter of apology to the four Olympic cyclists whom USOC officials publicly condemned for wearing anti-pollution masks upon their Aug. 5 arrival at Beijing's international airport.

The Tribune has learned the USOC will admit being wrong in the way the matter was handled.

USOC officials had demanded the athletes apologize to the Chinese because the cyclist's actions were an affront to China's efforts to improve air quality for the Summer Games.

USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel confirmed the USOC will send a letter to the athletes "acknowledging some aspects of the situation could have been handled differently and better."

The athletes' attorney, Christopher Campbell of the Alameda, Calif., firm Chapman & Intrieri, said Tuesday he was "hopeful the athletes would be cleared and get a letter of apology."

Campbell and three of the cyclists, Sarah Hammer and Jennie Reed of California and Bobby Lea of Pennsylvania, discussed the case with USOC chief executive Jim Scherr in a Tuesday conference call. The fourth cyclist, Mike Friedman of Pittsburgh, had spoken Monday with Scherr.

"It was very cathartic for the athletes to express to Jim what they had gone through (after the USOC criticized them)," Campbell said.

In a letter sent last week to the USOC Athletes Advisory Council, Campbell alleged USOC officials berated the athletes before telling them they risked being expelled from the Summer Games if they did not apologize.

The USOC letter to the athletes will acknowledge, among other things, it was a mistake to have no athlete representative present when USOC officials asked for the apology. The letter likely also will note the USOC's failure to have one of its staff members at the airport to advise the athletes to take off the masks.

The athletes said USOC sports physiologist Randy Wilber had suggested they wear the masks, which were commissioned by the USOC, "from the minute they step foot in Beijing until they begin competing."

Campbell's letter asked the USOC to make a public apology for the "inappropriate conduct" of its staff, an "unequivocal statement" that the athletes had done nothing wrong and "systematic assurance" that future Olympians will not face similar treatment.

The athletes felt their Olympic performances were negatively affected by the public criticism, which they said included hate mail.

Hammer, a two-time world champion in individual pursuit, lost in the first of the elimination rounds at Beijing. Reed, 2008 world bronze medalist in match sprint, was seventh.

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Bulgaria gives up 139 shots on goal in 82-0 women's hockey loss

Mike And Mike: 82-0 Loss

There's the "agony of defeat." And then there's this women's ice hockey score from the European Olympic pre-qualifying tournament: Slovakia 82, Bulgaria 0.

That's correct: 82 goals for Slovakia, none for Bulgaria.

The International Ice Hockey Federation said the result, from a game played Saturday at the tournament in Liepaja, Latvia, set a record score for a women's IIHF-sanctioned event. It was not the all-time record for futility, however; that is still held by Thailand, which lost 92-0 to South Korea in the 1998 Asia-Oceania U18 Championship.

Slovakia, which won all four of its games at the tournament, outshot Bulgaria 139-0, scoring on 58.9 percent of its shots on goal. Slovakia averaged one goal every 44 seconds.

"We took it as training," Slovakia coach Miroslav Karafiat said after Saturday's game.

Bulgaria trailed 7-0 after 5 minutes, 19-0 after 10 and 31-0 at the end of the first period.

The drubbing capped a woeful showing for the Bulgarian women, who also lost 30-1 to Croatia and 41-0 to Italy in earlier games.

Janka Culikova led Slovakia with 10 goals, while Martina Velickova scored nine. Fourteen different players scored at least one goal.

Slovakia, which also beat Croatia, Latvia and Italy, advanced to another qualifying group with Germany, Kazakhstan and France. The winner will secure a spot at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Bulgaria was eliminated after scoring one goal and giving up conceding 192 in the tournament.

The Slovakian men's team clinched its biggest ever victory against the Bulgarians 14 years ago when they won 20-0.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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A Lingerie League of their Own

A league of lingerie-clad women playing football is no longer a fantasy, it’s a reality. Lingerie Football is back, better and bigger than ever. Based on the Super Bowl halftime gimmick of the same name, Lingerie Football is now a league and it’s expanding.

Next year, the LFL will consist of 10 teams across the nation. The teams will consist of the Los Angeles Temptation, Phoenix Scorch, Seattle Mist, San Diego Seduction, Dallas Desire, New England Euphoria, Chicago Bliss, Atlanta Steam, Miami Caliente and Tampa Breeze. The games are set to air on cable television, making their debut in Fall 2009.

Now this is the true meaning of fantasy football.

  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
  • A Lingerie League of their Own
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College Football Elite

Which teams are BCS Bowl bound this season?

ESPN college football analyst and '91 Heisman winner Desmond Howard picks his big conference favorites.

* Clemson
The Tigers have a good chance if they can weather their November schedule. They return 16 starters and boast one of the best backfields in the ACC with quarterback Cullen Harper and running backs James Davis and CJ Spiller.

Big East
* West Virginia
WVU is returning only 12 starters, but it is bringing back some of the league's best talent in quarterback Pat White and running back Noel Devine. They are coming off an impressive Fiesta Bowl win and had a very good spring.

Big Ten
* Ohio State
Under head coach Jim Tressel, it has played in three national title games in seven seasons. It returns 19 starters, including Heisman hopeful Chris "Beanie" Wells, so I don't see this train slowing down any time soon.

Big 12
* Oklahoma
The Sooners are the team to beat. They're coming off an ugly Fiesta Bowl loss and have something to prove. Outside of the Texas game, they get two of their top competitors at home and have five road games that all seem winnable.

* LSU/Georgia
This conference is so loaded that it's difficult to choose just one top team. LSU stands out as the defending national champ, but Georgia should also be noted. It was very young last year but finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country.

The Trojans are still the team to beat out west. Junior QB Mark Sanchez is more than capable of leading. They return only 11 starters but have one of the best D's in the country. They also take on all their top opponents at home.

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Domino effect: How Brady's knee impacts AFC

Posted by's Tim Graham

Tom Brady's buckled left knee looks disastrous for one team. The other 31 aren't too broken up about it.

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
The AFC race looks a lot different without Tom Brady in the mix.

A select few are downright ecstatic because a season-ending injury would buoy their chances to win the AFC or make the playoffs if the New England Patriots were to collapse without their leader.

"That's terrible," New York Jets QB Brett Favre said of Brady's damaged knee. "They've always overcome injuries and things like that, but that's pretty difficult."

Let's stop for a moment and imagine the Patriots not qualifying for the playoffs behind backup Matt Cassel or Chris Simms or Joey Harrington or whomever else they might find. Here's what could happen to the AFC's power structure:

New favorites to win the AFC: San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers suffered a heart-breaking Week 1 home loss to the Carolina Panthers as time expired, but they didn't lose anybody for the season. They still have QB Philip Rivers and RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates and WR Chris Chambers. How long they have LB Shawne Merriman is another matter, but their defense should be fine even if he can't finish the season.

The Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars remain AFC contenders, and whichever club doesn't win the AFC South almost certainly will have a record good enough for one of the two wild-card berths.

New kings of the AFC East: Buffalo Bills.

The Jets are right there, too, but the Bills distinguished themselves with a complete 34-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The Bills also have Pro Bowl T Jason Peters returning to practice on Monday after a 43-day holdout.

New wild card hope: Pittsburgh Steelers or Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos.

The AFC North's second-place finisher seemed doomed to fall short of a wild-card possibility because of rugged scheduling, but removing the Patriots from the mix would bump everybody up a notch.

Because AFC East teams have much easier schedules, the team that finishes second is projected as a top wild-card candidate. That's where either the Jets or Bills come in.

The Titans made a statement with their 17-10 triumph over the Jaguars. Both wild-card entrants came out of the AFC South last year. It can happen again.

The Denver Broncos don't look like playoff material, but they should be the second-best team in the AFC West. The Broncos would be a long shot even if the Patriots went 1-15, but every little bit helps.

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Warning sign: Injury-filled week proves NFL should not add games

Several of Tom Brady's teammates said Bernard Pollard's hit on the QB was dirty.
Several of Tom Brady's teammates said Bernard Pollard's hit on the QB was dirty.

NEW YORK -- So what do you think of a 17-game season now? Anyone for 18?

It can't happen, folks. It shouldn't happen. I'm not so naïve as to think if there's a few more pieces of gold under some TV network rock that the NFL won't find it. All I'm saying is, after watching Tom Brady go down, probably for the year, and with injuries to Donte' Stallworth, Vince Young, Brodie Croyle, Nate Burleson, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and ... well, I'm missing another 15 or 20 guys, I have zero interest in the league tempting fate and adding another game or two to the regular season, which it seems inclined to do beginning in 2010 or 2011.

"They're talking about cutting the preseason,'' Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said Sunday night. "They could cut the preseason and then just play 16 games in the regular season.''

No, I told him. The league is investigating cutting the number of preseason games to two or three, and playing 17 or 18 regular-season games.

"No, no,'' Woodley said. "Too many.''

My opposition is simple: Every week, 15 or 20 solid contributors are lost, some for a couple of weeks, some for the season. Some weeks, like this one, there's a monumental loss. That's my preamble this opening weekend of the season. I continue to be amazed that owners forget every year how pervasive injuries are. But the further the season gets in the rear-view mirror, the easier it is to forget how beat up teams get by December. I maintain the only way to go is to slash the preseason to two exhibition games (one, even), plus two scrimmages, with the bottom 40 or 45 on each roster meeting at neutral sites.

That's for another day, though. I wanted to throw it out there so I could beat you over the head with it again. However, fans need to oppose an increase in regular season games because even though it would to lead to more football on TV you care about, there would be a steep price attached.


"I tried to apologize to him,'' Bernard Pollard said over the phone from Foxboro. "But I'm not sure he heard me. He was screaming.''

This was no dirty hit by the Chiefs' safety on Brady's left knee at 1:18 p.m. Sunday afternoon, causing it to hyperextend and, quite probably, doing some serious ligament or cartilage damage, or both. I was told Sunday night that the injury is "serious'' and it "threatens Tom's season.'' I've seen the spate of reports about Brady being out for the year, and though I don't refute them, I cannot corroborate them. I was told things certainly don't look good, but because Brady won't have an MRI until today, nothing is etched in stone.

Pollard told me, as he told reporters in Foxboro, that he was striving to get at Brady when running back Sammy Morris blocked him -- and the combination of the block and his own momentum caused him to lunge into Brady's leg.

"I tried to make a play, and Tom went down,'' he said. "I knew something was wrong. He was in pain, screaming. The running back [Morris] was asking for a personal foul, but it definitely wasn't one, and the ref didn't give it to him. It was most definitely a clean play. It was an accident. It's tough. It's football. I'm sorry it happened, obviously. I can't do anything but apologize to him. I went to Herm [Chiefs coach Herman Edwards] after the play and told him how sorry I was.''

Added Pollard: "I'll pray for [Brady].''

As I said on NBC Sunday night, the big telltale sign for Brady was not coming back out to the field once he got hurt. If the injury was minor, the never-let-'em-see-you-sweat idol would have made his way back to the field. He didn't. Some Patriots thought the play was dirty, including Randy Moss.

I spoke with two recent retirees, John Lynch and Vinny Testaverde, Sunday night about the injury and the play.

Lynch, watching from home in Denver, didn't think it was dirty. Important man to ask; he's spent his career in football blitzing and trying to get at quarterbacks the way Pollard did Sunday. And he got fairly close to Brady on a recent short trial with the Patriots.

"There's no way that was a dirty play,'' Lynch said. "It's easy to look at a play in slow-motion and say, 'Oh, he should have been able to stop.' Totally unrealistic. Things are moving so fast out there. Pollard was going for Tom, and it looked like he was somewhat blocked into him.''

Somewhat blocked into him. Good way to put it, if you saw it. As Lynch says, it's impossible to even imply that Pollard's intent was to crash into the side of Brady's knee.

Testaverde was watching the game from his home in Tampa. And he flashed back to Sept. 12, 1999, the day he had his own nightmare injury in a season-opener. Brady's happened in the middle of the first quarter of the first game, Testaverde's in the middle of the second. That Jets team was coming off a 12-4 season in 1998 and a loss in the AFC Championship Game at Denver; there were very high hopes for '99. This Patriots team was coming off a 16-0 season in 2007 and a loss in the Super Bowl; there were very high hopes for '08.

"I never was able to get back to that point, ever in football,'' said Testaverde. "And for me, it was heartbreaking.''

I spent 45 minutes with Brady one day in training camp, sitting on a golf cart in the Gillette Stadium tunnel. He was expansive, almost philosophical. He talked about how much he loved practice, how much he loved playing with Moss. "If you could pick the traits for the perfect wide receiver, Randy would have every single one of them," he said. "Long, lean muscles. Speed. Quick hands. Tremendous second gear when the ball's in the air. So smart. He wants to practice. He wants to work.''

I remember sitting there thinking, how lucky is Moss to have Brady, and vice versa. Now I wonder if Moss is going to turn into the leader he needs to be to help the Patriots save this season, and whether he'll mesh with Matt Cassel the way he'll need to if Brady is gone for the year.

I asked Brady that day about the Super Bowl loss.

"You control what you can control,'' he said, applying a moist wrap, painstakingly, around his right elbow. "Just because you lose the Super Bowl, it's not the end of your career, or the end of the world. You practice, you prepare, you do everything in your power to come out on top. And then you don't. You move on. Life gets simpler when you get older.''

It won't be as simple if the 45 minutes in the MRI tube today shows what we all fear it will show.

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Body of Missing UFC Star Evan Tanner Found in Desert

A body found Monday in a remote desert campsite is that of former Ultimate Fighting champion Evan Tanner, his manager told

Tanner, 37, disappeared last week while camping in a rugged area of Imperial County near the California-Arizona border.

"I really think what happened here is that he got in over his head out in the 115-degree desert and had a problem with exposure," Tanner's manager John Hayner of Driving Force Sports said Tuesday.

A preliminary coroner's report suggests Tanner died of heat exposure, Imperial County sheriff's Lt. George Moreno said.

A helicopter pilot spotted the body Monday about two miles from his campsite, officials said.

Tanner was a UFC middleweight champion and a United States Wrestling Federation heavyweight champion. The UFC and Driving Force Sports had memorials to the fighter on their Web sites Tuesday.

"As an extreme ultimate fighter, practicing mixed martial arts, he really didn’t define himself as being a fighter," Hayner told "He defined himself as being an adventurer, and he would fund his adventures through fighting."

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Tanner scored 34 wins and lost eight times during his UFC career. He clinched the UFC middleweight championship in 2005 by defeating David Terrell.

In recent months, his mind had been on risky expeditions, according to Hayner.

"This summer he wanted to go kayaking from Alaska to California, and I said, 'Evan, that’s incredibly dangerous; you could die out there," the manager told "And he goes, 'Well, you could die anywhere.'

"He always had this kind of concept [of], well, it sharpens your senses by being on a razor's edge with your life actually on the line."

In an Aug. 16 posting on his blog at titled "Treasure hunting in the desert," Tanner wrote about his desire to explore the Southern California terrain.

"The idea of going into the desert came to me soon after I moved to Oceanside," he wrote. "It was motivated by my friend Sara's talk of treasure hunting and lost gold, and my own insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration."

Tanner described his fascination with the desert and his preparations for the trip.

"I plan on going so deep into the desert that any failure of my equipment could cost me my life," he wrote.

Click here to read the blog.

The Imperial Valley Press Online reported that the campsite was discovered in the Clapp Springs area of the Palo Verde Mountains, about 60 miles northeast of Brawley, Calif.

Sheriff's officials said family members had been keeping in touch with Tanner through text messages since he left on Wednesday, and became concerned when he stopped responding.

Hayner said Tanner called a friend's wife on Sept. 3 to say his dirt bike had run out of gas and he was going to walk to get some.

Crews had been searching for Tanner since Friday.

Temperatures in the area were very high during the weekend, topping out at 114 on Sunday, Moreno said.

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The Art and Science of Wheelchair Basketball


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Minutes before the cries of “Box left! Box left!” fill the floor, before players collide in ferocious crashes of aluminum and titanium, and before his United States teammates continue their quest for the gold medal in men’s basketball at the Paralympic Games in Beijing on Tuesday, Paul Schulte will take a long, hard look at his opponents’ wheelchairs.

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Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Paul Schulte, with the ball, scored 9 points for the United States in a 76-53 victory over Israel in a preliminary-round game Sunday at the Paralympics in Beijing.

Wes Frazer for The New York Times

Schulte and the U.S. team worked out at a pre-Paralympic camp last month in Birmingham, Ala.

Axle width, wheel tilt, seat angle, height — Schulte, the United States’ best Paralympic basketball player, can examine an empty chair and immediately discern its owner’s style, strengths and moves. All players know something about equipment, but Schulte has an almost eerie clairvoyance when it comes to wheelchairs.

For good reason. He has designed many of them. As a mechanical engineer for Invacare Top End, a world leader in the manufacturing of sports wheelchairs, Schulte has a unique role in these Paralympics: when the United States team is not carried by his play, it will be by his chairs.

“See, it all depends on your center of gravity, and how much control you want versus speed,” Schulte said last month, making a chair schematic spin in three dimensions on a computer screen. “You want maneuverability, but you want acceleration. And you have to take into account the forces on the joints of the chair and the shearing of the welds.”

Schulte scored 29 total points in lopsided wins for the United States over Israel on Sunday and Brazil on Monday in the preliminary round at the Paralympics. The team faces Britain on Tuesday, China on Wednesday and Australia on Thursday before the quarterfinalists are determined.

Meanwhile, Schulte has found himself pulled aside by several opponents in the athletes’ village.

“They’re asking me, ‘Hey, while you’re here, can you measure me for a chair?’ ” Schulte said with a laugh. “I have to tell them: Uh, I’ve got to go practice right now. But maybe later.”

This will probably be Schulte’s last chance for a Paralympic gold medal. He won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, then sat out the 2004 Games to focus on finishing his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington and developing his engineering career.

Schulte’s considerable name in wheelchair basketball had already been built at the quadrennial world championships. He was the leading scorer for the United States when it won gold in 1998. In 2002, he helped the team win gold again, making six 3-pointers in one game and being named most valuable player of the tournament.

The next year, Top End named a wheelchair after him, the Paul Schulte Signature Series Basketball Chair. It later hired him as a design engineer.

Schulte, now the United States team’s old man at 29, says he wants to build chairs that can stand up to the serious international game, which requires finesse and the ability to dole out punishment.

“Put it this way,” Schulte said with a mischievous glint in his eye, “picks are a whole lot more effective in wheelchair basketball.”

At the United States team’s pre-Paralympic camp in Birmingham last month, it was clear that most aspects of wheelchair basketball are the same as the able-bodied game: same court, same scoring, same rules against traveling. (Touching your wheel is the equivalent of taking a step.) Players run fast breaks, make backdoor cuts and flip no-look passes as often as in any sneaker-squeaking basketball game.

In wheelchair basketball, height plays a less obvious role, but players with longer torsos and arms often rebound and shoot more effectively. Because of this, players are frequently measured by their arm spans, not body length.

Chairs cannot move left or right, only forward and back. That makes defense a fascinating exercise of players’ positioning their wheels perpendicular to those of the ball carrier, allowing for more responsive movements.

Defense is Schulte’s strength. He can zip one way or another, stop and make half or full spins with such speed and precision that he and the player he is guarding look like synchronized swimmers. Beyond his 6-foot-5 arm span, he can perform the wheelchair player’s version of a jump — tilting his chair on one of its large wheels to reach a few inches higher and block a shot.

As the shooting guard for the United States team, Schulte has a deft outside touch but excels at spreading what can become a congested floor. During a scrimmage last month, he led a fast break down the left side, dribbled and curled around the left wing, then suddenly stopped, spun and zipped a one-hand pass to a teammate for an easy layup.

“He’s superfast, his chair skills are some of the best in the world and he sees the floor tremendously well,” United States center Joe Chambers said.

Coach Steve Wilson said, “Paul definitely takes his intelligence out onto the floor; so much of play is wheel position, forces and angles.”

And speed, which is what originally drew Schulte to wheelchair basketball. An automobile accident the day after his 10th birthday fractured a vertebra, bruised his spinal cord and left him with no feeling from his midthighs down. He tried crutches but hated their clumsiness. He eventually found he could go faster in a chair and do many of the athletic movements he already loved.

“My friends, when they played touch football, they made me the quarterback so I didn’t have to move too much — but they told me if I didn’t get rid of it in three-Mississippi, they’d come get me,” said Schulte, who grew up in Manchester, Mich. “They pushed me and helped me to enjoy sports again. They made it fun and made it cool.”

By high school, Schulte was distinguishing himself as a top-notch basketball player. He attended Texas-Arlington on a full wheelchair basketball scholarship; the university has one of the nation’s more advanced programs, along with Illinois and Arizona. The team won the national collegiate title in 2002, with Schulte being named the M.V.P.

Whereas able-bodied basketball players are generally stratified by height, players in wheelchair basketball use a formal ranking system, based on physical capabilities. Players cannot rise out of their chairs; they are strapped in tight, if only for the inevitable crashes. But different disability groups have varying levels of midsection muscle control, allowing for greater reach, leaning and hands-free steering.

A player who is minimally disabled, like a single-foot amputee with otherwise full physicality, is ranked a 4.5; the scale decreases in half-point increments to 1.0, for a player paralyzed from the chest down.

Schulte is a 3.0, but he is so technically sound that he can match up against 4.5s — not unlike a small forward who can guard a center.

Schulte says he takes players’ limitations into account when designing chairs for them. Moving the player’s center of gravity by shifting the seat height or depth plays a critical role in steering and speed. Depending on the players’ style of defense, they may prefer greater axle width or an extra back stabilizing wheel — something Schulte popularized in chair design.

“The most important thing is quickness, for boxing out and avoiding picks,” said Schulte, whose personal model costs $3,800 before extra adjustments. The cost appears worth it. Members of the Brazilian national team call Schulte Homem de Gelo, which is Portuguese for the Ice Man.

They do not seem to dislike Schulte too much, though. As Erick Silva of Brazil said, “He made my chair.”

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Mark McGwire’s summer of love

By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports

Yahoo! Sports

There is no right way to feel. There was joy. It was justified. There is now sadness. It is justified.

There was appreciation, amazement and fondness, and there is now betrayal, disappointment and fraudulence, and Monday, the 10th anniversary of Mark McGwire scorching his 62nd home run over the left-field fence at Busch Stadium, triggers the emotional gamut because each side is indubitably tied to the other.

The duality will forever exist when looking back on 1998, the happiest time in recent baseball history. It was baseball’s Summer of Love, wondrous and carefree, where drug use was ignored and life celebrated. Everyone, from baseball neophytes to lifers, got caught up in the back-and-forth home run duel between McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they chased Roger Maris’ single-season record.

There were only heroes. For the pursuit to gather the following it did without a foil, a villain off of whom McGwire and Sosa could play, was a testament to its power, to how sports, baseball in particular, can serve as an escape from the vagaries. And it’s one of the ironies looking back, that what was thought to be so pure was, in all likelihood, as dirty as it comes.

The unvarnished truth about that summer will someday emerge. Until then, the principals leave us only to our suppositions. They want to address only the good vibrations, and who can blame them, what with guilt heavier than lead. That summer did change the game, and for the better. It was also the flashpoint of so many regretful moments, ones that tarnished baseball and cannot be swept aside like a pile of dust. They’re heavy, too.

To look back on McGwire and Sosa, then, on the summer of ‘98 and on 62, isn’t so much to decide whether to celebrate or lament. It instead reminds us that innocence is a wonderful thing until it’s there no more.

There is little as quintessentially American as hitting a home run. It is quick, powerful, majestic, the dynamic result of a game of chicken between the hitter and pitcher.

Mark McGwire hit home runs as well as anyone. His were special. They climbed deep into the night, another fleck of white on the panorama of stars, and landed farther from home plate than any of his contemporaries’. Stadiums opened early because fans clamored to see McGwire take batting practice and swat balls into upper decks 500 feet away.

He was Paul Bunyan, a bat his ax, with biceps as big as oil pipelines. The caricature was apt. As McGwire crept closer to Maris’ hallowed mark, it was like he was some sort of fictitious force, literally a machine built to hit home runs. How true that was.

No one knew, and no one really cared, either. Logic should have screamed that this was all a fraud, a sham, a pharmacologically aided freak show. But it was fun. Logic loses in the face of fun.

So the nation celebrated. No longer were Mac and Sammy property of the Cardinals and Cubs. They were everyone’s.

Remember what it was like? Cell phones were just becoming everyday accessories. E-mail wasn’t the primary mode of communication. Texting barely existed. Newspapers were the main source of sports knowledge. The water cooler wasn’t just a metaphor. It was where people gathered in the morning to giddily ask: See what McGwire and Sosa did last night?

Baseball, deflated by the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series, had its defibrillator. Certainly Cal Ripken Jr. breaking the consecutive-games-played record in 1995 was a special moment, his victory lap around Camden Yards touching. It was one night. McGwire and Sosa dueled all summer. Mac would get hot. Sammy would answer. And it was like that every day. When one of them didn’t hit a home run, it was a letdown.

They reminded the public that it could love baseball again, a sentiment that bled into the next decade and has positioned the game so well today. Baseball is financially booming, full of young and marketable stars, rejecting the notion that only the teams with the highest payrolls win, flush with great stories and readying for a postseason that could end with a World Series between the Cubs and Red Sox, something that, 10 years ago, seemed inconceivable.

At the same time, it is still shaking off what 1998 begat. The first sign of discord came when an Associated Press reporter noticed a bottle of androstenedione in McGwire’s locker. Andro is a steroid precursor and later would be banned by Major League Baseball. McGwire scoffed at the notion that it had anything to do with his home runs.

He kept hitting, and the masses kept cheering. Years later, when the breadth of steroid use in baseball revealed itself through admissions and testing and the Mitchell Report, the attention initially turned toward McGwire and Sosa. They sat on Capitol Hill two broken men, McGwire refusing to “talk about the past” with domineering Congressmen, Sosa feigning not to speak English. It was pathetic, the stars of that summer, the conquerors, cowering in front of men half their size.

That day changed the way we looked at McGwire and Sosa, even if neither ever tested positive for steroids. There was an assumption of guilt. The good feelings weren’t erased. They couldn’t be. They would just come with a caveat.

Heroes were OK, so long as they passed their drug tests, and even then, they’re probably on some kind of designer steroid or human growth hormone or who knows what else. It’s something everyone who watches baseball – who watches professional sports – accepts, naïve though it may be.

Because for most, the feeling of betrayal from knowing that McGwire and Sosa were, in all likelihood, juiced to the gills does not counterbalance what was derived from watching them hit those home runs. If ever home run No. 62 ends up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, alongside it will stand a plaque explaining its significance. And the first thing mentioned certainly will not be steroids.

At the same time, the notion that this, the 10th anniversary, causes a pebble-in-the-ocean ripple is a stark reminder of how McGwire and Sosa’s accomplishments have been rendered almost meaningless.

The historical value of McGwire’s ultimate number that season, 70, died in 2001 when Barry Bonds smashed 73. Bonds allegedly began abusing steroids because he was livid that McGwire, an inferior player, was lavished with attention and adoration.

It was short-lived. McGwire retired in 2001 and spends the majority of his time raising his two kids in a gated community in California. He avoids the spotlight and always declines St. Louis manager Tony La Russa’s invitation to return to the Cardinals as a spring-training instructor. He still has not admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. When seen in public, he carries considerably less weight on his frame than in ‘98, much like Sosa, who took the 2006 season off, hit 21 home runs for Texas last year and couldn’t find a job this season.

McGwire looks at ‘98 as a special time, no surprise, and in his lone interview this week, with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, called it “so spiritual, so universal.” At the time, it was: his, Sosa’s, the game’s, the public’s. Everyone shared it.

And everyone, likewise, feels some way about it today, happy, sad or conflicted. There is a generation of baseball fans who knew life before steroids, a generation that grew up with the specter of them and a generation today that doesn’t quite understand how they nearly destroyed the game, not because of their effect on numbers or records but the chasm they created between what we thought we knew and what was the truth.

It’s still there, and in order to love baseball anymore takes subversion. There is drug testing, and in some senses it works. Twelve young Latin American players signed with major league organizations tested positive last week, the latest haul in a flood of positives from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. On one hand, it’s good to know the testing works. On the other, it’s scary to think just how necessary it is.

McGwire and Sosa are due the baseball fans’ appreciation. For the summer of ‘98, of course, and all the memories it created. And for opening our eyes. Surely we wouldn’t have toiled along getting duped forever. But the steroid era resonated because it involved big moments, and McGwire and Sosa’s getting tarnished helped the public understand the severity.

Which leaves us where, exactly? Perhaps in purgatory. It’s OK to love the moment and loathe its repercussions, or to feel however you feel. There is no right way. Only to remember that what we once held so sacred we can never fully have back.

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