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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Legend of Cliff Young: The 61 Year Old Farmer Who Won the World’s Toughest Race

he legendary story of Cliff Young is already known to many runners. If you're aren't familiar with it, you're in for a fascinating read.

An Unlikely Competitor

Cliff Young winning Melbourne Sydney race

Cliff Young

Every year, Australia hosts 543.7-mile (875-kilometer) endurance racing from Sydney to Melbourne. It is considered among the world's most grueling ultra-marathons. The race takes five days to complete and is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train specially for the event. These athletes are typically less than 30 years old and backed by large companies such as Nike.

In 1983, a man named Cliff Young showed up at the start of this race. Cliff was 61 years old and wore overalls and work boots. To everyone's shock, Cliff wasn't a spectator. He picked up his race number and joined the other runners.

The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, "You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race." To which he replied, "Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race."

When the race started, the pros quickly left Cliff behind. The crowds and television audience were entertained because Cliff didn't even run properly; he appeared to shuffle. Many even feared for the old farmer's safety.

The Tortoise and the Hare

Cliff Young waving during ultra marathon

Cliff Young

All of the professional athletes knew that it took about 5 days to finish the race. In order to compete, one had to run about 18 hours a day and sleep the remaining 6 hours. The thing is, Cliff Young didn't know that!

When the morning of the second day came, everyone was in for another surprise. Not only was Cliff still in the race, he had continued jogging all night.

Eventually Cliff was asked about his tactics for the rest of the race. To everyone's disbelief, he claimed he would run straight through to the finish without sleeping.

Cliff kept running. Each night he came a little closer to the leading pack. By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record.

When Cliff was awarded the winning prize of $10,000, he said he didn't know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.

Continued Inspiration

In the following year, Cliff entered the same race and took 7th place. Not even a displayed hip during the race stopped him.

Cliff came to prominence again in 1997, aged 76, when he attempted to raise money for homeless children by running around Australia's border. He completed 6,520 kilometers of the 16,000-kilometer run before he had to pull out because his only crew member became ill. Cliff Young passed away in 2003 at age 81.

Today, the "Young-shuffle" has been adopted by ultra-marathon runners because it is considered more energy-efficient. At least three champions of the Sydney to Melbourne race have used the shuffle to win the race. Furthermore, during the Sydney to Melbourne race, modern competitors do not sleep. Winning the race requires runners to go all night as well as all day, just like Cliff Young.

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Holyfield, 46, Will Soon Fight for His Fifth Title

Steffen Schmidt/European Pressphoto Agency

On Saturday, Evander Holyfield will face the 7-foot Russian Nikolai Valuev for the W.B.A. championship belt.


ATLANTA — He won’t go away. He is well past his prime, boxing’s version of a future baseball Hall of Famer still toiling in the minors.

Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse

Holyfield admits to the aches and pains of age. But his trainer, Tim Hallmark, says: “If I felt Evander wasn’t physically capable of fighting, I would be the first to say that.”

Evander Holyfield: dedicated or delusional? Courageous or crazy? At 46, he does not care what boxing fans think. For those urging him to get a life or to find normalcy, whether out of care and concern for him or simply the desire to shove the doyen off boxing’s stage, he says: “I have respect for that. But that’s just your opinion. I have an opinion, too.”

His opinion holds that he has one good bout left, maybe more, in his still sculptured body. He will try to summon it Saturday in Zurich in a match with Nikolai Valuev, a 7-foot Russian.

At stake is the World Boxing Association heavyweight belt. Holyfield would buckle it around a waist that has barely expanded since he won his first professional title, in 1990. This would be Holyfield’s fifth heavyweight title, extending his record and distinguishing him as the eldest to reclaim a championship. He would surpass George Foreman, who did it against Michael Moorer at age 45 in 1994.

Holyfield insists such a distinction is not driving him to squeeze the last sweat drops out of his vocation. Nor is it money, even though he is sitting on an incredibly shrinking nest egg. Nor is it about pride or re-establishing his name, no small feat for someone so far removed from fame, other than for his “Dancing With the Stars” gig, that Google Earth would be hard-pressed to find him.

This fight, he attests, is about imparting a continuous lesson in perseverance to his 11 children, particularly the eldest.

Evander Jr. was 8 in 1992 when his father pondered retirement, after he lost a unanimous decision to Riddick Bowe for the undisputed heavyweight title. “My son couldn’t stop crying about it,” said Holyfield, who decided to soldier on because bowing out would have sent the wrong parental signal. “Scared the daylights out of me.”

Seven years later, Holyfield, battling illness as well as Lennox Lewis, considered leaving the ring in the middle of a bout until he spotted Junior in the arena and changed his mind, he said, cringing at the notion of the namesake someday hearing, “You’re going to be just like your daddy and quit under pressure.”

Two daughters recently beseeched him to abandon the sport. He listened, then told them: “I control my life. I make my decisions. I wouldn’t be wasting my time doing something I don’t think I can do.”

Holyfield has parried hooks and thrown uppercuts since he was 8, when a coach at an Alabama boys’ club implanted the dream that he could someday rule the heavyweight division. A career beset by physical hardships and pockmarked by bizarre incidents has left him unfazed. His longevity is a product of rolling with the punches, not only the sort delivered by a gloved fist.

One bout was interrupted when Mike Tyson’s teeth removed a chunk of his ear. Another was halted when a paraglider dropped into the ring. He had fights put off when an opponent had hepatitis and another was imprisoned for rape.

His physician informed him he had a hole in his heart in 1994, prompting the faith healer Benny Hinn to lay hands on him at a revival. (Mayo Clinic doctors later concluded the defect never existed.) The New York State Athletic Commission suspended his license after a loss stemming from a shoulder ailment. Foreshadowing the challenges and oddities was his disqualification for a supposed late punch in the 1984 Olympics, which cost him a shot at a gold medal.

Holyfield, whose ability to be calm in the swirl of chaos may be his greatest strength, has never lost his mojo.

There was the time Lewis accused him of hypocrisy for pledging to Christianity while fathering several children out of wedlock. How did he vent? By predicting a third-round knockout of Lewis (the bout ended in a draw). Holyfield said that the uncharacteristic boasting was uncalled for.

Retirement has not tugged hard on Holyfield, the rare fighter who relishes training. Inspirational gospel music blares through the gym, Holyfield singing along as he endures the mind- and body-numbing ritual of prepping for his fights.

At his camp in Houston, he skips rope and attacks the punching bag to the beat of his favorite tunes collected over two decades, each song remindful of a milestone bout.

He admits to the aches and pains inescapable with creeping age, and he may cancel a session or cut one short.

“I’m not doing what I used to do, trying to burn it every day,” he said. “My body don’t recover as fast.”

In his glory days Holyfield said that he sought divine help only on the day of a bout. Now, he summons his Lord to deliver him through training sessions. “I’m paying a superprice,” he said, “because I want it at this age.”

Besides, motivation “is hard when the money hasn’t been big for quite a while,” said Tim Hallmark, his fitness adviser and nutritionist for all but one fight in the past 23 years.

Holyfield will collect $600,000 to $750,000 against Valuev, spare change for someone with career earnings of more than $200 million, including $35 million for one memorable night with Tyson. The payday for Saturday, though modest by boxing standards, calls into question whether money needs have trapped Holyfield inside the ropes.

Two months ago he faced possible jail time when support payments lagged for his 11-year-old son. Holyfield, now remarried, reached an agreement amid estimates that he spends $500,000 a year in child support.

Last summer foreclosure papers were drawn up and an auction scheduled for his mansion, with its 17 bathrooms and 3 kitchens, on 235 acres of rolling hills south of Atlanta. Ken Sanders, serving as Holyfield’s financial adviser, acknowledged that Holyfield nearly lost his home and toyed with the idea of filing for personal bankruptcy.

“It’s a little tough for him right now,” said Sanders, who served as Holyfield’s first fight manager and is filling the role again. “He’s got some situations we’re trying to straighten out. It’s going to take a little time.”

Sanders declined to offer details, citing possible litigation. Holyfield blamed former associates, whom he accused of gaining power of attorney and borrowing against the value of the property. “It set me back,” Holyfield said, “but everything is good now.”

He added: “If I had a hundred million dollars, two hundred million, I would still fight because I have a goal.”

His goal, to retrieve all three recognized heavyweight crowns by the close of 2009, seems as pie in the sky as a peach praline in heaven.

Since 2001, Holyfield (42-9-2, 27 knockouts) is 6-4-1, mostly against little-known fighters. In his last bout, last year, he was hammered by Sultan Ibragimov. Many who embrace the sport fear Holyfield is not just tarnishing his legacy but stripping off every last bit of paint.

“People say: ‘You ain’t thinking. It’s your ego,’ ” Holyfield said.

Holyfield, who is vastly more popular in China and other countries than he is here, took a jab at the United States: “It’s a sin to get old. People stop respecting you. I know how it’s supposed to end for me as a boxer. And that’s to be on top.”

Hallmark, the fitness trainer, says he is confident Holyfield’s career will not end in an ambulance.

“If I felt Evander wasn’t physically capable of fighting, I would be the first to say that,” Hallmark said. “I haven’t seen anything that concerns me.”

Hallmark tailors Holyfield’s regimen with his client’s advancing age and his opponent in mind. For Valuev (49-1, 34 knockouts), who presents unique obstacles with his height, Holyfield’s strength training has been subjugated by conditioning. Avoiding injury is the top priority. “We have to be wise working him,” Hallmark said.

Hallmark has reeled in Holyfield’s wayward dietary habits, weaning his pupil off bean, milk and corn products, in deference to his Type A blood.

The specter of steroid use hangs over any athlete in Holyfield’s demographic, more so because his name appeared on a customer list of a company that was investigated for the illegal sale of performance-boosting drugs. Holyfield was quoted last year saying that he consumed a drug in 2004 to address “my hormonal problem,” but that neither it nor any other substance he has ingested is banned by boxing.

Hallmark recalled Holyfield’s disclosure that he had rebuffed encouragement from “people” to sample steroids. A few years ago Hallmark arranged for what he described as thorough blood tests, paid for by the fighter, that he said confirmed his long-held belief that Holyfield is clean.

“From what I’ve seen, Evander has never taken anything illegally to enhance his performance,” he said, adding: “I worked with one steroid user, a football player. The day I found out, I threw him out of the gym” and severed relationships.

“He just don’t age,” Sanders said of Holyfield. “He amazes me.”

Home briefly for the Thanksgiving holiday, Holyfield leapt from a chair and demonstrated how he would attack his imposing foe: moving, jabbing, working inside to negate Valuev’s long reach.

“I know people look at this as a freak show,” he said: the old man and the sea monster.

To those critics, he spouts personalized maxims about swimming against the tide of public opinion and likens himself to President-elect Barack Obama and the Wright brothers.

“This country is built on proving you can do it,” he said. To heck with prevailing sentiment: “I came up on the wrong side of the tracks, so nobody ever believed in me anyway.”

Asked if he could retire, forever, after one more night in the ring, Holyfield sat in unusual silence, kicked the question around, and said maybe. “Losing is quitting,” he said.

He won’t go away. Not without a fight, or three.

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Nadal and Jankovic named 2008 ITF World Champions

The ITF announced today that Rafael Nadal (ESP) and Jelena Jankovic (SRB) are the 2008 ITF World Champions. This is the first time that either player has received this honour.

Nadal becomes the first Spanish man to be named Men’s World Champion, following his compatriot Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who was Women’s World Champion in 1994. The 22-year-old from Mallorca crowned a dream year by securing the year-end No. 1 ranking following his fourth successive Roland Garros title and first triumph at Wimbledon. He also became Spain’s first Olympic tennis gold medallist, and helped his country win its third Davis Cup by BNP Paribas title.

Nadal said: "It has been an incredible year for me and I will never forget all that’s happened. To finish the year ranked No. 1 was really special. At the same time I was proud to win the Olympic gold medal, and help Spain regain the Davis Cup. It has been a wonderful year for Spanish sport, and I am happy to have been part of it.”

Jankovic becomes Serbia’s first Singles World Champion after securing the year-end No. 1 ranking in a standout year. She reached her first Grand Slam final at the US Open, and won more matches on the tour than any other player, capturing four titles in Rome, Beijing, Stuttgart and Moscow. The 23-year-old also represented her country at the Olympics and in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, where she helped Serbia qualify for the World Group for the first time ever.

Jankovic said: "I am very proud of myself for all I have accomplished in 2008 and am delighted to be named ITF World Champion. I worked really hard this year and to finish No.1 is where I want to be and where I want to stay. It was also an honour to represent Serbia in the Beijing Olympics and I hope I can achieve further success for my country in Fed Cup."

The ITF’s selection of its World Champions is based on an objective system that considers not only performances at the Grand Slams, Olympic Games and respective tours, but also gives weight to performances in the two ITF international team competitions, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and the Olympic Games.

ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said: “Rafael Nadal and Jelena Jankovic both enjoyed breakthrough years in 2008. Both players are excellent ambassadors for their countries, for whom they have achieved considerable success both as individuals and in the ITF team competitions.”

The ITF also announced that Daniel Nestor (CAN) and Nenad Zimonjic (SRB), and Cara Black (ZIM) and Liezel Huber (USA) are the 2008 ITF Doubles World Champions.

Nestor and Zimonjic end Bob and Mike Bryan’s five-year reign as Men’s Doubles World Champions, with Nestor winning the award for the second time following his success with Mark Knowles in 2002. In their first full season together, the pair won five titles including Wimbledon and the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Their victory over the Bryans in the Shanghai final saw them finish the year as the No. 1-ranked team.

Black and Huber are Women’s Doubles Champions for the second successive year. The duo surpassed their 2007 effort by capturing ten titles during the year, including the US Open and the season-ending championships. For the second year running Black and Huber ended the year co-ranked world No. 1 in the individual doubles rankings. Huber also made her Fed Cup and Olympic debut for the United States, having formerly represented her home nation South Africa.

Tsung-Hua Yang (TPE) and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA) are the 2008 ITF Junior World Champions. They become the first ever Asian players to receive this honour.

Yang clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking at last week’s Junior Orange Bowl, the final tournament of the season. The 17-year-old from Taipei captured his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and was also a finalist at the Australian Open and semifinalist at the US Open. Yang also captured two Grand Slam doubles titles with countryman Cheng-Peng Hsieh, at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He finished the season with a 20-7 record in singles and 25-6 in doubles.

Lertcheewakarn was the most consistent player on the girls’ circuit, capturing four singles and two doubles titles during the year. A member of the ITF/Grand Slam Touring Team, the 17-year-old reached her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, and won four events in Asia. In doubles, Lertcheewakarn teamed up with Sweden’s Sandra Roma to win the Junior US Open, and was also champion at the pre-Wimbledon event at Roehampton. Her overall win-loss records for the year were 39-12 in singles and 31-11 in doubles.

The ITF Wheelchair World Champions are Shingo Kunieda (JPN) and Esther Vergeer (NED), with both players remaining unbeaten in singles all year.

Kunieda becomes Men’s Wheelchair World Champion for the second successive year. The 24-year-old was undefeated in 40 singles matches in 2008, capturing a total of seven singles and five doubles titles. The highlight of Kunieda’s year came at the Beijing Paralympics, where he won singles gold defeating defending champion Robin Ammerlaan in the final. He also won doubles bronze with Satoshi Saida, with whom he reached the semifinals of the Invacare World Team Cup for Japan.

Twenty-seven-year-old Vergeer finishes 2008 as Women’s Wheelchair World Champion for an historic ninth consecutive year. She extended her singles winning streak to 354 straight matches, having remained unbeaten since January 2003. Vergeer’s streak nearly ended in the final of the Beijing Paralympics, where she saved a match point to win her third successive singles gold medal, before going on to win doubles silver. During the year she collected a total of 12 singles and 12 doubles titles, and led Netherlands to victory in the Invacare World Team Cup.

ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said: “I would like to pay tribute to all the ITF World Champions for 2008, who have contributed to another memorable year for the sport at all levels.”

The ITF World Champions will receive their awards at the annual ITF World Champions Dinner on Tuesday 2 June, in Paris, during Roland Garros.

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Ten best golf highlights of 2008

No contest for the number one spot. Tiger Woods's win at the US Open was not just the golfing highlight of 2008, it may well have been the greatest single sporting achievement of all time. Tiger Woods beat the best in the world with two fractures to his tibia and a knee full of frayed elastic bands. You could sometimes hear the snap, crackle and pop when he was swinging. Woods double bogeyed the first hole almost every day and still came back

By Mark Reason

Golf: Highlights of 2008
Champion laid low: Tiger Woods grimaces as he tees off during the US Open. He won but missed the rest of the season following knee surgery Photo: AP

He needed a 9-footer to get into a play-off and made it. He had to hold off a charging Rocco, the people's favourite, and still came through. He had to commit to every swing without flinching at the pain that he knew was coming. How can you shut down your subconscious like that? The man is scary. I believe this was not only the greatest single sporting achievement of all time, but it also crowned Woods as the greatest sportsman of all time. It's a claim that seems to make a lot of Ali fans very angry, but for my money the title fight should be contested between Woods and Don Bradman.

OK, so it's sentimental, but the sight of Greg Norman walking up the 18th fairway in the lead of the Open Championship brought a tear to everyone's eye. The grandstand gave a standing ovation in the late evening sunlight as Nick Faldo looked on at his old adversary with genuine affection. Shame it was only Saturday. We tried to kind ourselves the Great White Shark could hang on. We tried to believe that a 53-year-old man could find his youth and lost nerve by drinking the elixir of love. Chris Evert looked on and smiled, but surely not even she believed it was possible. It wasn't.

Padraig Harrington's second shot on the 71st hole of the Open Championship was a blow from the gods. Harrington had a comfortable lead and 249 yards left to the pin when he extracted his 5-wood. Eyebrows went up and jaws dropped at the club selection. Why not play safe? What if he finished against the face of a bunker or swept his ball into the hairy stuff. Such cautious souls tend not to end up winners. It was the sort of choice that Harrington himself might have made 6 or 7 years ago. But in 2008 the defending champion – how sweet that sounds – committed to his shot and watched as his ball bounced and rolled to 3 feet from the hole, setting up an eagle and a four shot victory.

The duel between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia at the PGA Championship might well have won in other years. Harrington went through the back of a green and recovered brilliantly. Garcia knocked it into the water, but got up and down for his bogey. Both men hit scintillating tee shots to the fiendish par-3 17th hole. But when Harrington holed first, you sensed the thrust might be too much for Sergio and so it proved. Even then there was a bit of drama left. Harrington made a horlicks of the final hole and needed a 20-footer to be sure of victory. It never looked like missing.

The Saturday afternoon of the Ryder Cup contained some of the finest match play golf that this grand old shooting match has ever contained. The jagged orange flash on the scoreboard warned of lightning in the air. By the time Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell reached the final green, sedate ol' Kentucky was going crazy, pullin' for home boy Kenny Perry and his partner Jim Furyk. Poulter was loving it. When he rammed home his four-footer for the match, he turned round with fist clenched and madness in the eyes and yelled: "Come on" like Peter Ebdon on steroids.

The first tee of the Ryder Cup is one of sport's magical arenas. Most big sport doesn't take place at this time in the morning. There is something almost eerie about the cool dewy air. The rookies look as if they have just thrown up and even some of the veterans seem a bit a queasy. The American crowd was loud and boisterous in Kentucky, and lacked imagination with their USA, USA. But captain Azinger knew their importance and whipped them up. The Europeans were typically rowdy and witty, making even the Americans laugh. What an atmosphere. It was everything sport should be. Funny and fearful at the same time, but a place where you could take your kids. Sheer magic.

Rocco Mediate's comeback at the US Open was the everyman story of the year. Rocco is Joe the plumber with a golf bag. Apparently he does stop talking in his sleep, but only for a few seconds. His comeback in the play-off of the US Open against Tiger Woods was heroic. And he very nearly wisecracked his way to victory. The crowds loved Rocco. They see one of their own, a man who knows that sport is still a game, even when played for millions of dollars.

When Anthony Kim holed his par putt on the 14th, he walked off the green with barely a backward glance and headed for the 15th tee. Sergio Garcia stood there with a crooked smile on his face. The match was over, but Kim had no idea. He was so wrapped up in what he was doing, so driven by adrenalin, that someone had to call him back and tell him that he had just won his Ryder Cup singles. The kid's a killer.

The moment itself was without drama, but that is often the way with great sporting achievement. At the 2008 Masters Trevor Immelman played a standard of golf that was way beyond the rest of the field. With Tiger you get flair and heroic deeds. Immelman was a machine, a latter-day Hogan. He dissected the field with utter, remorseless accuracy. Like a cold, clear winter's day, Immelman's performance was a thing of beauty.

Who can forget the clown of the Ryder Cup straddling his driver as he walked off the first tee and whipping himself down the fairway in homage to the Kentucky Derby. Boo Weekley's antics revved up the crowd and released the pressure on the American players who as a team have a recent history of being too uptight. All week the fields of Kentucky echoed to the chant of "Boo-S-A."

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Top snowboarders and free-skiers embrace inaugural Winter Dew Tour

Winter Dew Tour
Bo Bridges
Josiah Wells was photographed Thursday at the inaugural Winter Dew Tour-- a three-event series in Breckenridge, Colo. that has been fully embraced by the world's top snowboarders and free-skiers.

By Pete Thomas

Though it has not even begun, the Winter Dew Tour seems to have already emerged from the shadow of the Winter X Games, with the competition roster including 24 Olympians.

How is this possible?

Because the inaugural Winter Dew Tour, a three-event series that begins today at Breckenridge, Colo., has been embraced by the world's top snowboarders and free-skiers, most of them X Games veterans.

On the roster are 2006 gold medalists Shaun White and Hannah Teter; 2006 silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, and 2002 gold and silver medalists Kelly Clark and Danny Kass. Kass also won silver in 2006.

The list also includes top snowboarders Steve Fisher, Travis Rice, Danny Davis and Kevin Pearce; and free-skiing stars Tanner Hall, Sarah Burke and Simon Dumont.

In all, athletes from 20 countries and 21 U.S. states will compete in contests that include superpipe and slopestyle, the latter discipline involving a course with jumps and other terrain features.

Top international athletes include snowboarders Antti Autti of Finland, Kjersti Buass and Andreas Wiig of Norway, and Torah Bright of Australia. Most top snowboarders are accompanied by Olympic coaches preparing for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Like the X Games, which is an ESPN production, the Winter Dew Tour will be presented before a mainstream audience, live on NBC Sports on Saturday and Sunday.

"The athletes are super-excited," said Burke, winner of X Games gold in skiing superpipe in 2007 and 2008. "It sounds like it's always been such a success and such a fun event in the summertime. To have it come to winter, everyone is super-pumped up."

Fisher, a Breckenridge resident who was the world's top-ranked snowboarder heading into 2008-09, said the new series represents "a giant leap in the world of action sports events." Fisher added, "We at the snow side of things have been excited about this for two years."

The $1.5-million Winter Dew Tour joins the Grand Prix circuit in holding the only true series for snowboarders.

Chris Stiepock, X Games general manager, said of the Winter Dew Tour: "It is good for winter action sports, the athletes and the action sports industry for NBC to add more exposure and consistency to the winter event landscape."

Because of the recession, action sports athletes have fewer opportunities to maintain a high profile as companies have reduced sponsorships and killed video projects and made other substantial cuts. As a result, "contests are huge," said Molly Aguirre, a top snowboarder from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., along with her brother Mason. "It's kind of the main way for snowboarders to get their name out there now."

After Breckenridge, the Winter Dew Tour will move to Mt. Snow in Vermont on Jan. 8 to 11, then to Northstar-at-Tahoe, where series winners will emerge, Feb. 19 to 22.

The X Games are scheduled for Jan. 21 to 25 at Aspen-Snowmass in Colorado.

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Windsurfer becomes first to test skills in Alaskan waters

Pro wind surfer Florian Jung is the first man to windsurf in Alaskan waters - Windsurfer becomes first to test skills in Alaskan waters
Pro wind surfer Florian Jung is the first man to windsurf in Alaskan waters Photo: BARCROFT MEDIA

Surfing just yards from the unstable 150 metre high walls of the Chenega glacier pro windsurfer Florian Jung became the first man ever to windsurf in the barren wilderness of Alaskan waters.

Facing Arctic winds and water temperatures of just one degree Celsius Mr Jung achieved a life long dream.

"I have always dreamed of windsurfing near a glacier," said the 24-year-old German. "No one else has surfed in front of the glaciers in Alaska before and I wanted to be the first.

"I normally surfs big waves in Hawaii and when I revealed my dream to a surfing friend back in Hawaii, he told me it couldn't be done. So I put my 1972 VW van on the line and off I went."

Flying out to the small town of Whittier in the glacier region of Alaska in August, Mr Jung set about his unusual adventure accompanied by a marine biologist in a boat.

He said: "The population there is only 183 and when we arrived they couldn't believe what we were attempting to do."

Measuring one mile in length the Chenega Glacier is highly unstable with giant ice rocks breaking off and crashing into the water almost every half an hour.

"I studied the region and talked to a lot of scientists about the clima-change and what happens with the glaciers there at the moment," said Mr Jung.

"I am used to travelling from one sunny surf-spot to the next.

"When you see a glacier calving it is very impressive – but very dangerous. If an ice rock fell too close to myself or the boat then it could prove to be fatal for everyone."

Mr Jung wore a special thermo neoprene-suit to cope with the 1-2 Celsius water temperature.

Chenega Glacier is a tidewater glacier located in Prince William Sound and on the Kenai Peninsula in the American state of Alaska.

The glacier is a tourist attraction, drawing many kayakers and small cruise lines to Nassau Fjord where the glacier meets the ocean.

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What If LeBron James and Wolverine Joined the New York Knicks?

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Click image to expand.For decades, Marvel Comics has put out a series of "What If" books, postulating alternate realities that might have occurred if Stan Lee had been smoking a different strain of reefer. For instance: "What If Captain America Had Been Elected President?" (ironic). Or: "What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?" (hottt!). But the still-coolest What If scenario was the first one, from 1977: "What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?" That's a question every comic-book fan used to ask every day. It was a dream scenario that justified all the years we'd spent ignoring our actual problems while living in an imaginary reality where we knew the difference between the Green Hulk and the Gray Hulk.

Now the NBA is providing the same service for its equally nerdy, though probably drunker, fans. All season we've endured endless "What If" scenarios from the media figures who are paid to speculate for us by proxy. As anyone who's watched ESPN in the last three months would know, many star NBA players are scheduled to be eligible for free agency in 2010. Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Amare Stoudemire just might change franchises. But the biggest auction pony, by far, is LeBron James.

LeBron is one of the 10 most famous people in the world, the man of his times, and the greatest basketball player on earth. The prospect that he might change teams would be truly exciting, if it were the offseason and LeBron were actually a free agent. But it's not, and he won't be on the market for two years. Regardless, James, who last I saw was leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 20-4 record (they lost), is being heralded as the hero who will return the New York Knicks to glory. This despite the fact that—and I really can't emphasize this enough—he's not a free agent and currently plays in Cleveland.

Of course, LeBron isn't helping matters by saying stuff like, "You have to stay open-minded if you're a Knicks fan. ... If you guys want to sleep right now and don't wake up until July 1, 2010, then go ahead. It's going to be a big day." Now that's just freaking obnoxious. But the fish eats the worm every time. After LeBron's November visit to Madison Square Garden, the New York tabloids responded predictably, with headlines like "LeBron Likes What Knicks Are Doing" and "LeBron James' Pal Claims Knicks Are Favorites." It's like New Yorkers are waiting for LeBron to invite them to homecoming. The rest of the basketball punditocracy, meanwhile, has become so obsessed with next-decade scenarios that it's like this NBA season doesn't exist. Hear's Bill Simmons, the voice of today's fan: "The NBA's off-court subplots, in many ways, have become just as fun as anything happening on the court. Because of the Internet, sports radio, team blogs, better information guys and everything else, the whole trade/draft/free-agent market has practically evolved into its own sport to follow. ... The Summer of 2010 (it sounds like a blockbuster movie) ties everything we love about that goofy underbelly into one neat package."

In other words, basketball-land has become a real-life Marvel Comics "What If" book. What-Iffing isn't just a comic-book enterprise. The popular simulation site—create fake teams made up of your all-time favorite players!—has been enthralling sports nerds, myself included, for nearly a decade. But what's the point of a site like What If Sports now that imaginary basketball has been made real? After all, Simmons' beloved Boston Celtics are the most What If team ever constructed. The Celts, however awesome on the court, exist because of a series of implausible acquisitions that instantly transformed a terrible team into an amazing one: "What If the Timberwolves Dumped Kevin Garnett for Cents on the Dollar?" and "What If the Sonics Decided To Give Away Ray Allen?"

Last year, the NBA officially became a let's-pretend sport, with star players getting traded in the kind of deals that usually happen only in fantasy leagues where half the owners don't pay attention. The Lakers made it to the Finals by What-Ifing Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol. Other GMs tried their own moves—"What If Shaquille O'Neal Teamed Up With Steve Nash," and "What If Jason Kidd Returned to the Mavericks?"—that probably should've remained fictional. What If, no matter what happens, your team still can't get past the Spurs? And this season has already brought its own What If move, as the Pistons and Nuggets imagined a scenario where Chauncey Billups and Allen Iverson switched places. The Billups-Iverson deal actually might've been the first double What If move in NBA history, as Pistons GM Joe Dumars made the trade in part to free up salary cap space ... to maybe, possibly acquire LeBron James in 2010.

Why is What If management endemic to the NBA? It doesn't exist in the NFL, where trades are rare and any player can be cut at any time, not just in the summer of 2010. Major league baseball has been a What If hotbed for a long time, but baseball redemption can come from anywhere, including the minor leagues or Japan. And as the Steinbrenner family can tell you, no free-agent signing guarantees victory. Only in the NBA, the land of small rosters and more-or-less predetermined outcomes, can one or two players make the difference between the Finals and the lottery.

Half the league, it seems, now has What If fever, clearing cap space and punting real-life basketball games on the off-chance LeBron or Wade or Bosh might grace their courts in the 2010-11 season. The 2010 season has reared its head so soon because so many teams have nothing left for which to live. Nearly half the Western Conference is already effectively eliminated from this year's playoffs. The East, while more closely contested, isn't exactly a powder keg of suspense. So mostly we hear about LeBron. Will he go to the Knicks? Won't he go to the Knicks? What kinds of endorsements will emerge? The What If marketers of the NBA certainly wouldn't mind. Then they'd have their dream of LeBron in New York and Kobe in Los Angeles, plus maybe the Celtics and one other good team. The rest of the league would be left to What If bottom-feeding. has already begun running Chad Ford's lottery generator and mock draft so fans of failed teams can have their own pretend scenarios, such as: "What If Ricky Rubio Ran the Point for the Washington Wizards?" Meanwhile, ESPN's "trade machine" keeps the rest of us busy. For instance, I just concocted a deal where LeBron goes to Phoenix in exchange for Grant Hill, Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez, and Alando Tucker. Personally, I think the Suns would come out quite well in that exchange.

Perhaps everyone is overspeculating because we pretty much know this season's outcome already. The NBA Finals will be a rematch of the What If Lakers and the What If Celtics, and the Celtics are going to win again with their superior defense and incredibly balanced scoring attack. They're just so damn good, with their Fantastic Four and all. But what if Spider-Man joined them? That would be awesome.

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Hornets guard Paul sets NBA steal record

Hornets guard Paul sets NBA steal record AFP/Getty Images – New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul, seen here on December 17, 2008, made National Basketball Association …

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul made National Basketball Association history by setting the record for consecutive games with a steal.

Paul established the new mark by recording a steal in his 106th straight game on Wednesday to snap the previous record set by Alvin Robertson in 1986.

The record fell against Robertson's old team, the San Antonio Spurs.

With 3:05 on the clock in the second quarter of a 90-83 Hornets' win, Spurs forward Tim Duncan lost control of the ball under the Hornets' basket.

Paul immediately picked up the loose ball, claiming the record as the local crowd honored Paul with a loud ovation.

"It's an unbelievable accomplishment, to make a mark in history and especially a record like that. It's tough to do," Paul said. "I'd like to thank my teammates and the fans and I hope we can keep it going."

For comparison's sake, the next-longest streak after Paul and Robertson is Michael Jordan's 77-game stretch, which he completed in 1989.

The second-longest active streak is held by Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who has at least one swipe in 22 straight games.

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Yankees re-arm, introduce Sabathia, Burnett

New York hopes $243.5 million pitching pair can help team back to playoffs

Image: Burnett, Sabathia
Kathy Willens / AP
Yankees pitchers A.J. Burnett, left, and CC Sabathia share a laugh.
NEW YORK - Most teams triumphantly unveil a new ace. The New York Yankees presented a pair.

The sign board outside old Yankee Stadium beamed with an unusual message Thursday for a ballpark that already has seen its final game: “LET’S PLAY TWO,” read the top line. “CC & AJ 1 PM TODAY,” said the lower.

For $243.5 million, a lot in most places but a trifle in a city where a financier is accused of swindling billions, the Yankees signed two pitchers they hope will restore the franchise’s glory when it moves across the street to the new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium next year.

There was a Christmas tree on the mound of the old ballpark, Yogi Berra was walking around and down in the cramped Stadium Club, 11 people were seated on chairs beside the podium. Manager Joe Girardi’s 9-year-old daughter, Serena, presented roses to the wives of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Yankees president Randy Levine called the news conference “one last hurrah” for the 85-year-old stadium, scheduled for demolition starting next summer. Brian Cashman said the teddy bearish Sabathia “lights up a room when he walks in.”

“I hope he lights up a city,” the general manager said.

Disappointed, dismayed and dissed after their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances came to an end, the Yankees reversed course after a one-year experiment with young starters and exercised their economic might by finalizing huge contracts Thursday for the two highly pursued pitchers. Sabathia’s $161 million, seven-year deal is the highest for a pitcher. Burnett’s $82.5 million, five-year agreement would be the highest on many teams.

“We learned last year that injuries can happen across the board,” Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. “There’s no doubt pitching is a bit more worrisome, but you’ve got to live year by year and we’re focused on 2009.”

New York has used 51 starting pitchers since its last World Series title in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, tied for sixth in the majors and third in the AL. Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Jeff Weaver, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano have all come and gone. Many of them were introduced with similar hoopla.

“You can’t stop swinging for the fences,” Cashman said, proudly wearing a World Series ring. “We’ve been here. We’ve done this before. How many times, right? And I’ve got this on my finger from the times where things have worked out. And I’ve got tread on my back from where I’ve been hit by a bus when it didn’t work out.”

Sabathia, wearing two large diamond earrings and more bling on his arm, slipped a large jersey with No. 52 over his dress shirt and Burnett put a trimmer No. 34 top over his. At 6-foot-7, about 300 pounds and with size 15 shoes, Sabathia carries big expectations to go with his big body.

“I’m not the best physique-looking guy,” Sabathia said.

To reel him in, the Yankees dazzled the 28-year-old left-hander with fellow Californian Reggie Jackson, tales of how they had coveted him for more than a year and a provision that allows the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner to terminate his contract after three years.

Derek Jeter made a recruiting call, and Cashman traveled to Sabathia’s home in Vallejo, Calif., last week during the winter meetings to assure him and wife Amber that New York was a great place to live and pitch. That clinched it.

“Ten minutes after he left my house,” Sabathia said, “I called him and I looked at my wife, I said, you know, ‘I’ll be a Yankee.’ Every time I say that I still get chills thinking about that.”

Sabathia said the addition of a seventh season to the original $138 million, six-year offer was important. His wife said Cashman’s decision to offer the opt-out provision was key.

“When he said that, I said, ‘We’re going to love it,”’ she recalled.

Already, they spent Wednesday looking at houses in Alpine, N.J. The Sabathias intend to permanently move to the area.

They said the one-month gap between the Yankees’ initial offer and Sabathia’s acceptance was partly because they have a new child and partly because he wanted to hear from every interested team. He was concerned New York would withdraw its offer and move on.

“I was worried about the public perception here,” Sabathia said. “I don’t want anybody to think that I didn’t want to come here.”

Burnett seemed to be the wilder personality. He has a Pisces tattoo on his left hand in honor of his two sons. When asked about his trips to the disabled list (10), he interrupted the questioner.

“You don’t have to say the number,” he said.

The 31-year-old right-hander even received a recruiting call from Alex Rodriguez. Last September, Burnett got an unexpected recommendation to sign with the Yankees: from Carl Pavano.

His former Florida teammate, maligned for multiple injuries during his four seasons in New York, spoke with him during batting practice at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s a great place to play. It’s a great place to live,” Burnett said Pavano told him. “I was expecting to hear, you know, different things.”

Playing near his home in Maryland was important to Burnett. So was the chance to win.

“Of course, money had something to do with it,” he added. “How often do you get the chance to put on pinstripes? I mean, whether you want to admit that you love them or hate them, everybody wants to be a Yankee.”

Burnett was looking forward to picking out his locker in the oval clubhouse of the new ballpark, where the pair went to pose for pictures after the news conference. Before heading over, he heard a loud noise from above as he spoke with reporters.

“Get over to the new place quick,” he said. “We’re supposed to get out first.”

Notes: The Yankees still hope to re-sign Andy Pettitte. “He’s still excited about coming back,” manager Joe Girardi said. ... Steinbrenner said it was possible Joba Chamberlain could wind up splitting time as a starter and reliever. Steinbrenner also wouldn’t rule out chances of signing OF Manny Ramirez. “I guess as realistic as any of the other free agents, because we’re looking at all of them,” he said. “We’re just going to have to see what each day brings.”

Copyright 2008 Reuters.

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