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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Italian police hunt hit-and-run skier who killed father in high-speed crash

By Nick Pisa

A hit-and-run skier was being hunted by police last night after a father suffered fatal injuries as he coached his daughter on the slopes.

Arthur Lantschner, 51, was with his 12-year-old girl when the skier crashed into him at high speed and carried on without stopping.

The death on Christmas Day happened in the resort of Obereggen, near Bolzano in the Italian Dolomites.

obereggen

The resort of Obereggen in Italy where the father was killed in a hit-and-run skiing accident (file photo)

A police spokesman said: 'The resort is very popular with foreign tourists, including British, and at this stage we cannot rule out the possibility that the culprit was a foreigner.'

Last night, officers were checking ski pass sales and CCTV cameras positioned at the top and bottom of resort lifts.

A Bolzano police spokesman said: 'The victim, from Italy, was hit from behind at high speed and suffered serious injuries. He was hit in front of his young daughter and a helicopter was scrambled to the scene to take him to hospital.

'His condition was very bad and he died within a few minutes of arriving in hospital.

'We have a vague description of the skier from the daughter but we are appealing for help.'

It is the second fatal accident at an Italian resort in less than a week. Last Sunday, Croatian defence minister Gordan Cacic, 47, was killed at Cortina after a collision with another skier.

Italian resorts are some of the most unruly in Europe with crashes regular occurrences.

The Italian government has tried to crack down by stepping up patrols and levying on-the-spot fines for careless skiing.

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Manchester City poised for Michael Owen bid

By Rory Smith and Jonathan Wilson

Manchester City could be in for Michael Owen bid
On the move? Manchester City could be in for Michael Owen bid Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The cash-rich Eastlands side believe they can capitalise on Owen's decision to delay signing a new contract to sign the England forward.

Owen has just six months left on his £120,000-a-week deal at St James' Park and has only said that he is prepared to stay until the end of the season. But a significant bid may be enough to tempt Newcastle to cash in now rather than risk losing him on a Bosman free transfer in the summer.

Owen has the perfect stage on which to demonstrate his ability in today's televised clash with former club Liverpool, a side Owen has barely concealed his desire to rejoin. But any move back to Anfield would have to overcome the reservations of Anfield manager Rafael Benitez, who was corralled into selling Owen to Real Madrid just weeks after taking charge in 2004.

Benitez is thought to be looking elsewhere for reinforcements and may bid for Shakhtar Donetsk's Croatian midfielder Dario Srna. Damir Stimac, Srna's agent, said yesterday that Srna is not looking for a move but "we have an agreement that if an offer comes from a club that is in the Champions League, that is fighting for its national championship, that has a big tradition, then we will talk about a transfer".

That leaves City in pole position to pair Owen with their other principal target for January, Roque Santa Cruz.

New Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce is adamant the Paraguayan will not leave for less than Rovers' £20 million asking price but Santa Cruz has made it clear he wants to leave. And City's need to reinforce their striking department has become more urgent after Benjani was ruled out for three months with a ruptured thigh muscle.

City manager Mark Hughes said: "We hope he will not be out for the same length of time as before but he will be out for a significant amount of time."

Another City target, Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna, is widely expected to arrive for a fee in the region of £3 million. Arsenal are also keeping tabs on the experienced Spanish international but are unwilling to be drawn into a bidding war for a 32-year-old.

City have also been linked with moves for Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge, Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure as Hughes looks to embark on his much-anticipated spending spree.

Away from Eastlands, experts believe this could be the quietest January transfer window for years as clubs start to feel the effects of the credit crunch.

Last year, Premier League sides gorged themselves on some £150 million worth of signings, more than doubling the previous record of £70 million, set in 2006.

Estimates for this season's spend depend largely on how often Hughes reaches for his chequebook, with agents and clubs alike expecting a downturn.

Andy Evans, director of World in Motion sports management, said: "With football here run by British corporations and foreign billionaires, it would be very lucky if it was not affected by what's happened.

"The noises coming out of most clubs are that they won't be doing much business because they don't have any money to spend. The only exception to that are Manchester City. A few others might do a bit of business but it will be loans, swaps or player-plus-cash deals.

"Clubs could use the crunch as a negotiating tool, but for players, it means consolidating what you're earning now before the effects are really felt, because in a few months' time maybe the wages on offer won't be as good."

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Despite Changes in the N.H.L., Fighting Rises

Brian Snyder/Reuters

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Mitchell, left, and Boston Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart fight during their N.H.L. hockey game in Boston in December.

By DAVE CALDWELL

Mitch Fritz is a 28-year-old left wing from Osoyoos, British Columbia, who stands 6 feet 8 inches and weighs 258 pounds. He has a goatee, and the knuckles on his left hand are often covered with dark scabs. He is not with the Islanders because he can score.

In his second N.H.L. game, on Nov. 1, Fritz picked a fight with Montreal’s Georges Laraque, one of the league’s most fearsome enforcers. By all accounts, Fritz held his own. He has been in three fights since, keeping a spot on the roster.

He does not play much, but Fritz considers his presence a sign of an N.H.L. trend. The number of fights is up by about 15 percent over last season and by 75 percent over three years ago, meaning that players who can fight have become more valuable.

“I don’t follow it, I don’t dissect it, but I don’t mind when it’s up,” said Fritz, an otherwise mild-mannered man who won the Man of the Year award from the American Hockey League three years ago. “It might mean more work for me down the road.”

Fighting has been an accepted part of hockey for generations. With few exceptions, every team has at least one player who can fight. Two enforcers battle, often briefly, to defuse the emotion generated by a tight, physical game, or to create some emotion.

The N.H.L. does not include a fight card in its daily packet of statistics, but Web sites like hockey-fights.com keep track, and the site has logged 351 fights this season, up from 308 through the same time last season.

Fights, labeled as such when at least one of the players involved receives a five-minute major penalty, have increased each year since the 2004-5 lockout. Through Dec. 23, 2005, there were 201 fights; through Dec. 23, 2006, there were 220.

“It seems like it’s coming full circle again,” said Jason Travers, a St. Louis Blues fan who in 1995 created hockey-fights.com, which unapologetically lists fights (often adding blow-by-blow descriptions) and includes videos of the better battles.

Through Dec. 23, 2003, in the season before the lockout, the site listed 341 fights. That was before the N.H.L. instituted a series of rules changes intended to crack down on late-game brawls, and on clutching and grabbing so the league’s premier players would have more room to score.

Colin Campbell, the N.H.L.’s director of hockey operations, said that stick fouls like cross-checking and slashing were down substantially. But he acknowledged that fighting had increased, and, like many others in hockey, he has a few theories.

First, Campbell said, fighting — and rough stuff in general — is less prevalent than when he played in the N.H.L. from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s. (He recalls coating his hair with Vaseline before games so that opponents would not be able to pull it.)

Those were the days when two-man fights often became donnybrooks, and hardly anyone said no when challenged to a fight. Many enforcers could barely skate, let alone score. Players are more versatile now, and they became a tighter fraternity during the lockout.

“Coming out of the lockout,” Campbell said, “I don’t know if there was a lot of animosity.”

Meaning that there is more animosity now than there was three years ago.

When told what Campbell had said, Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton, who was in his 10th fight of the season on Tuesday against the Devils, smiled and replied: “It’s a theory. But I’d fight my sister if it came down to it. I’m friends with some of the guys I throw the gloves down with. If I start thinking who’s on the other side, then I’m not playing the way I can.”

Mike Rupp, the Devils forward who fought with Thornton, said: “After the lockout, they opened up the game more. Maybe the game’s faster, so there are bigger hits. With speed picking up, guys are laying hits on the skill players from the other teams.”

That means there has sometimes been a need to even the score, which is when fights tend to break out. Thornton picked a fight in the second period with Rupp after Rupp delivered crushing (but legal) checks on Boston’s Dennis Wideman and Vladimir Sobotka.

Campbell said he understood why that happened — “It’s considered a safety valve,” he said of fighting in general — but he said he did not think it was necessary for an enforcer to even the score when clean checks later in the game could deliver the same message.

Establishing a physical presence works for some teams, even in today’s N.H.L. With the blessing of Brian Burke, then the general manager, the 2006-7 Anaheim Ducks amassed 71 fighting majors, far and away the most in the league. They went on to win the Stanley Cup. Burke has moved to Toronto, but Anaheim, which has an 18-14-3 record, has already been in 40 fights this season, sharing the league lead with the Vancouver Canucks.

Some teams do not feel the need to drop the gloves, most notably the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup last season for the 11th time despite being in only 21 fights. (They have been in a league-low seven this season.)

“I just don’t think that’s part of our game plan,” goaltender Ty Conklin, in his first year with the Red Wings, said recently in a conference call with reporters. “You know, there are some teams that you know they feel that they get an advantage if they can intimidate the other team, and we just don’t have guys like that. The guys are not intimidated out there.”

Generally, one fight does not lead to another, although Andre Deveaux of Toronto and Krys Barch of Dallas were in two fights in their game Tuesday and were thrown out of the game.

“Lots of times, the fights don’t mean anything,” said Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear, 36, who is considered one of the most ferocious tough guys in hockey history. “Guys just fight for fun, for pride. That’s about it.”

Quite often, only a few punches are thrown before the fighters grapple and fall to the ice in a heap. Even with those few punches, they will probably be slamming their fists into the other player’s helmet.

“I’d rather have scars on my knuckles than my face,” Thornton said.

The knuckles on Thornton’s right hand — his “throwing” hand, as the fight fans like to call it — are covered with scabs. He considers it an occupational hazard. He knows what the Bruins expect him to do, and he is doing it.

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Garcia, Mickelson, Harrington poised for challenge on No. 1

LOS ANGELES -- Long established as the world's No.1 player, Tiger Woods now runs the risk of being deposed at the top of the rankings in the first quarter of 2009.

Woods has been out of action since having reconstructive knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open in June and, as a bystander, has watched his stranglehold at the top steadily loosen week by week.

He has occupied the No. 1 ranking a record total of 529 weeks in his career, first claiming the top spot on June 15, 1997. He has held the position since regaining it from Vijay Singh on June 12, 2005.

After his astonishing playoff victory at Torrey Pines six months ago, Woods enjoyed a substantial lead of 11.328 ranking points against Phil Mickelson.

Spain's Sergio Garcia since has climbed into the second spot in the global pecking order and trails Woods by just 3.865 points going into the new year.

The game's dominant player is unlikely to return to competitive golf until at least February, and his No. 1 status could be usurped by Garcia; Mickelson, currently No. 3; or Padraig Harrington, now No. 4, and recently voted the PGA Tour player of the year.

For Woods to surrender the grip, one of his rivals would have to make a fast start in 2009, in addition to winning at least one of the big tournaments early on.

World ranking points are weighted according to the status of the event and strength of the field. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Ariz., and the WGC-CA Championship in Miami provide rich reward in the first three months.

Ian Barker of Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) has examined projections of the rankings on a month-by-month basis leading up to the April 9-12 Masters, which Woods appears to be aiming for.

"These projections show how, as time passes, Tiger's position at the top becomes more vulnerable," Barker said.

Of course, much will depend on when Woods does return to the game and how effectively he is able to play.

The Masters, the opening major of the year, is his first priority for the 2009 season and ideally he would like to play in a couple of events before that to prepare.

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How Can Detroit Go Winless in Today's NFL?

By Sean Gregory

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky during the team's loss to the New Orleans Saints on December 21.

There are lots of contenders for the worst part of the Detroit Lions miserable 2008 NFL season, starting with the jokes. How do you keep a Detroit Lion out of your backyard? Put up goalposts. There are the utter on-field embarrassments: a 47-10 nationally televised loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thanksgiving, or last week's 42-7 home defeat at the hands of New Orleans, in which Saints receiver Devery Henderson, on one play, caught a pass with no Lions defender in sight, then scampered across the field for another 23 yards, while cowardly Lions tried to tackle him like a bunch of sorry Pop Warner players. If that's not humiliating enough, how about the fact that the Motor City's floundering auto industry is actually performing better than the Lions right now?

Or our personal favorite: it's gotten so bad that during Sunday's game against the Saints, Ford Field fans started chanting "We Want Joey" at New Orleans third string quaterback Joey Harrington, who frustrated hoards of Lions faithful during his four year train wreck as Detroit's starter from 2002 to 2005. Now, even Detroit's former whipping can boy poke fun at his ex-team. "It's weird to think I was here in the heyday," deadpanned Harrington, who finished with a sickly 18-37 record as the Lions' quarterback.

But when it really comes down to it, the team's record says it all. The Lions are the first in NFL history to start a season 0-15, and if the they lose in Green Bay on Sunday, they'll go down as the worst NFL team ever. Only the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have finished a year without a win, but they did it in an era when teams played just 14, not 16, regular season games. Plus, those Bucs were an expansion team in their first year of existence: the Lions have been around since the Great Depression, which hasn't really ended for their fans. In fact the Lions, who haven't had a winning season since 2000, are about to finish off the NFL's worst eight-year run of losing since 1950. "It's pretty sad that it's come to this," said Detroit center Dominic Raiola.

Another word would be shocking. Football experts all agree that in today's "any given Sunday" NFL — where every team seems to have a decent shot to win, where a salary cap structure, and a draft that gives the worst teams access to the best young talent in a young man's game, creates league-wide parity — going winless is awfully hard to do. "It's mind boggling to me," says Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame ex-quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and Fox Sports analyst, who lived through a nightmarish 1-15 season himself as a rookie back in 1989. Several teams, in fact, have only managed to put together one victory in a season, including the 2007 Miami Dolphins and the 2000 San Diego Chargers . But failing to eke out one win in a league built on mediocrity takes a certain stunning level of ineptitude.

And more than anything, terrible management is to blame. Former president Matt Millen, an ex-NFL linebacker who joined the team in 2001 and was finally fired this season after a multitude of public fan protests, strung together years of failed draft picks to dig Detroit into it current hole. Although every armchair football aficionado knows that defensive and offensive line play wins championships (or at least a game or two), Millen repeatedly spent top draft choices on low-impact wide receivers, despite not having a good quarterback to throw them the ball. The low point: in 2003 Millen used the second overall pick on Michigan State wideout Charles Rogers, who was recently sentenced to nine months of drug counseling following an assault and battery arrest involving his fianc�e. Among the top players Millen passed over for wide receivers: Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Super Bowl winner, five-time Pro Bowl defensive back Troy Polamalu, also a Super Bowl-winning Steeler, and San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, a three-time Pro Bowler. "If you can't evaluate talent, if you can't draft talent, nothing else matters," says Aikman. "Your team is built on a house of cards."

Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., 83, the grandson of Henry Ford, has only added to the hopelessness. Since Ford acquired the Lions in 1964, the team has won just a single playoff game. Millen, for example, was given an inexplicable five-year contract extension before the 2005 season, so he's still being paid for destroying the team. Ford has promised to bring Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewland, two Millen-era execs who helped assemble the '08 disaster, back for another year. Their coach, Rod Marinelli, hired his son-in-law Joe Barry to be his defensive coordinator. How has that worked out? The Lions have been the NFL's worst defense since Barry took over two years ago.

"You don't have a page long enough to list all their problems," says former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who had the great pleasure of analyzing the Tennessee-Detroit game on Thanksgiving for CBS. "Their free agent signings have been flawed, their drafts have been flawed, the organizational philosophy is flawed. As a coach said to me, 'wow, they're small, they're not fast, and they're old.' It's unbelievable."

But you can't just point the fingers at management. Detroit's players have their fair share of responsibility for the Lions' failures. Richard "Batman" Wood, a linebacker on the 1976 Buccaneers team that finished 0-14 (he used to wear Batman logos on his arm pads and socks), says he wouldn't wish the ignominy of a winless season on any other player. Still, he's angry at the Lions. "In today's game, with free agency and everything else, don't tell me you can't win one game," says Wood, who was a defensive assistant coach for the Bucs in the 90s and recently coached in the NFL's now defunct European league. "Uh, uh, that's not acceptable. C'mon."

How can a season spiral so out of control? For one, as the losses start piling up, the locker room becomes a toxic place. "The offense starts blaming the defense," says Greg Camarillo, a wide receiver on the 2007 Miami Dolphins team that flirted with infamy by starting 0-13 (his Dolphins finished 1-15, but will make the playoffs this season if they beat the New York Jets on Sunday). "The defense starts blaming the offense. You get that 'every man for himself feeling.' In the NFL [the ultimate team game] that's the last thing you want to happen.'" If the Lions want to beat Green Bay, Camarillo says, they need to get off to a fast start. At this point, the team is likely too fragile to pull off any kind of comeback. "You start to think 'aw s—t,' here we go again," says Camarillo.

The losing takes its psychological toll. "The greatest job in the world is playing in the NFL for a winning team," says Aikman. "At the same time, the worst job in the world is being an NFL player on a losing team. No amount money in the world will change that." If you're on a bad team in pro baseball and basketball, at least the frequent games can keep your mind occupied. In the NFL, the failures fester all week. During his tumultuous rookie year, Aikman stayed cooped up in his home between games. "You don't want to go to the grocery stores, you don't want to go to the restaurants, because nobody wants to be around you," says Aikman. Last season Camarillo could wander around Miami unrecognized, and just hear fans rip the Fins. "I would hear discussions about how the Dolphins were just terrible, how they sucked. It made you feel that much worse."

If Detroit does drop its last game, "Batman" Wood insists the Lions players will carry a scar for the rest of their lives. "It's embarrassing to me, my family, the city of Tampa, everyone involved," he says of playing for the '76 Buccaneers. "It's a glum, glum feeling, I mean, just an empty feeling." Last week Wood got a call from his brother, who said he just saw the Bucs named the worst NFL team in history on some television program. Thanks bro. "How do you think that made me feel?" Wood asks. "It's hard to take."

Yes, Detroit's players could face a lifelong pall if they fall to the Packers. Or they could steal a page out of Steve Spurrier's playbook, and laugh about their dubious place in history. Spurrier, the head coach at the University of South Carolina, who won a national title at Florida and also coached the Washington Redskins from 2002 through 2003, was the quarterback on that winless '76 Buccaneers team. He's a bit more lighthearted about the whole experience, and enjoys being remembered for something.

"Yeah, I'll tell ya' what, I hope Detroit wins," he says. "We would like to keep our record, us Buc guys. If they don't win they're going to forget about us." While members of the '72 Miami Dolphins, who finished 17-0, arrogantly sip champagne each year when the last undefeated team drops a game (as the New England Patriots did in losing to the Giants in the Superbowl last year), Spurrier breaks open a cold beer with an assistant coach when the last "defeated" team finally gets a win. "Plus, I've gotten plenty of corny banquet jokes out of it," Spurrier says.

So in that spirit, here's one for the Lions' players just in case. Where do you go in Detroit in case of a tornado? To Ford Field — they never get a touchdown there. Yeah, it's not really that funny, is it? When you can't win one single game in today's NFL, it doesn't really feel like a laughing matter.

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Tackling Antarctica - British trio race to the South Pole

By Cassandra Jardine and Caroline Gammell

Team QinetiQ are all set for the South Pole
Team QinetiQ: Ben Fogle, James Cracknell and Ed Coats

But next week, three foolhardy Britons will line up alongside some of the toughest polar skiers in the world in a race to reach the South Pole.

Double Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell, television presenter Ben Fogle and newcomer, doctor Ed Coats, will set off on January 1 to try and beat five other teams to the winning post.

They will be pitted against hazards such as snow-blindness, blisters, mile-deep crevasses and frostbite as they trudge up to 20 miles a day in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius.

Pulling 70kg sleds or pulks, they will have to cover the 430 nautical miles on ski and foot, as dogs are forbidden in Antarctica, a place described by those who have been there as a "continent of pain".

At the pole, where the altitude is 9,500 feet but feels 2,000 feet higher, dust hurts the eyes and frozen sinuses cause perpetual headaches.

When equipment fails, frozen fingers make it hard to carry out repairs.

The British trio, with little skiing experience before they started training 18 months ago, will try to avenge the defeat of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who was beaten to the South Pole by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911.

Named in the victor's honour, the Amundsen Omega3 South Pole race is expected to last a month and will see each competitor burn up to 10,000 calories a day, losing an average of three stone overall.

To reach the start line, Fogle had to overcome leishmaniasis, a flesh-eating bug which involved a month of debilitating chemotherapy and left him bed-ridden.

He said he had consulted his wife Marina before agreeing to go: "When doctors gave me the all-clear, I asked her permission to join the race.

"She gave it without hesitation saying she knew that the thought of going to the pole had got me through the treatment."

Although the temperature at the British Antarctic Station has risen three degrees in the last 50 years and the glaciers are melting, the central plateau remains as cold as ever.

Summer temperatures of 20-30C are reduced by another 20C by the windchill factor, while winds of 200mph have been recorded.

Cracknell, 36, Fogle, 35, and Coats, 28, are being sponsored by QinetiQ - a leading international defence and security technology company - and The Daily Telegraph.

Cracknell, the most outwardly competitive and whose wife Beverley is expecting their second child, has defended the race against environmentalists.

"For me, so long as we don't destroy the planet, what we are doing is OK," he said.

"In 2041, if oil exploration is allowed, the Antarctic may change beyond all recognition. Before then, people need to see it in order to understand the place.

"They won't if only explorers go there. Through following this race and seeing how three idiots cope, they will get a much better idea of what it's like."

Fitted with tracking devices, the team's progress will be updated every half an hour on The Daily Telegraph website.

The race organisers claim the task will be 90 per cent psychological as competitors battle the extreme conditions.

Nearly a century ago, Amundsen and his team made it to the pole and back safely; Scott's team famously did not.

Dr Edward Wilson, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, and Scott were found dead in their tent, 11 miles from their depot.

In the first race to the South Pole since then, it is not an adventure undertaken lightly.

Follow exclusive coverage of Team QinetiQ at telegraph.co.uk/southpole

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Pictured: The dramatic moment surfer cheats death after being trapped between pier and 30ft wave

By Daily Mail Reporter

This is the dramatic moment a daredevil surfer cheated death after becoming trapped in between a stone pier - and a freak 30ft wave.

Terrified Jacob Cockle, 23, almost drowned when the monster wave emerged from nowhere and charged towards him at at a speed of over 40mph.

Frantic Jacob struggled desperately to paddle to safety, but was caught in powerful currents that prevented his escape.

Jacob Cockle

A giant wave nearly smashes surfer Jacob Cockle (circled) into the sea wall at Newlyn, Cornwall

Clinging helplessly to his board, the student was tossed into the air 'like a rag doll' when the wave - with an estimated mass of seven tonnes - broke over him.

He was flung into the surf and spent 'ages' underwater before finally managing to overcome the currents and paddle back to shore.

Mr Cockle was tossed into the air 'like a rag doll' when the wave - with an estimated mass of seven tonnes - broke over him

Mr Cockle was tossed into the air 'like a rag doll' when the wave - with an estimated mass of seven tonnes - broke over him

Miraculously, Jacob survived the terrifying incident earlier this month at Newlyn, near Penzance in Cornwall, unscathed.

But speaking yesterday from his home in Penzance, Cornwall, Jacob said: 'I couldn't believe it.

'I was stuck by the pier and I saw this huge wave rear up right in front of me. It was just massive and there was no escape.

Terrified: Jacob Cockle

Terrified: Jacob Cockle

'I thought that was it, that I was in way over my head.

'The wave was so powerful that I was underwater for ages but eventually I managed to swim in to the beach.'

Jacob, a photography student who has been surfing since childhood, added: 'I've been surfing almost all my life but I never thought I'd get into a situation like that.

'It was terrifying. It's a real reminder of how nature can throw up a surprise now and again.'

Older brother Joe, 30, was taking pictures from the beach when he saw the giant wave approaching the pier.

Joe, also a photography student at nearby Truro College, said he watched helplessly as his brother was thrown by the surf.

He said: 'There were some really big waves so Jacob wanted me to take some photos of him surfing.

'All of a sudden this massive wave comes through and my brother was in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.

'I saw the wave land right on him so I dropped my camera and ran to the water to see if he was ok.

'It's just so lucky that he got out unharmed.'

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Father and son set off for South Pole

Father and son Kevin and Matt Gaskill, who are teaming up to in the youngest ever record attempt trip to the South Pole
Father and son Kevin (left) and Matt Gaskill, who are teaming up to in the youngest ever record attempt trip to the South Pole Photo: PA

The expedition, should it succeed, will see gap year student Matt Gaskell, 18, become the youngest person to complete the treacherous journey to the coldest place on earth.

The teenager, who has applied for a place to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, will set out with his father, Kevin, 50, to cross the Antarctic, fighting some of the world's most extreme weather conditions.

Facing temperatures as low as - 50C and battling winds in excess of 50km/ph, the pair hope to cover 300km to reach their destination.

In another first, supporters will be able to follow them via live updates to their blog, made by using a satellite phone.

The pair, from Newbury, Berkshire, have given themselves a month to cross the frozen wastes of the Antarctic, either on foot or on skis.

They will climb to 10,000ft, pulling sledges weighing more than 135lb (61kg).

But both remain confident they can - and will - achieve what has eluded so many before them.

Speaking ahead of their departure, Mr Gaskell said: "Like all of these things, it's taken a lot of preparation, a year to train and suddenly it's happening.

"I'm feeling apprehensive but very excited. The temperatures are going to be around -50C and anyone would be foolish to go into that sort of environment without any concerns.

"I am taking my son into it, so naturally I'm apprehensive, like any father would be."

But Mr Gaskell, whose previous challenges include climbing Everest and trekking to the North Pole, said he had total confidence in the straight-A student.

"Matt is a big guy, he's very focused and he understands exactly what he's letting himself in for," he said.

"He knows full well that where we are going is mortally dangerous. He jokes that he'll be looking after me and in many ways he probably will."

But he added: "He hasn't got an ounce of fat on him so I don't know what he will look like when he gets back."

The two have been training for a year, walking for 15 miles pulling car tyres behind them, near their home in Berkshire.

But Mr Gaskell said the training had paid dividends and they are ready for the exertion ahead of them, despite a couple of equipment setbacks over the past month.

Father and son will have to contend with four weeks of sleeping on hard ice, eating freeze-dried meals and drinking melted snow.

They will have to build a snow wall every time they pitch their tent and will burn on average 10,000 calories per day.

Mr Gaskell said: "No matter how much you train, there's no preparation for the real thing.

"The climate is so harsh and unyielding that you must prepare for the worst but only take what you absolutely have to.

"But I know what I am going to face down there, so in that respect you are prepared for it.

"The greatest risks are the crevasses but there are precautions you take to avoid them. I am not going to die of exposure, not with the equipment I've got."

During the trek, they will only be able to communicate with loved ones using SpinVox, a voice-to-text service with which they will be able to update the online blog.

Speaking into a satellite phone, they can inform family and friends of their progress.

Mr Gaskell, chairman of Achilles Group Limited, a multinational provider of procurement audit services, is raising funds for the North Wales Cancer Treatment Centre.

He is making the expedition in memory of his younger sister Jayne, who died from leukaemia in 2004, and aims to raise £40,000.

On Boxing Day the pair depart from the Patriot Hills base on Antarctica.

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Skateboarder Tony Hawk is still riding high

Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk in 2005. He stopped competing in 2000 so he could see his family more. “When you compete, it’s nine months out of the year, every single weekend,” he says.

By Alex Pham

At 40, professional skateboarder Tony Hawk is still living the adolescent dream -- pulling tricks on his board and making video games. Hawk is working on his 10th game, Adrenaline, due out next fall from Activision.

The Tony Hawk video game series is one of the most popular franchises in the industry, having sold several million copies and generated more than $1 billion in sales since the line was introduced in 1999. The first game, Tony Hawk's Pro-Skater, was said to revolutionize the extreme sports genre of video games and helped popularize skateboarding as a sport.

Although sales of the game have started to slow, Hawk's enthusiasm for the sport has not. He still puts in skate time in the half-pipe and is hard at work on the next game.

Last week, we caught up with Hawk as he was re-gifting a fruitcake, of all things. Turns out the San Diego native was raising money through a PayPal charity campaign on Facebook in which members can re-gift a virtual fruitcake or keep it and donate to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which builds skate parks in low-income communities. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.

What's with the fruitcake?

It was an idea PayPal came up with. I felt it was a good way to introduce the Facebook generation to charity. I feel like I'm speaking to a younger generation.

How does it feel to be 40?

I don't think of it that much. I still do the same things for a living that I did when I was in my 20s. People keep asking me, how long can you keep doing this? It's a question I've gotten for years. There's a stigma to skating. People think of it as a kid's sport. People kept telling me I couldn't possibly make a living out of it. Then they said I couldn't keep it up in my 30s. And here I am in my 40s, and I'm still improving my skills. The only difference is that I have a baby, and my oldest son is 16. Half the guys competing in the X Games are in their 30s.

Is that a baby I hear in the background?

Yeah, that's my [6-month-old] daughter Kadence. She's supposed to be asleep, but she's not.

Do you still compete?

I stopped competing in 2000. My schedule is freer, and I can spend more time with my family. When you compete, it's nine months out of the year, every single weekend. I don't feel I have to prove myself.

How do you feel about the video games?

I really like how they represent skating. I like how they brought skating to a new level. In the past, the only fans of skating were skaters themselves. With the success of our games, people have learned to appreciate the sport without actually skating themselves. That's crucial to the longevity of our sport.

How realistic are the games? Do they reproduce the feel of actual skating?

It's as real as you want it to be. All the locations, riders and tricks are there.

The difference is that in real skating you can't fall off two-story drops and get up and do it again. There are combinations of tricks that you couldn't do in real life, but that's what's fun about it.

There have been many versions of your skating game. Which is your favorite?

To be honest, I always like the latest one because I feel we include the best of all the previous games. But I really enjoy our very first game because it was revolutionary. It created a genre in action sports.

How involved are you creatively in the development of the games?

Since the very first one, I play through every one. The developers send me updates of the game. I have a testing unit so I can play the games as they're being developed. I give them feedback the same day.

What are you working on now?

We're working on a new type of game, and I've been even more involved in this one than I have been in the last five games. It's a real departure for us. It's a whole new direction for us. And it's going to be way more realistic and way more interactive. I'm really proud of it. I can't tell you much more about it, except that it will come out in the fall of 2009.

How long have you been skating?

I started skating when I was about 10 years old.

It was in an alleyway. I picked up my brother's skateboard and stood on it. I started to roll down the alley, and I yelled at my brother asking him how I turn the thing. At the end of the alley, I just jumped off, picked up the board and physically turned it around. That's how it started.

alex.pham@latimes.com

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Prospect Provides Inspiration With What He Doesn’t Have

Andrew Shurtleff for The New York Times

A recruiting analyst said Kevin Laue (41) would be a Division I recruit if he had two hands.

By ADAM HIMMELSBACH

FORK UNION, Va. — Kelli Whitescarver did not see traffic bottle up on Interstate 95 until it was too late. She lost control of her black Ford Explorer, which smashed a guardrail, flipped onto the driver’s side and dragged her left arm on the pavement.

Whitescarver, 21, had been on her way home to Richmond on Nov. 2 after visiting her sister in North Carolina. Instead, she was on her way to the hospital to have her left hand amputated.

During Whitescarver’s three-week stay at the Medical College of Virginia, she was told the amputation would not stop her from maintaining a normal life. But the people who told her that had two hands. Then, through some unusual serendipity, Whitescarver heard about someone who did not.

Kevin Laue, 18, was a 6-foot-10-inch college basketball prospect from California who was born with a left arm that ended at the elbow. He had recently enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy, about 50 miles from Richmond, in hopes of being noticed by an Ivy League team, but not for the reason he was most often noticed.

Whitescarver, whose grandfather was Fork Union’s president from 1968 to 1990, found YouTube clips of Laue playing basketball. He was a one-handed wonder, unfazed by his disability, and he had somehow ended up in this rural Virginia town at just the right time.

“Seeing Kevin gave me hope,” Whitescarver said. “I almost couldn’t believe it.”

When Laue was born, his mother’s umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck, with his left arm wedged in between. The arm’s circulation was cut off, severely stunting its growth, but doctors said its position had allowed blood to reach the brain.

“I think I got pretty lucky,” Laue said. “My arm saved my life.”

Laue’s parents did not coddle him. They bought him sneakers with laces and pants with buttons. They did not get him a prosthetic arm but they did sign him up for Little League, where he swung a bat like it was a polo mallet.

During awkward moments, or times when children were predictably merciless, Laue resorted to his wit.

When classmates asked why he was missing a chunk of his limb, he said it had been devoured by a shark while he was surfing off the coast of Hawaii. When his class sang “Y.M.C.A.,” he laughed because his M was missing an arch. When his mother asked him to wash his hands before dinner, he said that was not an option.

Laue said the worst part of his teen years was trying to find snowboarding shoes for his size 17 feet.

“It was a time in a kid’s life where it can be traumatic if you’ve got a pimple or the wrong haircut, and he had one hand,” Laue’s mother, Jodi, said. “But it never mattered because he was comfortable with himself.”

Laue was cut from his seventh-grade basketball team, but sprouted to 6-10 and made the varsity as a junior at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, Calif. He could palm the ball easily with his large right hand, and he used his short left arm as a clamp after catching passes.

“It was a science to watch him play,” the former Amador Valley coach Rob Collins said. “With Kevin, you had to have vision, bro. And how could I even care if he messed up? He’s only got one hand. He’s just an amazing dude that everyone should meet once.”

A broken leg cost Laue most of his senior season as well as his chances of being noticed by college coaches. So he considered postgraduate prep school, which can serve as a college basketball pipeline for athletes who need an extra year to bolster their grade-point averages or their physiques. For Laue, it would serve as a chance to play against tougher competition, and a chance to be seen.

Fork Union Military Academy, founded in 1898, is an all-boys school tucked in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The sprawling 1,000-acre campus is filled with slate-colored stone buildings and towering evergreens.

Outside the main gate, the James Madison Highway is somewhat barren, save for a handful of gas stations and family restaurants like the Cadet Diner. Inside the main gate, there is order.

The boys have close-cropped hair and wear full uniforms. They wake to a bugle’s blare each morning at 6, and their days include marching practice, chores, schoolwork and a salute to the American flag at nightfall. Their days do not include cellphones, video games or girls.

Fletcher Arritt is in his 39th season as Fork Union’s basketball coach and biology teacher. More than 150 of his players have gone on to play for N.C.A.A. Division I teams. One of those players was Franklin Martin, a filmmaker who met Laue at a summer tournament in 2007.

Martin began filming a documentary about Laue, and before this school year he traveled across the country to introduce him to Arritt.

“At first I didn’t want to get involved,’” Arritt said. “Good gracious, I’ve got enough problems dealing with kids that have two hands. But then we worked him out, and all my players said they wanted him on their team.”

Arritt said he often forgot that Laue was missing a hand. The disability does not stop Laue from running the court with a graceful stride or swatting away shots with his large right hand. When Laue catches passes on the perimeter, he holds the ball away from his head the way a water polo player readies a shot. On defense, Laue uses his nub to maintain contact with his opponent’s back, and he raises his right arm as a deterrent.

This season Laue is averaging 6.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, helping Fork Union to a 7-3 record. The Blue Devils play against other prep schools that are filled with college recruits, and they face junior varsity college teams.

Laue said he had received recruiting letters from Hamilton College and Emory University, which are in Division III, but that he still hoped to play for an Ivy League university. While Laue’s play has raised the curiosity of some Division I coaches, he has not yet been recruited by them. But Arritt says he is certain Laue will eventually receive an offer to play for a Division I team next fall.

“I can understand if teams are worried about looking like idiots and making a mistake with this kid,” Arritt said. “But I genuinely don’t think you can make a mistake with him.”

Dave Telep, a national recruiting analyst, said Laue would be a surefire Division I prospect if he had two hands. But with just one, Telep said, opponents could limit his effectiveness.

“If he does make it, nobody in the country will have earned it more,” Telep said. “It’s going to take a Division I team with some courage to give him the chance to prove himself, but he’s a legitimate talent.”

Laue’s mother and stepfather, who live in the San Francisco suburbs, hear about their son’s play through handwritten letters. They have saved every one. One letter they received recently was unlike the others. Laue said he had met a young woman whose left hand had been amputated last month. They had gone to dinner with Coach Arritt and the girl’s father, and the girl said she would come to one of Fork Union’s games.

“I think I might have actually helped her out a bit,” Laue wrote. “So, go me.”

When Laue’s mother read that, she smiled and began to cry.

On Dec. 12, the young cadets wearing military uniforms filed silently into Fork Union’s small gym on a cold Friday night. They had completed another week of marching, saluting and studying, and in a moment they would be allowed to act their age.

The student band tuned its instruments on a stage behind one of the basketball hoops. The team mascot put on his large Blue Devil head. Some college scouts stood near a wall. When the players ran onto the court, the clamor of the cadets made the wood floor vibrate.

On the game’s first possession, Laue received an entry pass, using his short left arm to press the ball against his right hand. Then he turned and drained a six-foot jump shot.

The cadets could not contain themselves. Two boys turned and looked at each other with their eyes wide. “You’re my hero, Laue!” another yelled.

During the first timeout, Kelli Whitescarver walked into the gym with her family. She was released from the hospital in late November. Her right hand was in a cast and her left arm — where her hand was amputated — was in a sling. She is blond and pretty, a junior psychology major at Mary Baldwin College.

Whitescarver waved to Laue as she walked past the team huddle. Laue held back a smile. They have eaten dinner together, traded e-mail messages and become friends on Facebook. She was hoping he would stay with her family for a few days at some point during his Christmas break because she wants to learn more about what her life will be like.

“He gave me encouragement and inspiration I couldn’t get anywhere else,” Whitescarver said. “He made me realize there’s nothing I can’t do. This has all been so hard, but I feel like I can keep going.”

Laue made all three of his field-goal attempts and tallied 7 points, 2 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. After the gym emptied, Whitescarver and her family waited 20 minutes for Laue to come from the locker room. Then the young man who was born with no left hand and the young woman who recently had hers taken away stood and talked. But they did not focus on the obvious thing they have in common.

“Things are a struggle for her right now, but she’ll be fine,” Laue said. “I guarantee she’ll be fine, and I hope anyone else in her situation knows that, too.”

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Sosa still waiting for offer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Sammy Sosa is still waiting for an offer to play in the major leagues, according to a report published by Dominican newspaper Listin Diario.

Sammy Sosa

Sosa

Sosa, who previously had expressed his intention to retire from baseball after the next World Baseball Classic in March, believes he can still have an impact at the major league level. "I still don't have an offer, and I shouldn't be looking for offers out there," said Sosa, the National League MVP in 1998 and the only hitter to surpass 60 or more homers in a season on three occasions. "Any team who wants to sign me should have the initiative and make an offer." Sosa added that he's still in good physical shape in hopes of making a comeback to professional baseball. "Those who saw me training know that I'm hitting the ball with the usual authority. I just hope to get the chance to prove that I'm still a threat," said Sosa at a charity event sponsored by his foundation. The Dominican slugger did not play in the first edition of the WBC in 2006. That same year, the right fielder rejected a contract offer from the Washington Nationals. The second edition of the WBC, with 16 countries in the field, will begin play in March. The Dominican Republic will play its first-round games in Puerto Rico. Sosa, who turned 40 on Nov. 12, is a free agent who had 21 home runs and 92 RBIs in 114 games in 2007 with the Texas Rangers. Playing against the Cubs, his former team, Sosa became the fifth player in history to hit 600 home runs, following the path of Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660). Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Report: N.Y. Times may sell stake in Red Sox

NEW YORK - The New York Times Co is trying to sell its stake in the holding company of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The sale, which could give the Times desperately needed cash as newspaper advertising revenue falls and its debt payments loom, could involve its 17.5 percent stake in New England Sports Ventures and possibly the struggling Boston Globe daily newspaper, the Journal reported.

New England Sports Ventures owns the Red Sox, the Fenway Park baseball field where the team plays, and most of the cable network that shows their games.

A New York Times spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Journal report comes on the same day that the Times Co. reported a 20.9 percent drop in advertising revenue in November, compared with the same period last year.

The Times has said that it is evaluating the future of its assets, which also include online encyclopedia About.com and several daily newspapers throughout the United States, as it tries to meet its debt obligations and cut its borrowing.

Debt is proving difficult for many U.S. publishers to handle because they are bringing in less cash to make them able to meet their obligations. This is partly because of the fading relevance of printed newspapers to people now used to getting news for free online. The world financial crisis has only worsened the ad sale declines.

The Times could raise at least $200 million if it sold its stake, analysts and sports bankers told Reuters earlier this month. The team, while not central to the Times’ business, could be attractive to many buyers despite the recession because it is popular with fans.

Other baseball teams are up for sale as well, including the Chicago Cubs, which is owned by Tribune Co., the privately held newspaper publisher that filed for bankruptcy this month.

The Times got the Red Sox stake in 2002 as part of a group led by hedge fund manager John Henry that bought the team, Fenway Park and an 80 percent stake in the New England Sports Network. The price for the deal was $700 million, including debt. The network also includes a NASCAR auto-racing team.

The Times previously refused to sell the Globe after former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch and former advertising executive Jack Connors reportedly asked about the possibility. At the time, they valued the Pulitzer prize-winning newspaper at $550 million to $600 million, the Journal said. Barclays now values the Globe at about $20 million.

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