Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kenyan athletes feel the pinch

Athletes in Iten

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Iten

In Iten in Kenya's Rift Valley, people do not walk - they run.

This is the so-called athletics capital of Kenya. The high altitude and clean air produces some of the best athletes in the world.

But as the economic downturn slashes sports sponsorship, their livelihoods are at risk.

Most of the athletes you spot across the valley are modelling the very latest sports clothing.

The crisis is hitting the athletes hard
Kenneth Kimutai

Nike, Adidas and Puma are household names here. Extraordinary when many of the people survive here on less than $1 (70p) a day.

Product endorsements, appearance fees and big prize money have enabled athletes to carve out a living.

But now the money is drying up and the entire community is feeling vulnerable.

Earnings squeeze

"Athletics is the main industry here," says Martin Keino, a sports marketing specialist and son of athletics icon Kip Keino.

Marathon champion Elias Maindi talks about the future

"It has transformed [people's] lives tremendously, they can build homes, invest in real estate and in turn, positively affect the communities they live in."

But now athletes are "having to review their options", he says.

No-one has been able to put a figure on the value of international sports sponsorship in Kenya, but a handful of elite athletes can expect to earn between $3m-$5m a year.

Most, though, are on more modest sums.

The harsh chill of the economic squeeze is beginning to bite even the hardiest of high-altitude runners.

Marathon champion Elias Maindi was due to take part in the Vienna marathon next month, but he has been told not to come.

The sponsors have slashed their budget and they cannot afford to have established athletes appear at their events.

He cannot even go and fund himself - if he breaks his contract with his manager, which sets out his appearance fees, he would face a $5,000 fine.

"I'm disappointed," he says.

"I've taken months to prepare for the race, now I've now got to go and find another event. This could last several years."

Other options

It is the same for Helen Kimutai, one of Kenya's top female athletes.

She and her husband Kenneth now rely on income from their farm rather than profits from the race track to put their four children through school.

Still modelling their branded gear, just back from a run, Kenneth spoke for both of them.

"The crisis is hitting the athletes hard, so we thought that getting some other business would allow us to continue with our daily living," he says.

Helen Kimutai
Helen Kimutai and her husband have turned to farming to boost their pay

Other athletes are now setting up small shops, buying plots of land - anything that will yield an income that will enable them to continue to run.

The influence of Kenya's athletes on their neighbourhood is apparent everywhere you look in Iten.

Many of the schools, clinics, petrol stations and hotels here are funded by athletes' money.

So Asbel Kirprop, Kenyan silver medallist in the 1,500 metres at the Beijing Olympics, says any fall-off in sports investment will be far-reaching.

He is putting seven promising youngsters through school and says Kenyan athletes have to meet the high expectations of their community.

Athletics Kenya, the body that represents the country's athletes, is keen to play the crisis down.

But for those who are already seeing their sponsorship cut, the impact could go way beyond the sporting community.

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Sport doping test is 'not fit for purpose' experts warn

by Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor

The current urine test is ‘not fit for purpose’ and should be changed, scientists said in the British Medical Journal online.

An analysis found that different thresholds should be set according to ethnic group because of the prevenance of a certain genetic fault varies in each.

The genetic fault could allow an athlete to take testosterone to enhance their performance but still test negative for doping.

The fault is estimated to be present in one fifth of the African population, eight out of ten Asians, ten per cent of Caucasians and seven per cent of Hispanics.

Sport testing authorities set a ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone glucuronide concentration (T/E) at four, with anything above that triggering an investigation for possible doping.

The genetic fault affects how the body breaks down testosterone so an athlete with the fault could take the substance but still have a T/E ratio of less than four.

Research from the Laboratory for Doping Analyses, University Centre of Legal Medicine, in Switzerland, calculated that the threshold should be set at 5.6 for African athletes, 3.8 for Asians, 5.7 for Caucasians and 5.8 for Hispanics.

The study was carried out on 171 professional football players.

Research author Dr Christophe Saudan and colleagues said it would be better to track individual athletes’ own ratios over time and look for changes. Genetic profiling should also be used to determine cases where disparities remain.

He write: “These results demonstrate that a unique and non-specific threshold to evidence testosterone misuse is not fit for purpose.”

Prof Vivien James, emeritus professor of chemical pathology at Imperial College London said it would not be practical to enforce.

He said: “There are ethnic differences in people in the way they handle testosterone and this could provide a method for some people to get under the radar of the drug testing system. Introducing a passport would be a more secure way of monitoring T/E ratios over time so you could look for disturbances in the pattern.”

Prof Peter Sonksen, Emeritus Professor of Endocrinology St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London, said the ratios proposed by the research authors would probably not be acceptable in professional sport because it would mean one ‘clean’ athlete would wrongly test positive for doping for every 100 tests carried out.

He added: “It’s not all bad news, however; the increasingly popular ‘athlete’s passport’ and ‘I’m clean’ approach to doping control, where an athlete builds a profile of his/her own metabolism over time as the results of samples accumulate, will allow ‘athlete specific’ reference ranges to be established and these will clearly be lower in people with the gene mutation.

“With this approach it should make the testing more fair and less influenced by ethnicity.”

A spokesman for UK Sport, the national anti-droping organisation, said: “We have already been working on Steroid Profiling, through which we can pick up anomalies in an athlete’s profile which might not necessarily mean prohibited substances are showing up at levels sufficient for them to return elevated T/E, but they provide information which might suggest the need for further investigation or targeted testing."

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Button converts pole into Grand Prix triumph

Jenson Button celebrates on the podium.

Jenson Button celebrates on the podium.
Photo: John Donegan

Briton Jenson Button won the Australian formula one Grand Prix as his fledgling team Brawn GP debuted in remarkable one-two style on Sunday.

Button survived an incident-filled race at Melbourne's Albert Park to convert pole position into just his second Grand Prix victory in 154 starts.

The 29-year-old was never headed in the 58-lap race, beating teammate Rubens Barrichello and Toyota's Jarno Trulli.

Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth in his McLaren.

The race finished behind the safety car after Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel and BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica first collided, then crashed separately, when running second and third respectively with three laps remaining.

Australian Mark Webber had a nightmarish start to his home town race.

He was caught up in a first corner skirmish with several other drivers, causing substantial damage to his Red Bull car and forcing him into an early pit stop which wrecked his hopes of earning championship points.

Webber emerged from the pits a lap down.

But he eventually finished 13th - the last of the cars to survive the race.

Collated results from the Australian Grand Prix here today (58 laps):

1. Jenson Button (ENG/BRA) 1hr 34min 15.784sec

2. Rubens Barrichello (BRA/BRA) +0.807

3. Jarno Trulli (ITA/TOY) 1.604

4. Lewis Hamilton (ENG/MLA) 2.914

5. Timo Glock (GER/TOY) 4.435

6. Fernando Alonso (ESP/REN) 4.879

7. Nico Rosberg (GER/WIL) 5.722

8. Sebastien Buemi (SUI/TOR) 6.004

9. Sebastien Bourdais (FRA/TOR) 6.298

10. Adrian Sutil (GER/FOR) 6.335

11. Nick Heidfeld (GER/BMW) 7.085

12. Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA/FOR) 7.374

13. Mark Webber (AUS/RBR) 1 lap

14. Sebastian Vettel (GER/RBR) 2 laps

15. Robert Kubica (POL/BMW) 3 laps

nc. Nelson Piquet (BRA/REN) 34 laps

nc. Kazuki Nakajima (JPN/WIL) 41 laps

Note: other drivers were not classified

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Animal Fat-Based G-Oil Named Official Motor Oil For American Le Mans Series

By GreenerDesign Staff

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Green Earth Technologies' G-Oil, which is based on animal fat instead of petrochemicals, has been named the official motor oil for the American Le Mans Series, and race organizers expect some race participants to start using the oil.

Under the terms of a two-year contract, G-Oil will be used in all of the official safety trucks for the American Le Mans Series, and the oil's logo will be featured prominently during races.

The American Le Mans Series has already taken steps to green up racing, requiring participants to use one of four alternative fuels also available to consumers: clean sulfur-free diesel, E10, cellulosic E85 or gas-electric hybrid.

The Series also includes what is now known as the Michelin Green X Challenge, which awards teams based on fuel efficiency and environmental impact during the race.

Earlier this month Green Earth Technologies announced its G-Oil 5W-30 passed the American Petroleum Institute's certification tests, meeting performance requirements set by the group, and letting it use the Institute's certification logo on its packaging.

Green Earth Technologies plans to roll out G-Oil 5W-30 in bulk and quart sizes in the coming months. The company also plans to finalize the testing and certification for 10W-30 and 5W-20 by this summer. G-Oil has been available in 2-Cycle, 4-Cycle and Bar & Chain for Outdoor Power Equipment versions since May 2008.

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Button on pole for stunning Brawn

Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne Dates: 27-29 March Coverage: Comprehensive live coverage and reaction from Saturday's qualifying session and Sunday's race across BBC TV, radio and online. Find complete listings here

Jenson Button

Highlights - Button takes pole in Australia

By Chris Whyatt

Jenson Button secured pole for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello as Brawn GP put in a stunning show on their debut.

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica will make up the second row at Melbourne's Albert Park.

Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli were sixth and eighth but got put to the back as Toyota's cars broke technical rules.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa is now sixth but Lewis Hamilton starts in 18th after his McLaren suffered gearbox troubles.

Williams had launched a protest about the rear wings of Red Bull and Ferrari's cars, but later withdrew their complaint.

Former Honda team Brawn GP - whose survival was secured by owner Ross Brawn in early March after the British-based Japanese team pulled out of F1 because of the global financial crisis - backed up their impressive performances in testing and practice in some style.

This is the first time any team has been on pole position with the first car they have built since Scotland's Jackie Stewart for Tyrrell at the Canadian GP in 1970.

Brawn GP's Jenson Button

Button delighted with 'amazing' pole

"The last five or six months have been so tough for both of us, not knowing if we had a drive in F1," said England's Button, whose time of one minute 26.202 seconds secured pole.

"The pace seemed good on both sets of tyres early on but the others seemed closer to us than I thought. I think it was down to about two hundredths.

"I was struggling a bit with fuel as well, I just couldn't get the car to work, but when we got the fuel in it was great and I think that bodes well for the race."

And the performance of Brawn's cars proved even more impressive when the FIA released the pre-race weights, which give an indication of the fuel load each car is carrying.

Button (664.5 kg) and Barrichello (666.5) were carrying significantly more fuel than many of their rivals, with Vettel (657), Kubica (650), Nico Rosberg (657), Massa (654) and Kimi Raikkonen (655.5) all enjoying the advantage of a lighter load.

In the second qualifying session - considered the clearest guide to the true pace of the cars - Barrichello finished nearly four tenths ahead of the rest of field after clocking 1:24.783.

Compounding a scintillating team performance Button was less than one tenth of a second behind, while, lagging beyond, the next eight drivers were split by just two tenths of a second.

Brawn GP team principal Ross Brawn

Brawn delighted just to be on grid

Yet world champion Hamilton may struggle to catch that leading pack after failing to appear for the second qualifying session following more problems with his McLaren, who have been struggling to put the downforce back into their car in pre-season testing.

The Englishman finished in 15th and was initially put to the back of the grid following the race as McLaren decided they will change the car's gearbox after its fourth-gear failure.

"There was no more drive in the gearbox, there is an issue there," Hamilton told BBC Sport after it happened.

Yet Hamilton received a slight reprieve and will start in 18th following the scrutineering process, where the two Toyota cars were excluded from the qualifying results after race officials found their cars to have rear wings "with an extreme degree of flexibility".

Flexible rear wings are banned because they can bring performance advantages.


Renault's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso will start in 10th place, after a mistake on his final flying lap cost him vital time.

"We arrived here to fight for the podium, but this might not be the case tomorrow [Sunday]," Alonso said.

"We were very close to Q3 times, only two or three tenths of a second off, but I made a mistake as I tried to make up some time in the final corner.

"I'm disappointed as I thought I could be fifth or sixth on the grid."

Williams driver Rosberg, who clocked the quickest lap times in all three practice sessions, will start in fifth as the teams being protested against by Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault for the legality of their diffusers - Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams - all, prior to scrutineering, appeared to hit the heights.

But, after both struggling with their cars at various points in practice, Vettel and Kubica put in a much-improved performance when it mattered.

Constructor's champions Ferrari start from relatively disappointing grid positions with Massa - who missed out on the 2008 world title by one point - in the third row and team-mate Raikkonen starting in seventh position.

Red Bull's Mark Webber went well in the second qualifying session but will start in eighth, moving up from 10th, after making a mistake and running wide at Turn Nine on his last lap in the final session.

The Australian GP starts on Sunday at 0700 BST, with coverage on BBC1 from 0600 BST.

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Goodell: Vick must show 'remorse' to play in NFL again

By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

Bears coach Lovie Smith said Michael Vick deserves a second chance after he emerges from prison. "I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that's available: He goes back into the pool," Smith said. "That's what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she's back in society."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said Michael Vick deserves a second chance after he emerges from prison. "I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that's available: He goes back into the pool," Smith said. "That's what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she's back in society."

DANA POINT, Calif. — Michael Vick, in the final stages of serving a 23-month sentence for bankrolling a dogfighting ring, will apparently have to pass another standard before he is cleared to return to the NFL. He must show remorse.

That's the opinion of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007 after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback pled guilty and who will eventually rule if Vick applies for reinstatement after his July 20 release date.

"I'm not going to make a judgment until I know all the facts on Michael Vick," Goodell said Wednesday, as the league wrapped up its annual meetings. "I think it's clear he's paid a price, but to a large extent he's going to have to demonstrate to the larger community — not just to the NFL community and to me — that he has remorse for what he did and that he recognizes mistakes that he made.

"Everyone makes mistakes, but he has to show that genuine remorse in his ability to be a positive influence to correct the things that he did wrong publicly."

Goodell did not specify how Vick must show remorse, and said he is unsure of how he will weigh various factors. On Wednesday, Vick was in transit from a Leavenworth, Kan., federal prison to an unknown facility closer to Newport News, Va., where he will testify in an April 2 bankruptcy hearing.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor filed complaints in federal district and bankruptcy courts alleging that Vick illegally withdrew $1.3 million from a pension plan to help pay for restitution ordered as part of his conviction — allegations that add complexity to his future.

Goodell acknowledged that Vick, suspended roughly four months before beginning his prison term, has been partially disciplined. But he gave no hint on how much of a bearing that might have on potential reinstatement.

Asked if Vick will be reinstated for the 2009 season, Goodell said: "I haven't sat down and looked at his case. I haven't met with him. I haven't understood where he is. I'm not going to try to guess."

The Falcons own Vick's contract rights, but have ruled out a return and are attempting to trade their erstwhile face of the franchise.

Any takers? Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said that while he is committed to Kyle Orton as his quarterback, he believes Vick deserves a chance to compete for a job.

"I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that's available: He goes back into the pool," Smith said. "That's what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she's back in society.

"Mike made a mistake, and he's paying the price for that mistake. Once you've paid your debt to society, you have to say, 'OK, let's go on from there.' "

Contributing: The Associated Press

Blame goes to Gillispie and Kentucky

Forde By Pat Forde

After weeks of simmering angst, Billy Gillispie's short, ugly tenure as coach of Kentucky is over. His two years in Lexington were a spectacular failure for Gillispie personally. And for the Wildcats as a basketball program.

[+] EnlargeBilly Gillispie
Mark Zerof/US PresswireBilly Gillispie and Kentucky were not a good fit from the start.

This was a rushed marriage that rarely felt right or happy. In figuring out how we've arrived so quickly at this ignominious divorce, one thing is clear: There is ample blame for both sides.

Start with the Kentucky brass, athletic director Mitch Barnhart and president Lee Todd. After being turned down publicly by Billy Donovan of Florida in 2007 and rebuffed privately by Jay Wright of Villanova and Rick Barnes of Texas, they panicked. Reacting hastily after the Barnes talks broke off, they lunged at the guy they knew would say yes: Texas A&M's Gillispie.

The decision seemed to be fueled by a fear that mighty Kentucky could not suffer the prestige hit of repeated rejections. Especially not after Barnhart went through an entire Rolodex of football coaching candidates in 2002 before getting Rich Brooks -- which ended up working out splendidly after a rocky start.

But that was Kentucky football, and this is Kentucky basketball. And the Wildcats are not supposed to grovel for a coach.

Never mind that former athletic director C.M. Newton took more than two months and at least a couple of rejections (Lute Olson and P.J. Carlesimo) in 1989 before getting around to hiring a guy named Rick Pitino. This time around, UK hurried a critical decision.

Vanity and rabbit ears for criticism helped push Barnhart into the basketball version of a Las Vegas wedding. And you know how those tend to work out.

Had Kentucky taken the time to carefully conduct its search, it might have learned that Gillispie's prickly personality and uneven moods made him poorly suited for the fishbowl existence of coaching the Wildcats. Even being a bachelor turned out to be a complicating factor, since everyone wanted to know Gillispie's personal business. And because the coach was hardly a stay-at-home shrinking violet, the gossip mill churned at a hysterical pace.

This was a rushed marriage that rarely felt right or happy. In figuring out how we've arrived so quickly at this ignominious divorce, one thing is clear: There is ample blame for both sides.

Nobody much cares what you do at UTEP and Texas A&M. At Kentucky, they care about every breath you take.

They also care about winning. And while Gillispie had done tremendous work reviving UTEP and A&M, he brought a grand total of three NCAA tournament victories with him to Lexington. That's the fewest of any new hire at UK since Joe B. Hall, a former Adolph Rupp assistant who had never been a Division I head coach.

So Barnhart brought in an odd duck with a decent but not dazzling résumé and foisted him off as the savior of a listing program. His failure to gauge the fit between school and coach is impossible to ignore. Now, after just two years, he's in the humiliating position of having to admit he blew it.

Quite frankly, the apparent fact that Barnhart will be in place to make a second basketball hire is either shocking or foolish. Or both.

But that's only half the failed marriage. The other half is Gillispie, who insiders say has absolutely flunked Interpersonal Relationships 101.

The trouble began almost immediately, when Gillispie obstinately refused to sign his contract. He still hasn't, which had to fray his relationship with Barnhart. Every time the subject came up, Gillispie had a flippant response that indicated this was no big deal -- but multimillion-dollar contract impasses always are a big deal.

So are losses to Gardner-Webb. Gillispie did that in the second game of his tenure, showing a strategic stubbornness that would become an unwelcome hallmark of his tenure. There would be no adjustments; it would simply be up to the players to come around to Billy's way.

The 2007-08 Wildcats did eventually come around, going 12-4 in Southeastern Conference play and earning Gillispie co-coach of the year honors. But as early as New Year's Day, insiders were saying the coach seemed miserable and many wondered whether he'd look to leave after only one season.

[+] EnlargeMitch Barnhart
AP Photo/Rob CarrA rushed decision two years ago has Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart looking for a new coach again.

Kentucky barely got into the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round for the first time since 1987. Two players transferred.

This season, more was expected by a less-than-realistic fan base and less was delivered. Once again, the angst began immediately with a season-opening loss to VMI. Once again, playing time for some players rose and fell seemingly on a whim. Once again, a slow start had the commonwealth wondering.

But then Kentucky rallied, starting with a valiant, last-second loss to Louisville in Freedom Hall. In late January the Wildcats were 16-4 overall, 5-0 in the SEC, and the fan base was speculating about an undefeated league record.

Instead the Wildcats wound up 8-8, collapsing in a weak league and losing their last four regular-season games for the first time since 1907. Along the way Gillispie grew more publicly critical of his players, often foisting the blame onto their shoulders.

After losing in the second round of the SEC tournament, the Cats were out of the NCAAs. And at Kentucky, the three dirtiest letters in the alphabet are N-I-T.

I was in Lexington on Selection Sunday and it was the saddest town in America. A populace that treats NCAA bids as a birthright stayed indoors on a morose, rainy day. The sports bars had few people in them wearing blue. Meanwhile, hated rival Louisville was the overall No. 1 seed.

The season was an official catastrophe.

Before then, though, it started to become clear how many people were put off by Gillispie's personality. The list is longer than 6-foot-8 Patrick Patterson. Some former players took public potshots at him for treating people poorly, and Barnhart's frustrations came through clearly in a revealing all-access story by's Dana O'Neil.

Still, Kentucky and many other schools would tolerate a jerk who wins big. A jerk who goes to the NIT is another matter.

So that's how we got here, in just two years, to Black Friday in the commonwealth.

Kentucky blew a hire at its most public position at a critical time in the program's history. Billy Gillispie blew the chance of a lifetime.

There are no winners here.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for He can be reached at

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Shaq Finds Mysterious Inscriptions Written On Basketball

PHOENIX—Upon discovering a series of inexplicable markings on the regulation basketball being used during his team's game against the Nuggets Monday, Suns center Shaquille O'Neal halted play to decipher the meaning hidden in the ball's mysterious symbols and was subsequently called for a 24-second violation.

Enlarge Image Shaq

"I never saw anything written on the ball before," said O'Neal, adding that he had not considered the possibility of using a basketball as a device to access information. "In my first glimpse, I had no idea what to make of the bizarre inscriptions I found on the surface, because the referee took the ball away before I could complete a proper analysis."

"I will do whatever it takes to break the code of these intriguing but unintelligible messages," the 15-time all-star continued. "I can only believe that encrypted in that seeming gibberish is a deeper meaning, perhaps the ancient secrets of the known universe or even the NBA itself."

O'Neal, who finished the game with 19 points and three blocked shots, was reportedly aggressive while calling for the ball, jumping for rebounds, and questioning his teammates about the origin of the curious symbols during fast breaks. According to Suns point guard Steve Nash, O'Neal spent several minutes at the foul line in the fourth quarter speculating aloud as to whether the writings represented a cryptic warning to all NBA big men or might unlock the ability to manipulate space and time.

"He kind of freaked out on me when I suggested that it could be an upside down 'S' connected to a 'P,'" Nash said. "After the ref finally warned him to take his shot or risk a technical, Shaq pulled me aside and said the team's cryptographer would probably think differently."

Though O'Neal said it would be irrational to present theories without a solid foundation of research, the 37-year-old did claim that the mysterious inscriptions were definitely created by a more advanced basketball civilization with vastly superior technology. While acknowledging that humans have made impressive scientific progress, O'Neal opined that our culture has not yet developed the sophisticated tools required to embed complex informational structures on the spherical surface of a basketball.

Following the Suns' 118-115 victory over the Nuggets, O'Neal was seen hurrying off the court to the locker room, where he conducted a number of tests on a ball. O'Neal's first experiment, which consisted of squeezing a lemon wedge over the ball to draw out any invisible markings hidden on its surface, was inconclusive, and he expressed annoyance when forced to suspend his research for head coach Alvin Gentry's postgame talk.

"Observing the inscription's sensitivity to high levels of heat seems like a much better use of my time," O'Neal said. "I certainly wouldn't place his feeble recognition of our success in the same realm as my reality-shattering discovery."

O'Neal, who drove to a nearby Sports Authority retail store with the intention of purchasing hundreds of similar basketballs, was distraught when a clerk asked him if he wanted the synthetic version.

"If all these balls are artificial, mere replicas, then that leads to the question of the existence of the original, what I have termed the One True Ball—which may not even exist," said O'Neal, scratching at his face with his fingers. "And if the One True Ball is a mere mental construct, an ideal of perfection, then by extrapolation it becomes impossible to verify that the NBA or life as we know it is even real. Perhaps we are all stuck in separate adjacent dimensions and never actually interact with one another."

"Which ultimately means that we are caught in some kind of cosmic lie," O'Neal added. "All my efforts to create a Shaqtopia were for naught."

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Villanova beats Duke for first time in 50 years

By JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer

BOSTON – Dante Cunningham scored 14 points with 11 rebounds and third-seeded Villanova beat Duke for the first time in more than 50 years, taking advantage of the Blue Devils' poor shooting to win 77-54 Thursday night and advance to the NCAA regional final.

The Wildcats (29-7) will play Big East rival Pittsburgh (31-4), the top seed in the East, on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.

Duke (30-7), which spent a week at No. 1 in the nation earlier this season, failed to reach the round of eight for the fifth consecutive year.

Kyle Singler scored 15 and Jon Scheyer had 13 for the second-seeded Blue Devils. But Scheyer and Gerald Henderson combined to make just four of 32 attempts as Duke shot a season-low 26.7 percent from the floor.

Villanova was playing on the tournament's second weekend for the fourth time in five years, but Jay Wright's Wildcats have yet to reach the Final Four. But the fans could sense another chance, chanting "We want Pitt!" when Corey Stokes hit a 3-pointer with 2:27 left to give Villanova a 71-50 lead — its biggest thus far in the game.

Villanova, which set a school record with its 29th win, beat Pitt 67-57 in their regular-season meeting at Philadelphia on Jan. 28 when the Panthers were the No. 3 team in the country.

But rankings and seeds have meant little to the Wildcats: No team in tournament history has won more games against higher seeds. The Wildcats are 14-12 as a lower seed since 1979, including their 1985 run to the national championship as a No. 8 seed — the lowest ever to win it all.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, already the winningest coach in tournament history, became the all-time leader in NCAA games coached with 93 — one more than Dean Smith, though the current format with six full rounds has only been in place since 1985. But it became obvious early on that he wouldn't be padding his lead.

After jumping to a 5-0 lead, Duke gave up the next 11 points and never led again. The Blue Devils trailed 26-23 and hit the first basket of the second half, but Villanova scored 12 of the next 13.

Worse, the 3-point shooting that got Duke past Binghamton and Texas abandoned the Blue Devils against the Wildcats. After making 45 percent and 50 percent of their 3s in the first two tournament games, Duke hit three of their first 18 attempts and 5-of-27 overall.

The Blue Devils had beaten Villanova five straight times since the Wildcats' last victory in 1958.

Scottie Reynolds scored 16 and Reggie Redding had 11 points and nine rebounds as Villanova won the rebounding battle 49-34.

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Life of Reilly

Matt Steven is blind, but that didn't stop him from being a hoops hero.

A few seconds left. The game teeters on these two free throws. The shooter gulps. The packed gym goes silent, save for the tapping of a white cane on the back of the rim. That's right. The shooter's brother is under the hoop, rapping a cane on the rim. That's because the shooter, Matt Steven, is blind. So why is a blind kid in a competitive CYO game for sighted high schoolers in Upper Darby, Pa.? Because he doesn't like to miss anything -- especially free throws. Matt, a senior, had been on the St. Laurence CYO team for a year and never played in a game -- never expected to. "He just likes being on the team," says Matt's brother and coach, Joe. Matt shoots free throws every practice, though, making about half. And that's what gave Joe a crazy, unthinkable, wonderful idea. Before a charity tourney this past February, Joe asked the other teams if Matt could shoot all of St. Laurence's free throws. Amazingly, they agreed. So did the refs. A blind kid was going to be his team's designated shooter. Hey, it's still better than Shaq. Did that make Matt nervous? "Nah," he says. "I shoot 'em all the time!" The first game, Matt came in and -- to the crowd's shock -- made his first two. He was escorted back to the bench, where he grinned as if he had just kissed the head cheerleader. He was 4-for-8 that day. Matt doesn't talk much -- he has a stutter -- so when Joe got home late after the game, their mom, Joan, asked, "Any idea why Matt's been smiling all night?" "Oh yeah," Joe yawned. "He shot all our free throws tonight. Going to tomorrow night, too." Joan about dropped the spaghetti. Does she like it when Matt rides a bike? Ice-skates? Plays soccer? Sort of. She also dreads the day he comes home hurting. But Matt already knows what it's like to be hurting. Hurting is being born with two permanently detached retinas. Hurting is having your left eye removed in the fifth grade and the right in the sixth. Hurting is when they send you to a high school for the blind even though the last thing you want is to be around only other blind kids. Matt wants to be around other kids. He aches to be treated normal. Not "He does so great for a blind kid!" Just normal. That's why the free throws meant so much. He'd begged his parents to let him transfer to a regular school -- Monsignor Bonner. And he'd begged his brother to let him join his friends on the CYO team. And then, for the first time in his life, he was going to be one of them. Which brings us to Matt's moment in that second game. He'd missed his first six free throws, and St. Laurence was down eight to St. Philomena. Then a full-court press pulled the team to within one with 10 seconds left. That's when St. Laurence's best shooter -- 6'4" senior Ryan Haley -- was fouled in the lane. Surely, with the game on the line, the team stud would shoot his own free throws, right? Up in the stands, Matt's mom was hoping: Please don't make him shoot these. And Haley really was going to shoot them, until he looked over at Matt on the bench. "And I thought, He comes to every game, he never misses a practice, he cheers us on. He deserves a shot. I mean, it's everyone's dream to make those shots." So out comes Matt. And for the first time, the St. Phil fans aren't rooting for him. In fact, they look like they'd prefer that he shoot straight into the hot dog table. "That might have been the best moment of all for Matt," recalls Joe. "For once, he was just normal." Now the ball bounces under Matt's hand. Now the picture shakes in Mom's viewfinder. Now the rim pings from the cane. Matt lets go. Off the backboard and through. Tie game. Crowd goes berserk. Says Joe: "I think it helped that he's blind. He couldn't see the crowd, the scoreboard, his teammates' faces." The crowd stills again. Dribble. Tap. Shoot. Bank. Swish! Up by one. The gym windows nearly break. St. Phil's players forget to give Matt time to get off the court. They race the ball up. Nine guys are running around Matt, who's trying to find a way to the bench. Make that 10, since Ryan's already off the bench and pressing. Make that 11, since Joe -- tears in his eyes -- is trying to get to Matt. Chaos. Joy. Wonder. St. Phil's desperate shot misses. Game over. Since then, Matt's life has gone all kinds of crazy, unthinkably wonderful. His teammates call him Shooter. A girl says she heard all about him. He's even thinking about asking somebody to prom. I hope she says yes. Best blind date of her life. Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here. Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive. Be sure to check out Rick's latest project "Go Fish."

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Team USA Happy To Be Back Playing For Money

MIAMI—Back with their respective teams after a second disappointing showing in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA expressed relief to be playing for money again instead of the national pride that supposedly motivates them in the international tournament. "It really feels good to get back to being tangibly compensated for every baseball activity I perform," said third baseman Chipper Jones, who played in three of Team USA's eight games and struck out six times. "It was interesting for a little bit, donating some pro bono swings to my country, but it didn't feel completely right, like there was something missing. Something like money. I'm really looking forward to making some money again." Jones then placed a call to the commissioner's office to see if his recently displayed patriotism had made him more marketable.

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Female pitcher makes history in Japan

By Alden Gonzalez /

Eri Yoshida was drafted as a 16-year-old, which some in Japan viewed as a publicity stunt for the fledgling Kansai Independent League. (Kyodo News/AP)

Thousands of miles away from any hint of the Major Leagues, history was made in professional baseball on Friday.

That's when Eri Yoshida, a 17-year-old with a wicked sidearm knuckleball, took her 5-foot, 114-pound frame to the mound to become Japan's first female professional pitcher, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Back in December, Yoshida signed a contract to join the Kobe 9 Cruise, one of four teams in Japan's newly formed Kansai Independent League, and made her first appearance Friday in the ninth inning of the first game of the season in Osaka, Japan.

The result? Not too bad.

Yoshida walked the first batter on four straight pitches, then gave up a stolen base, but struck out the next batter swinging before being taken out, as her club picked up a 5-0 win over the Osaka Gold Villicanes in front of 11,592 at the Osaka Dome, according to AP.

"I wasn't thinking about anything other than just going out there and giving it my all," Yoshida, who emulates Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, was quoted as saying by AP. "I think this was a bad result, but the stadium is great and the fans were really cheering me on. I want to be able to pitch more innings and become a pitcher who can be relied upon."

Yoshida, who started playing baseball while in the second grade, said she hopes to stick with the Cruise.

Until now, no woman had ever played against men in Japan, according to AP.

The Kansai Independent League is said to be more of a farm system for bigger teams, like the Yomiuri Giants. Yoshida's signing was originally looked upon as a publicity stunt in order to garner interest in the new league, AP reported.

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World's Most Expensive Baseball Cards

Forget commercial paper--take a look at this investment-grade cardboard.


The card didn't look like much when Bernice Gallego plucked it from a bin of unsorted merchandise in her Fresno, Calif., antique shop. She examined the simple sepia-toned portrait of an unknown team from a bygone era and put it up on eBay for $9.99.

Within hours, the mushrooming volume of inquiries convinced Gallego that this wasn't just any old card. She quickly pulled the item from eBay and took it to an expert, where she learned it was the first card ever printed of the first professional baseball team ever assembled, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Through sports memorabilia specialist Memory Lane, Gallegos sold the card to Houston dealer Jeffrey Rosenberg for $75,000 in February.

"This is my fantasy baseball--getting to own a card like this," says Rosenberg, who purchased the card for his memorabilia company, Tristar Productions. "It's the type of thing you could put in the Smithsonian or the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think we bought it for a fantastic price."

The scarcest items can command even higher prices: The top 15 vintage cards routinely fetch six figures at auctions by Memory Lane in Tustin, Calif., and similar outfits like Goodwin & Co. in St. Louis, Huggins & Scott in Silver Spring, Md., and Hunt Auctions in Exton, Pa.

The 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth card is the most valuable, worth $500,000 in good condition, according to Brian Fleischer of memorabilia evaluator Beckett Media. The second-most expensive card is the 1909 Honus Wagner rookie, worth $300,000 in comparable condition.

One Wagner rookie card miraculously survived the last century in near-mint condition. Dubbed the "Gretzky Wagner" after it was purchased by the hockey star for $451,000 in 1991, the card sold for $500,000 in 1995, then for $640,000 in 1996, $1.265 million in 2000, $2.35 million in March of 2007 and $2.8 million in September of 2008. Fleischer estimates it would bring $3 million today--and that a comparable Ruth rookie would go for $3 million to $5 million

Rounding out the top three is a card that bears the image of one of baseball's most controversial figures, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Accused of participating in the notorious Black Sox Scandal, in which the heavily favored Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series in exchange for cash from mobsters, Jackson was banned from baseball for life. Scholars point out that he posted a scalding 0.375 batting average in the Series and didn't make any errors in the field, fueling a recent movement to have him posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame. Jackson's 1910 Old Mill second-year card is worth $200,000 in good condition.

"It's just one of the all-time great baseball cards," says Robert Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, N.J., a sports house similar to Memory Lane. "It's Joe Jackson's only tobacco card. You don't have to be a baseball card collector to appreciate it."

Play Your Cards Right
Vintage baseball cards have been something of a safe haven during the current recession. Last May, a 1909 Honus Wagner rookie in good condition fetched $317,000. Since then, the Wagner's value has edged up to about $350,000. Other rare pre-war cards have held their value, and modern cards are down just 10-15% on average in the last year. That's only a slight dip compared with the S&P 500, down 40% on the year.

"In past economic downturns, the hobby has done well," says Beckett's Fleischer. "We're seeing really strong sales on high-grade pre-war vintage stuff. People are putting their money in cards instead of traditional investments."

To be sure, the hidden costs of the hobby are often steeper than brokerage fees or fund expenses. Auctioneers typically charge sellers a 10% commission on small lots; for big-ticket items they often waive the seller fee and hit the winning bidder with a buyer premium of 15% or so. Of the $75,000 Rosenberg laid out for Gallego's card, Memory Lane took $11,000. A policy on such a card from Collectibles Insurance Services in Hunt Valley, Md., runs about $460 per year. Still, it's hard to put a price on the satisfaction of ownership.

"It's more fun to buy a Babe Ruth card than some AT&T stock," says Fleischer. "You can't show shares to your friends."

Bragging rights can be rewarding, but for some collectors, a solitary moment with a vintage card is the real treasure. If you take one of these items out of its case, trace the weathered edges with a careful finger and smell the ancient traces of tobacco ingrained in the tiny fibers, for a moment you might feel baseball's mystical soul shuddering through your own.

Regardless of your desire to commune with ball-playing ghosts, you don't necessarily need to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to land a prime piece of vintage cardboard. There will always be more unwitting archaeologists like Bernice Gallego. Last year, a collector in Florida found a Wagner rookie in a tobacco tin in his grandfather's attic.

"It's extremely rare to hit the lottery like that," says Fleischer. "But it still happens."

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Tabata's wife suspected of taking baby

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- A 2-month-old is back in the arms of her parents, and the wife of a top Pittsburgh Pirates minor league prospect is suspected of taking the infant from a health clinic outside Tampa, authorities said Tuesday.

Amalia Tabata Pereira, 43, was being questioned by Florida detectives in Manatee County, where the baby girl was found unharmed Tuesday afternoon, a day after she was taken from the clinic. Plant City Chief of Police Bill McDaniel said authorities are looking to charge Pereira with false imprisonment.

She is the wife of Jose Tabata, 20, an outfielder and one of the top three prospects for the Pirates, who train in Bradenton, which is in the county where the infant was found. In a statement, Pirates president Frank Coonelly said they have received "no indication that Jose is believed to have had any involvement in this matter."

Jose Tabata addressed the matter in a statement released by the team.

"I was shocked to be told today that my wife has been arrested for kidnapping. I am hurt, frustrated, and confused by her actions," Tabata said. "I have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement officials in anyway that I can. Until I have all of the facts, I cannot comment any further."

I was shocked to be told today that my wife has been arrested for kidnapping. I am hurt, frustrated, and confused by her actions.

-- Jose Tabata

The Pirates said in a statement that they were standing behind Tabata.

"Jose was as shocked as the rest of us upon hearing the news and has cooperated fully with law enforcement officials," Coonelly said in the statement. "The Pirates organization will continue to do anything and everything we can to assist and support Jose during this difficult personal time."

Sandra Cruz-Francisco was taken from her mother, Rosa Sirilo-Francisco, about 3 p.m. ET Monday by a woman her family knew only as "Janet," Plant City police said.

Sirilo-Francisco had taken her baby for a checkup at the Plant City Health Department, where she met Janet, who said she was an immigration official, Sirilo-Francisco told The Tampa Tribune. The woman told Sirilo-Francisco that there were officers at her home waiting to deport her and the child's father to Mexico.

Janet offered to help, but said she had to take the baby.

The two women drove with the infant to a farm where the child's father works, and Janet told him the same story. The mother later handed the child over.

Plant City police Capt. Darrell Wilson couldn't confirm the mother's account of events.

"We believe that may have been the story, but we haven't spoken with the suspect," he said.

Investigators now believe Janet and Pereira are likely the same person. Wilson said Pereira has a criminal record that includes theft and fraud convictions and that police did not have a hometown for her because she has several aliases.

"We don't know if it's an isolated incident or not," he said.

There were conflicting reports regarding exactly how the infant was found.

Plant City police said Pereira turned herself and the baby in to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office early Tuesday afternoon. But authorities in Manatee said Pereira was detained after an anonymous tipster called police to report that a woman on a street corner in downtown Bradenton had information about the missing baby.

When deputies responded to the scene, the baby was found and a woman was detained.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they have launched an investigation. A spokesman wouldn't say whether Pereira worked for the agency, citing the investigation. Wilson, with the Plant City police, said they don't believe she does.

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What Happened to Classic MLB?

Published by


Does anyone remember the time when baseball was a beloved American pastime?

Remember when collecting rookie cards was more important than saving allowance for a video game? How ‘bout the hot summer days when you’d go out of your way to find a naïve friend to trade with?

After all, how else would you explain the acquisition of an Ozzie Smith rookie card for Minnesota’s John Castino?

Even though pundits will lead us to believe in baseball’s growing popularity, the simple fact is they’re wrong. And for the record, please don’t bring attendance numbers to this debate, because they’re meaningless.

I’m talking about popularity where it counts, as in the youngsters who’ll inevitably be the fans of tomorrow, because this is where you’ll find the huge gap.

Back in the days, opening day was a legitimate reason to skip school, or at the very least, play sick and hope you were left alone with the thermometer. In case you’re wondering, a thermometer and a lamp will get you out of school, but only if you knew how long to hold it to the bulb.

Back in the days, my friends and I looked forward to the release of a new series of plain ol’ Topps’ cards. We were blown away by the release of an Upperdeck hologram, and we fell to the floor in laughter after seeing a certain Billy Ripken card.

The kids today don’t really give a damn about trading cards unless they’re linked to Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh, and that’s a damn shame!

Of course, there’s more to my argument than trading cards.

In truth, my attention was drawn to this topic by the overwhelming lack of interest in the World Baseball Classic, because the United States is out … and no one seems to care.

Though the WBC will officially conclude later this evening, I can’t help but ask how many people were really paying much attention to it in the first place? Were there any American’s who watched each game with the interest of a fan whose national pride was on the line?

In my opinion, this collective yawn of an event will never mean anything because Major League Baseball is no longer America’s pastime. Granted, I love the sport as much as I did when I was a child watching The Wizard of Oz doing back-flips, but am I wrong in saying those days are long gone?

To me, the problem doesn’t start and finish with a lack of preparation, though I’ll admit timing is part of the problem. Simply put, Major League Baseball is suffering from a lack of star power.

Outside of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the blackballed Barry Bonds, there aren’t too many players who’ve successfully transitioned from MLB star to face of MLB, a la Cal Ripken, Jr. or Tony Gwynn. And for anyone who will criticize my placement of Bonds on said list, I guarantee more kids can identify him than someone like Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols (and rightfully so).

By comparison, this reminds me of the lull in talent during the NBA days after Michael Jordan, but before LeBron James. Yes, we had Kobe Bryant (Derek Jeter), but who the hell gave a damn about a boring guy like Tim Duncan (Ryan Howard)?

Need more? How many people cared about USA basketball before the “Redeem Team?”

Not for nothing, but if you ask me, baseball’s the one sport where national pride should actually mean something. It’s a sport where careers were shortened because athletes in their prime chose to fight for their country. And while I realize this held true across the sports landscape, few were impacted as much as Major League Baseball.

Yet thanks to a lack of star power and general disinterest, the WBC came and went without many people giving it much attention. We watched, we yawned, and we celebrated late inning heroics … but we did so in between viewings of more important programs, such as American Idol, 24, House, the NBA, March Madness, reruns of Family Guy and a lil’ PS3 action.

We heard they were eliminated and didn’t realize they were still playing, but I digress.

Now, in case you’re wondering, this piece is intentionally long and drawn out, because I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to illustrate MLB’s main problem.

No one wants to sit through nine scoreless innings (I’m a huge fan of the pitchers duel) in a landscape where the trendy MMA’s kickin’ ass and taking names. People want action, and they want it now, regardless of how mind-numbingly simple it is.

This is the main reason soccer will never be a popular professional sport in America, and is a huge problem when it comes to the MLB competing with the NFL or NBA.

So, while Major League Baseball will always hold a special place in my heart, I’ll admit there are major hurdles to jump if it ever wants to regain the level of popularity that once made it America’s pastime. In my opinion, this has to begin with star players doing everything in their power to reach the fans of tomorrow, because these kids haven’t been compelled to watch MLB like I was in the late ’80s, and that makes me sad.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Armstrong breaks collarbone in race crash

By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

(CNN) -- American cyclist Lance Armstrong suffered a shattering blow in his comeback bid on Monday when he broke his right collarbone after falling on the first stage of a five-day race in northern Spain.

American Armstrong was competing in Spain to regain full race fitness after coming out of retirement.

American Armstrong was competing in Spain to regain full race fitness after coming out of retirement.

Emerging from a hospital with his arm in a sling, Armstrong said he will return to the United States, where doctors will determine whether he needs surgery.

"I'm miserable," said the record seven-time Tour de France champion. "I just need to relax a couple of days and then make a plan."

Astana rider Armstrong crashed about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the end of the 168-km stage and later said it was the first time he had suffered such an injury in his 17 years as professional.

"It's pretty painful," he said. "Just wait and see how it heals."

The crash took down several riders but Armstrong appeared to be the only one injured.

"That's cycling," he said. "It's nobody's fault. Crashes happen all the time."

As they came within a few miles of the finish, Armstrong said, racers started picking up speed and jockeying for position.

"It happens quick when it happens," he said. "It could have been worse."

Armstrong could be out for three to four weeks said Jacinto Vidarte, spokesman for the Vuelta Ciclista Castilla y Leon race.

The injury looks certain to end Armstrong's hopes of challenging for the Giro d'Italia from May 9-31 -- he admitted race plans are now "problematic" --and must cast doubts on his ambition of winning an eighth Tour crown from July 4-26 in France.

The 37-year-old Armstrong, who was taken to Clinico Universitario Hospital in Valladolid, was seen pointing to his collarbone as he sat by the roadside after the accident.

A group of 15 to 20 riders fell, according to Bartosz Huzarski, a cyclist racing for the Italian team ISD. Huzarski, who saw the fall, said he did not know what had caused it. Only Armstrong appeared to indicate he was hurt, the Polish cyclist said.

One of Armstrong's teammates told that he did not see the crash but that the accident happened on a tough patch of road.

"I was in the front," Levi Leipheimer told Velonews, a journal of competitive cycling. "It was on really narrow, bumpy roads. It was a pretty bad road, super-rough and narrow. The edges were deteriorating, with cracks and parts missing, It was worse than typical [Spanish roads]."

Armstrong came out of retirement after more than three years to return to competitive cycling in January.

This was his first race alongside Alberto Contador, a Spaniard who won the Tour de France in 2007, two years after Armstrong's last event victory.

But Armstrong denied there was any friction with Contador, who is also riding for Astana.

"I have to respect the current results and he's the best there is right now. Until that changes, he's the leader," Armstrong told CNN before the accident.

Armstrong recently said Contador "still has a lot to learn," but the Spaniard shrugged it off.

"Anyone can say what they like during the race, but I'm not at all nervous," Contador said.

The fall took place a on a beautiful sunny day on a stretch of two-lane highway, Goodman said.

Armstrong's first comeback came in 1998, two years after he was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain. Doctors gave him a less than 50 percent chance of survival.

He has become a highly visible cancer activist at the head of his Livestrong foundation.

Armstrong, whose Tour triumphs came between 1999-2005, announced in September last year that he would be returning to the saddle.

He launched his comeback in January when he raced in the Tour Down Under in Australia, finishing 29th.

Armstrong then played a key support role as Leipheimer won the Tour of California title in February before finishing 125th in last Saturday's Milan-San Remo in Italy.

He was riding in this week's Castilla and Leon race to continue his bid to reach peak form ahead of the Giro and then the Tour.

Armstrong returned to the sport not only to attempt to become the oldest Tour winner, but also to raise awareness about cancer.

"The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer really to a much bigger stage," explained Armstrong, who previously fought a battle with testicular cancer.

"The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world. So you race in Australia, South Africa, South America, Europe, America -- that is the first priority," added the Texan.

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Q&A: Assessing troubled QB class of ’06

By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports

The past seven months have been brutal for the once highly touted 2006 NFL draft class of quarterbacks.

From Matt Leinart’s failure to seize a starting job that the Arizona Cardinals wanted him to win to Vince Young’s meltdown in the season opener with the Tennessee Titans and Jay Cutler demanding this week to be traded by the Denver Broncos, none of the three seem to be on any type of normal career path after three seasons.

The questions for each are obvious: Can their situations be fixed and if so, what’s the solution?

With that in mind, Yahoo! Sports talked to former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz and a current offensive coordinator with an NFL team who didn’t want to be identified about the future of each. Here’s a look at what they thought of each player …


Martz: “I really think the thing with Jay and [Broncos coach] Josh [McDaniels] isn’t an issue at all. To me, it’s more about the posturing that goes on, probably from people around Jay, like his agent. Really, that stuff happens all the time in the NFL and you just deal with it. You get in a room with just the quarterback and the coach and you start to talk about what you’re going to do, what’s the offense going to be and all of a sudden that stuff fixes itself … it’s like with Kurt [Warner] in St. Louis. His wife got involved in it on a radio program and it made news, but that was a short-term thing and it gets resolved pretty quickly.

Photo Things haven’t gotten much better for Cutler since the season-ending loss to San Diego.
(Chris Park/AP Photo)

“To be honest, I think that Jay and Josh will work really well together once they’re able to sit down, away from other people, and just talk about football … Whether it’s the agent, management or the media, a lot of this stuff can take on a life of its own that really doesn’t matter once the player and the coach sit down and talk about the system, what the practices are going to be like, all of that stuff.

“I think that Josh will love Jay as a player when they finally are able to do that. I love Jay Cutler. When he was coming out in the draft, really, I was enraptured by his talent. I thought he was really, really special. We brought him in to Detroit before the draft and I talked to him for a long time. I like his makeup. I think he’s physically tough and mentally tough. I think he’s got everything you want in a quarterback.

“Yes, trust is a crucial part of the coach-quarterback relationship. No question, it’s all about trust. But that trust will develop. I know people are saying that Josh wanted to get Matt Cassel, but I think that if Jay and Josh give it time working together, there will be trust. Really, it would be different if this happened a year from now after they’d had a year to work together. If that were the case, then you could see there’s a problem. But that’s not where this is right now.”

Offensive coordinator: “I agree that Cutler’s agent [Bus Cook] is driving this problem a lot. I’m not sure that I buy that Cook was the problem with what happened in Green Bay [where Cook client Brett Favre and the Packers went through an ugly divorce] or Tennessee [where Cook client Steve McNair and the Titans also parted on bad terms]. In both of those, the teams clearly wanted to go another direction. That wasn’t going to be pretty.

“But in Denver, this is one where Cook needs to be calming the situation, not feeding it. The Broncos have built that team around Cutler. They have Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and a good tight end [Tony Scheffler] if he can stay healthy. If you’re an agent for a quarterback with those guys, you keep him there because your quarterback has a chance to win and make a lot of money.

“To me, the owner [Pat Bowlen] has to tell the player, ‘You’re not going anywhere and that’s it.’ All this wishy washy crap about how they might trade him if they get a young quarterback or whatever, that’s ridiculous. It just feeds the frenzy. We’re talking about a franchise quarterback. This guy is the real deal when it comes to pure talent … Yeah, he has some issues that bug you. He’s kind of surly, from what I hear, and not a great leader yet and I emphasize yet because he was a great leader at Vanderbilt. All that stuff between him and Philip Rivers is just a waste of time. As a coach, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Who cares?’ But you know that there’s jealousy out there. If it makes him work harder, hey, that’s not a bad thing.”


Martz: “There is a maturation process you have to go through as a quarterback. He’s lucky that he’s on a good team where he hasn’t had to play a lot yet and he’s had Kurt to watch and learn from. That can be really valuable for a quarterback. Eventually, he’ll have to go in there and get beat up a little and succeed under duress.

Photo Leinart appeared in just four games last season.
(Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

“By that, I mean that he’ll have to go against a good team, with maybe his receivers hurt and be down in the game and find a way to win, which Kurt has done consistently. When you do that, you win the confidence of your team. To be frank, when I was in Detroit, we didn’t really look at Matt. I was so caught up in Cutler that we didn’t bring in Matt or Vince, so I don’t know those guys as well, personally. I know what I’ve studied and Matt has the ability to be a good quarterback, but he needs the time and the action out there.”

Offensive coordinator: “I have the same concerns about Matt Leinart as I do about Vince Young. It’s all about mental toughness … when you watch Leinart, he flashes some ability. He’s had some games where you go, ‘Wow, he has a chance, especially when he first started playing.’ But then you see how he reacts in games where he’s getting knocked around and he gets sketchy. He’s a great front-runner. When everything is going as planned, he’s fine. When it gets hairy, he almost looks scared.

“Think about it, he’s on a team that’s loaded with receivers and he loses that job in preseason. The Cardinals wanted him to win the job. Absolutely were begging him to win it. We all know that. We’re talking about setting up the future of your team for the next eight years. Instead, he was awful and gave the job to Warner. Gave it to him.

“Now look what happens: Warner takes control of the job, the Cardinals have to re-sign him and unless Warner gets hurt, Leinart may never play before his contract comes up. He’ll be in the league for five years and nobody will have a good idea what kind of player he is … nice way to run your career into the ground.”


Martz: “He has some terrific ability to win games on his own. He’s unbelievable that way. But he has to develop the ability to be consistent with what he does. Again, I don’t really know the professional side of Young because we didn’t interview him when I was in Detroit that year … I don’t know what his study habits are, how much work he puts in during the week and during the offseason.

Photo Young watches from the bench after getting knocked out of the opener.
(Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

“That’s the part that’s going to determine his future. If he’s able to turn his athletic ability into something consistent so that the Titans can win games with him, then he’ll succeed. But he has to work at it because he’s an unusual player. His throwing ability needs work, everybody understands that. But if the offensive coordinator there can work with his ability and get him through it, he has a chance to be great.”

Offensive coordinator: “Martz was being polite. The kid can’t throw. He just can’t. Worse, he still can’t read coverages. The Tennessee passing game with him is either throw it underneath or throw it deep because he’s scary on the mid-range stuff. He has no touch on half his throws and no idea where the defenders are on the other half … I’m being brutally honest and this is hard because he’s not a bad guy, but he’s soft and he doesn’t understand how much work he has to do to get better.

“When he was at Texas, they just let him improvise all the time. He’s such a great athlete, he could get away with anything. Just run around until he made a play. In this league, you can’t do that. That stuff about how coaches should draw up a whole new offense for him is crap. The defenses are too good in this league. In college, you have about four games every year where you really have to be sharp. In this league, you have to be sharp every game.

“Now, I wasn’t there for what happened last season when he supposedly didn’t go back on the field and [coach] Jeff [Fisher] had to chew him out, but that doesn’t surprise me. Like I said, he’s soft. He doesn’t like it. I mean, he talked about quitting after his first season? Are you kidding me? Frankly, if my team brought that guy in and said, ‘Make him a starter,’ I’d ask for battle pay or I’d quit … OK, I probably wouldn’t quit, but I’d make it clear that this wasn’t going to be easy.”

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Yankees Grass Is Now a Brand

Yankees Sod, which is grown on 80 acres in South Jersey, will soon be available at New York City-area Home Depot stores.


BRIDGETON, N.J. — Just when it seemed that all the sports-licensing ideas had been exhausted — coffins with team logos, unveiled a few years ago, could have reasonably been the presumed end — along comes something that has been growing in plain sight all along.

Yankees Sod.

A tuft for the windowsill? A pallet for the backyard? Officially licensed grass is about to be sold, in the form of sod or seeds, to fans who want a patch to call their own.

“It’s just capitalizing on what we have and what we’ve done,” said Rick DeLea, vice president of DeLea Sod Farms, which his grandfather founded in 1928 and has supplied turf for Yankee Stadium since the 1960s.

On a recent morning, Mr. DeLea swept his hand across a portion of the 80 acres of Yankees Sod on a vast hillside in South Jersey. Last fall, some of the secret blend of bluegrass was peeled in broad strips, hauled north on trucks and laid inside the new Yankee Stadium. But most of it was still here, greening under a late-winter sun.

“It’s going to be one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ stories,” said David Andres, the energetic and entrepreneurial man who came up with the idea of selling sod and grass to fans.

A former consultant with the company and now Mr. DeLea’s vice president for business development, Mr. Andres saw a field of bluegrass far bigger than the two and a half acres needed to cover the grassy portions of the new Yankee Stadium. The team had asked Mr. DeLea to reserve 10 acres for the stadium, apparently in case of some horrific horticultural incident in the Bronx, but that left a lot of leftover sod.

“I said: ‘Rick, you’re sitting on it. Why not do something with it?’ ” Mr. Andres said.

Actually, Mr. DeLea had been doing something with it. He sells the same three-variety blend of Kentucky bluegrass from this field to other clients. A high school in West Long Branch, N.J., had 16 acres installed last fall, when it was just called sod. Not Yankees Sod.

Mr. Andres, a self-described “sell ice to Eskimos kind of guy,” took the idea of licensing the product to the Yankees and Major League Baseball. He received the requisite stamps of approval and started a company called Stadium Associates to market Yankees Sod and Yankees Grass Seed.

It makes one wonder if other licensed permutations will follow — Cubs Ivy or Daytona Asphalt or Cameron Indoor Hardwood Floors, using the same vine, road mix or batch of trees as the sports arenas.

For now, Mr. Andres and three partners have visions of Cubs Sod and Red Sox Sod and other licensed sod. They have reached out to the farms that supply the other 27 major league teams with natural-grass fields.

But Major League Baseball is taking it one team at a time.

“We want to see how this goes,” Howard Smith, baseball’s vice president for licensing, said. “But we want all of our licensees to be wildly successful.”

Yankees Sod will be available at New York City-area Home Depot stores near the end of the month. A patch a little bigger than five square feet — 16 inches by 4 feet — will cost $7.50, Mr. Andres said. It may cost a few thousand dollars to cover a large backyard, but the sod comes with a certificate of authenticity from Major League Baseball, complete with the counterfeit-proof hologram, declaring it to be the official grass of the New York Yankees.

Yankees Grass Seed will also be available, in gift-friendly novelty sizes of three ounces and eight ounces, at Yankee Stadium and other places. Home Depot will carry bigger bags of seed.

Mr. Andres wants to sow grass seed in small planters, too, for fans who may want a little patch to water and cut, kind of like bonsai groundskeepers. He is even pondering miniature desktop replicas of the stadium filled with blades of Yankees Sod.

“It is something that is green,” Mr. Andres said, referring to the environmental benefit of the product, if not the awe-inspiring color that greets fans as they step through the stadium portals. “It is something that is connected to America’s pastime. It is something that is affordable. And it is something that every fan can appreciate.”

Except Mets fans, perhaps.

Mr. DeLea, an unassuming man who oversees a 13-farm sod empire with the help of a helicopter he pilots, supplies various varieties of turf, from bluegrass to bentgrass, to clients that include well-known golf courses and small municipalities.

He said that the bluegrass developed for the Yankees took about 14 months to mature. The DeLea sod laid in Yankee Stadium last fall, like the sod remaining on this hillside parcel, was planted in the spring of 2006. More is being planted at various sod farms for fans.

Mr. DeLea said that Yankee Sod was fine for a lawn that receives full sun, drains well and is reasonably maintained.

As the men turned to walk off the lush grass and into a van parked in the dirt, where sod once grew — the sod now in Yankee Stadium, perhaps, or maybe just at a high school in New Jersey — Mr. Andres mindlessly flicked the ashes of his cigar onto the turf.

Mr. DeLea scolded him and rubbed out the embers with his shoe. After all, this was not ordinary sod.

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