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Winter Olympics Sites Should Be Cold—But Not This Cold

The Free Press WV

What may soon become the next Olympic sport: extreme spectating. At least, that’s what organizers for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea are worried about during the opening and closing ceremonies in February, each expected to last between four and five hours. Reuters has glimpsed an internal document outlining the organizing committee’s concerns, which revolve around the fact that Pyeongchang’s main stadium has no roof and the wind chill is expected to make it feel like it’s about 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Among the world luminaries who may be freezing their butts off if they accept President Moon Jae-in’s invitation to attend: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. “This is a very serious issue … [that’s] creating a headache to not only the organizers but the presidential office,“ says a local lawmaker.

South Korea made the apparently ill-advised decision to build the $58 million arena sans roof to cut costs and speed up construction, and now it’s left organizers scrambling for ideas on how to keep the audience warm and safe, including expedited security checks, more windscreens set up around the stadium, and distributed hot packs and blankets. Xi, Abe, and more than 150 other VIPs will get plusher, bigger blankets than regular spectators, a committee official tells Reuters. There’s also mention of pushing “audience participation” to keep people moving, though details are vague. Global News notes that for the last two Winter Olympics, in Sochi and Vancouver, organizers feared the opposite: that it would be too mild for snow. But in this case, “the cold could ruin the entire opening party,“ a ruling party official says. “The fate of the event is down to … Mother Nature.“

Sports News

The Free Press WV

►  NFL Power Rankings – Week 3: Chiefs and their high-powered offense edge Falcons for top spot

Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. This week, it’s tough to pick against the Kansas City Chiefs, who look like a machine on offense. Elsewhere, the Packers, Cowboys and Titans make strong moves upward.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0). Last Week’s Rank: 3.

The NFL’s best and most balanced team at this point, ranking ahead of the Falcons on style points. Alex Smith, league MVP candidate? Really? Yes, really. Rookie RB Kareem Hunt and WR Tyreek Hill continue to provide big plays on offense and the defense intercepted Philip Rivers three times and sacked him twice in Sunday’s triumph over the Chargers. Kansas City is the best of AFC West’s trio of contenders.

2. Atlanta Falcons (3-0). Last Week’s Rank: 2.

Things were far from perfect Sunday in Detroit, as QB Matt Ryan threw three interceptions and the Falcons needed an overturned TD in the final seconds plus a 10-second clock runoff to hold on. A win is a win. But this one almost should count as half a loss.

3. New England Patriots (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 4.

The defense is becoming a problem but QB Tom Brady and the offense clicked again Sunday and the Patriots escaped with the narrow win over the Texans. Over the past two games, Brady has completed 55 of 74 passes for 825 yards with eight TDs and no interceptions.

4. Green Bay Packers (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 12.

The offense has been beset by injuries, so needing OT to beat the winless Bengals at home can be forgiven. QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked six times but managed to throw three TDs. The main issue is when – or if – the Packers will have their offensive lineup back intact.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 1.

Losing in Chicago is alarming for a team with such lofty ambitions. The offense has been unable to generate big plays. The Steelers need a far better showing Sunday in Baltimore because the winner emerges as the early favorite in the AFC North.

6. Dallas Cowboys (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 13.

The offense was balanced Monday night in Arizona. The Cowboys ran the ball effectively with RB Ezekiel Elliott and got some big plays from QB Dak Prescott. The pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence, was formidable. Elliott is ensured of playing one more game – this coming Sunday against the Rams – before a federal appeals court hears oral arguments Monday on the NFL’s request for a stay of the injunction keeping his suspension on hold.

7. Tennessee Titans (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 15.

The opening loss to the Raiders has been followed by victories over the Jaguars and Seahawks in which the Titans totaled 70 points. This is a promising team that can run the ball effectively and has put good talent on offense around young franchise QB Marcus Mariota. The Titans probably are not ready to be on even footing with the true AFC heavyweights. But they certainly are capable of winning the lightweight AFC South.

8. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 17.

The Eagles just held on against the Giants thanks to the 61-yard FG by rookie kicker Jake Elliott as time expired. That was the good. The bad was the defense crumbling late, and failing on an inexplicable fourth-and-eight gamble by Coach Doug Pederson near midfield in the first half. It was a completely misguided decision that would have been even more glaring in a loss.

9. Detroit Lions (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 8.

The Lions appear to have staying power as a top NFC contender. They were every bit as good as the Falcons on Sunday, losing by only the thinnest of margins via the instant replay review that negated their would-be winning TD.

10. Washington Redskins (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 18.

The Redskins were nearly perfect against a good opponent in a nationally televised game. That’s about as surprising as it gets. QB Kirk Cousins was superb. The defense was even better. There’s no time to gloat because things will be tougher Monday night when they go on the road to Kansas City to face an even better team in the Chiefs.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 21.

Week 1: The Jaguars might be for real. Week 2: So much for the Jaguars being for real. Week 3: The Jaguars, once again, might be for real. When anyone figures this team out, let everyone else know..

12. Los Angeles Rams (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 22.

Coach Sean McVay already is working wonders with Jared Goff, who looks like a franchise QB-in-the-making three games into his second season. Goff was not capable last season of a performance like he gave in Thursday night’s surprisingly captivating victory over the Niners. Maybe the Rams are legitimate. Maybe they’re not. But the continued development of Goff under McVay’s tutelage would be enough to make this season highly productive, regardless of the final record.

13. Minnesota Vikings (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 23.

Case Keenum? Who knew? Maybe there’s no big rush for Sam Bradford to return, after all.

14. Oakland Raiders (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 5.

The Raiders were dreadful Sunday night at FedEx Field. That dampens the excitement about their 2-0 start. This is still a good team, but there won’t be that much margin for error in the difficult AFC West.

15. Baltimore Ravens (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 6.

The Ravens traveled all the way to London to play like that? Why bother? At least they have an immediate chance to redeem themselves in a big way with the Steelers coming to Baltimore on Sunday.

16. Buffalo Bills (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 25.

The Bills are not a great team. It will be a huge upset if they remain relevant by late in the season. But it certainly does appear that Coach Sean McDermott will get the most out of what they have.

17. Denver Broncos (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 7.

That’s why it was unwise to get carried away about QB Trevor Siemian’s performance against the Cowboys in Week 2. He was back to looking like a former seventh-round draft pick with his two-interception performance in the loss to the Bills.

18. Carolina Panthers (2-1). Last Week’s Rank: 9.

Cam Newton is really struggling as a passer right now. It’s probably to be expected, given his lack of activity leading up to Opening Day as he returned from shoulder surgery. But not being able to move the ball at will and score a ton of points against that New Orleans defense is startling.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1). Last Week’s Rank: 10.

The Bucs had better learn how to live with a little prosperity and follow one good performance with another. This up-and-down existence is not good enough any longer. It’s time for QB Jameis Winston to become more consistent in his third season.

20. Seattle Seahawks (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 11.

QB Russell Wilson did his part Sunday in Nashville but the defense failed to get it done. The Seahawks don’t appear to belong in the conversation about the NFC’s top teams. They do not even seem to be the NFC West’s best team, although there’s still plenty of time for them to remedy that divisional issue.

21. Houston Texans (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 14.

The near miss of a loss in Foxborough, Massachusetts, is forgivable and the Texans have found their QB. Deshaun Watson can play. So does Coach Bill O’Brien deserve credit for going to Watson after the first half of the opening game, or blame for not making him the starter entering the season? It was obvious all along that Watson should have been the choice. That’s not second-guessing. It was said here at the time.

22. New York Giants (0-3). Last Week’s Rank: 19.

The offense finally came to life in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia but it wasn’t enough to keep the Giants from falling to 0-3. The best and worst of WR Odell Beckham Jr. were on display in the final quarter against the Eagles. He had two TD catches, one of them spectacular. He also had an illegal celebration penalty that was completely immature. He is a great player. But he still doesn’t understand the responsibility that comes with his on-field greatness.

23. New Orleans Saints (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 27.

So the Saints are not unspeakably bad. Their win at Carolina proves that. But that’s still a ways from being good.

24. Indianapolis Colts (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 28.

Jacoby Brissett looked very good at QB and the Colts actually won. Alas, they can’t play the Browns every week.

25. Chicago Bears (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 29.

The Bears revved up the running game in their OT triumph over the Steelers but still didn’t get much production from QB Mike Glennon. It still feels like just a matter of time until rookie Mitchell Trubisky takes over, doesn’t it?

26. New York Jets (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 32.

The plan to tank the season veered off course with the win over the Dolphins.

27. Miami Dolphins (1-1). Last Week’s Rank: 16.

So much for the narrative of Jay Cutler coming out of retirement to save the Dolphins’ season. If he can’t beat the Jets, perhaps he should head back to the broadcast booth.

28. Arizona Cardinals (1-2). Last Week’s Rank: 20.

The Cardinals couldn’t protect Carson Palmer and couldn’t stop the Dallas offense Monday night. Their victory came against the Colts and it certainly does not appear that they are capable of beating the NFC’s better teams, with losses to the Lions and Cowboys by double-digit margins.

29. Los Angeles Chargers (0-3). Last Week’s Rank: 24.

No, the Chargers can’t go back to San Diego. And would San Diego even want them back at this point?

30. Cincinnati Bengals (0-3). Last Week’s Rank: 26.

The blame didn’t rest with QB Andy Dalton against the Packers. Even so, Coach Marvin Lewis might have to consider going with backup AJ McCarron at some point if the losing continues. Some teams would be happy to have McCarron as a starter. LB Vontaze Burfict returns from his three-game suspension this week. But is it already too late?

31. San Francisco 49ers (0-3). Last Week’s Rank: 30.

The 49ers can’t win. But they were extremely entertaining and competitive Thursday night against the Rams. That will have to be enough in Year 1 of Coach Kyle Shanahan’s reign.

32. Cleveland Browns (0-3). Last Week’s Rank: 31.

It was a Sunday on which plenty of supposedly good teams lost and plenty of supposedly bad teams won. But the Browns were still the Browns. Their inevitable defeats maintain a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic football universe.


►  South Korea’s Winter Olympics map initially omits Japan

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are due to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, early next year. And, understandably, they are already somewhat controversial, because of the increasing tensions with North Korea, which lies not far above where the Games will be held.

But this week, the Games have become the subject of a different controversy after the event’s organizers published a map on their website that inconveniently didn’t feature neighboring Japan.

This error caught the attention of Japanese social media users, many of whom questioned whether it was a deliberate snub.

The map has since been corrected, but only after the Japan Sports Agency demanded a correction from the Korean Embassy in Tokyo, agency official Masahide Katsumata told the Associated Press. The Pyeongchang organizing committee told the news agency that the omission of Japan was a “simple mistake” caused by changes in image files for the website.

Innocent mistake or not, the timing was awkward. Earlier this month, North Korea had warned that Japan “should be sunken into the sea” with a nuclear bomb – an increasingly ominous threat, as Pyongyang has fired two missiles over Japan in the past two months.

Arguably, officials in Pyeongchang should understand concern about these threats better than most. The city changed its name from Pyongchang in 2007 as it entered its Olympic bid – a move designed to avoid confusion with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

The map error also highlighted ongoing disputes between Seoul and Tokyo. The two nations have long been at odds over Japan’s wartime aggression, particularly the use of “comfort women” before and during World War II, an issue that still a source of diplomatic tensions between the nations. There are territorial disputes, too: Japan wants South Korea to stop referring to the body of water between the two countries as the East Sea and instead refer to it as the Sea of Japan, while both sides claim a set of remote islands in these waters called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan.

In 2014, South Korea rejected a suggestion from the International Olympic Committee to co-host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games with Japan, a country better known for its winter sports, as a cost-cutting measure - similar to how the two countries had shared the 2002 World Cup at the suggestion of soccer’s governing body, FIFA.

“The South Korean people would never accept it,“ said Choi Moon-soon, governor of Gangwon province, which contains Pyeongchang.

Sports News

►  Would countries skip the Winter Olympics because of Korea tensions? France is thinking about it

The Free Press WV

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are running high this week as Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have traded barbs about the Asian nation’s nuclear capabilities. On Tuesday in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Trump called Kim “Rocket Man” and said he was leading a “depraved regime.“ Kim shot back on Thursday, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and describing his U.N. speech as “unprecedented rude nonsense.“ Trump responded Friday by saying Kim is a “madman” whose regime will be “tested like never before.“

Such sabre-rattling about nuclear weapons hardly is ideal under any circumstances, but with the start of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, less than five months away, the most recent round of brinkmanship has led at least one nation - France - to consider whether attending the Games is even a good idea.

On Thursday, French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said in a radio interview that if “our security cannot be assured, the French Olympics team will stay at home.“

Pyeongchang is located just 50 miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and only 100 miles to the east of two North Korean military bases where a number of missile tests have been conducted in recent years. The two nations technically are still at war and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions already were well evident in 2011 when the International Olympic Committee awarded Pyeongchang the 2018 Games, so the IOC knew the risks involved with selecting such a location. But IOC President Thomas Bach said last week that he was confident the Olympics would go on as scheduled.

For now, it appears as if France is alone in publicly sharing the level of its concerns. Reuters contacted Olympic officials from four countries - the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia - in the wake of Flessel’s comments, and none said it was considering such a drastic move.

“Each host city presents a unique challenge from a security perspective, and, as is always the case, we are working with the organizers, the U.S. State Department and the relevant law enforcement agencies to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,“ U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky told Reuters.

Flessel herself said France isn’t on the verge of a decision - “we’re not there yet,“ she said - but the fact that she publicly aired her nation’s worries about the situation is a sign that the events of this week are reverberating well beyond the diplomatic sphere.


►  The Cleveland Indians are now an overwhelming favorite to win the World Series

The Free Press WV


On August 23, the Cleveland Indians were already a pretty good baseball team. They were 69-56 and had a healthy 4.5-game lead in their division. But at that time, they were still well behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in terms of chances to win the World Series and they were even behind the Houston Astros in terms of who had the best shot to win the American League.

What a change a month can make.

In the 33 days since, the Indians have gone 29-2, they now have a 16-game lead in the division, and they are now the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series.

Based on 100,000 simulations of the rest of the season by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, the Indians have a nearly 30% chance to win the World. No other team is above 15%.

In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  Shower, storm possibilities hang over Greenbrier Classic

Showers and thunderstorms were possibilities through Saturday in Greenbrier County.

The 1st round of The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA TOUR event, was scheduled to begin Thursday at The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC Course in White Sulphur Springs.

The competition continues through Sunday.

“Sunday, all in all, is going to be the best day of the whole week,” predicted Stewart Williams, PGA TOUR meteorologist. “It’ll be a nice day.”

Up until then, players and spectators will be dealing with unsettled weather.

Wednesday, Day Three of The Greenbrier Classic, opened with rain.

After Wednesday, the greatest chances for showers and storms were called for on Thursday, though two fast-moving systems had the potential to put down rain for at least part of both Friday and Saturday, according to Williams.

“We’re in the mountains in the summertime,” he explained. “Everything forms here before it rolls off into the Piedmont to the east, so we expect it.”

Since the first Greenbrier Classic in 2010, Williams said he’d learned more about weather forecasting in the Greenbrier Valley which, he admitted, could be “challenging” at times.

“A lot of times the showers and storms will stay along the peaks around us and so you have to keep an eye on it because sometimes they’ll roll off into this valley and, when they do, look out.”

Williams was a guest on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” which is broadcasting from The Greenbrier Resort for the 2017 Greenbrier Classic.

Last year, the PGA TOUR event was canceled in the aftermath of the 2016 Flood which claimed 23 lives in West Virginia, most of them in Greenbrier County.

Williams remembered when he first started to see pictures and video from White Sulphur Springs in the storm’s aftermath.

“It was shocking,” he said. “It was absolutely incredible to see that little creek out there that normally is pretty tranquil to (turn into) a raging river. It was unbelievable to see that.”


►  Injured Olympian defies doctors to walk for his wedding

On good days, American high jumper Jamie Nieto can shuffle 130 steps without a cane or walker.

It’s an important distance — about the length from the altar to the church door. His vow: Make it all the way, under his own power, when he’s married on July 22.

The two-time Olympian is recovering from a spinal cord injury he suffered on a misjudged backflip in April 2016. The accident initially left him with no feeling in his hands and feet. Walking? Doctors couldn’t predict if he would take more than a few steps — or any at all.

“People keep saying my recovery is really fast,” said the 40-year-old Nieto, who lives in Los Angeles. “I feel like it’s not fast enough. I want to be better tomorrow. I’m built for speed, not for going slow. But I’m working on being the best walker I can be.”

Nieto proposed to Jamaican hurdler Shevon Stoddart while in a wheelchair, six months after The Backflip. It used to be his signature move after big events.

On April 23, 2016 , the maneuver went seriously wrong for the high jumper who once cleared 7 feet, 8 inches to finish fourth at the 2004 Olympics. He was coaching some jumpers when he showed them his backflip expertise. His first attempt was a little off, and he asked for another try.

This time, he pushed off with one foot on the artificial turf and it slipped, forcing him straight back instead of into a somersault. The full weight of his body crashed on his neck.

“I couldn’t really feel anything. I was stuck there. I was like, ‘Oh shoot, I hurt myself pretty bad,’” recalled Nieto . “I had the athletes call 911.”

He was flown to a nearby hospital in Los Angeles and had surgery to fuse a disc in his neck. When he awoke, he could only shrug his shoulders and flex his quadriceps muscles. His hands and feet?

“Nothing,” Nieto said. “But I knew I was going to make a full recovery. There was never a doubt.”

The high jumper who finished sixth at the 2012 London Games spent 12 days in intensive care, two months at an inpatient rehab facility and finally returned home around this time a year ago.

At first, routine tasks were a struggle: Rolling up to get out of bed, brushing his teeth, getting dressed.

He didn’t have insurance, either. So his friends launched a campaign that’s raised more than $80,000 .

Just like his days on the track, Nieto is driven as he goes through grinding workouts five days a week. He documents his progress on social media, with one of his posts — lifting weights and pushing a sled — being viewed more than 4,000 times .

“Physically, I wasn’t the most talented athlete, but I worked really hard,” said Nieto, who once demonstrated his leaping ability by high jumping a car . “I had the mental capacity to fight to the end. At that level, it’s what separates good athletes from great athletes.

“I’m still trying to push those boundaries and limits.”

He met Stoddart around 2010 — a story he enjoys telling. They both showed up to audition for a television commercial “to sell TVs,” Nieto said. “I just said, ‘Hi.’”

She got the part.

“Guess I should’ve focused on more than saying, ‘Hi,’” he laughed.

Soon after, they became Facebook friends, and one day he dropped Stoddart a note that they should have dinner after a track meet.

She agreed. An instant connection between the high jumper and the 400-meter hurdler.

“We were talking about getting married before the accident, and when I had the accident it was clear to me, ‘What are we waiting on?’ You never know — you could be gone tomorrow,” Nieto said. “I asked her if she was ready to get married now or wait until I got better.”

Wait, she said.

She’s been there for him throughout his recovery, feeding him in the hospital when he couldn’t lift his arms, helping him get dressed when his fingers struggled with buttons and transferring him from his wheelchair to the bed when he struggled.

“As I get better and getter, she has to do less and less,” Nieto said. “She’s done so much for me.”

In mid-October, they went to a jewelry store to pick up the ring they’d selected. He proposed to her on the spot and in his wheelchair. He promised he would be ready to walk down the aisle by the wedding date.

A few months ago, that didn’t seem likely without assistance. He could only take six shaky steps on his own.

Soon, it was 23 steps. Then 53, 80 and now 130 for their wedding at a church in San Diego.

Stoddart’s response? Go for 200.

“I keep pushing him forward,” said Stoddart, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and moved to Uniondale, New York, as a kid. “After he (walks down the aisle), I’m going to be like, ‘OK, now jog. Now run.’ I continue to push him so he can be the best he can be.”

Before his injury, Nieto wrote screenplays and appeared in movies, such as the film “Baseball’s Last Hero : 21 Clemente Stories” in which he played Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente. He continues that work, finishing a script for an episode of the TV show “Family Time” and making a cameo in a soap opera, where he plays the role of a doctor.

Nieto also is 10 chapters into a book about his recovery that he hopes to turn into a film. He already has the leading actor picked out — himself.

“I don’t see why not? I plan to be 100 percent again,” Nieto said. “I don’t think there will be any dry eyes in the theater.”

In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  Michael Phelps’ Next Opponent Has Never Heard of Him

Is he high>? Mashable reports Michael Phelps will race a great white shark for Discovery Channel’s inescapable Shark Week. The mechanics of the race are unclear—Mashable is concerned the shark won’t understand it’s supposed to race the Olympian, not eat him—and a press release for the special, Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White, states such a race has never before been attempted. Discovery is billing it as a battle between “one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet” and “our greatest champion to ever get in the water.“ And sure, Phelps has 23 Olympic gold medals and 39 world records, but a great white shark has approximately 300 teeth.

For the Win reports Phelps has already completed a week of filming in South Africa for Shark Week, so apparently they figured out that whole don’t-get-an-American-sport-hero-eaten-for-ratings thing. And Phelps seems to have had a pretty great time, saying: “Sharks are like my no. 1 favorite animal in the world; being able to see them face to face was pretty cool.” He added on Instagram that he’s “always wanted” to get “in a cage and dive with great white sharks.“ Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White airs July 23 on Discovery. A second special, Shark School with Michael Phelps, in which the Olympian gets real close to a hammerhead shark, will air July 30.


►  After 41 Years, McDonald’s Makes a Change

The year 2018 will mark the first time since 1976 that you won’t see the McDonald’s logo plastered across Olympic venues, reports USA Today. That’s because McDonald’s has negotiated an early end to its corporate sponsorship agreement with the International Olympic Committee, which was scheduled to run through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Effective immediately, McDonald’s is no longer one of the IOC’s top sponsors, though it signed an eight-year sponsorship extension in 2012, per the AP. The company is believed to have paid about $25 million per year to call itself the Olympics food retail sponsor, reports Reuters.

It’s not cutting ties completely, however. Under the change announced Friday, McDonald’s will keep domestic marketing rights in South Korea for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, per a release. It will also keep restaurants in the Olympic Park and Olympic Village in 2018. Last year, McDonald’s announced it would review its Olympic sponsorship deal, citing a new advertising rule that allowed non-official sponsors to benefit. In a statement, the company says it will “focus on different priorities … as part of our global growth plan.“ The BBC notes Budweiser, Hilton, and AT&T have also ended Olympic partnerships recently.

In Sports….

The Free Press WV

►  Earnhardt wants to win a title then ride into retirement

Upon further review, hoisting a championship trophy is exactly how Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants to end his career.
NASCAR’s most popular driver caused a stir on “The Dan Patrick Show” when he claimed he would immediately retire if he wins the title this year. The statement followed him to media day for the Daytona 500, and there was no question about it.

“Hell, yeah. I would definitely not want to come back and try to race anymore if I won the championship. I would be outta here,“ he said. “That’s the last box I don’t have checked, really. There’s a few races I’d like to win. The championship would definitely be the icing on the cake for my career.“

Earnhardt is the son of Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, who won a record-tying seven championships over his career. As Earnhardt enters the 18th season of his Cup career, he’s still seeking his first title.

He’s said repeatedly that retirement is not on his radar, and at just 42 years old, he should have many years ahead in his career. But Earnhardt has had concussion issues and missed the second half of last season recovering from one. He is also newly married and says he is looking at life differently.

Knowing how hard he worked to get healthy and back in the race car, he really just wants to dictate his final racing years himself and not have a doctor be the one to end his career.

“To come back this year, win a championship, it would be hard not to hang it up,“ he said. “This is the last year of my (contract). I would like to race more. But if I win the championship, I’d have to consider going out on top.“

Earnhardt qualified second for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 — on the front row next to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott — and is the star of Speedweeks. All the drivers had a chance to address a variety of topics Wednesday. The highlights:

CONCUSSION AWARENESS

The absence of Dale Earnhardt Jr. for 18 races last season raised awareness on concussions in racing, and NASCAR this year has beefed up its concussion policy in an effort to better detect head injuries. Danica Patrick, who raced for years in IndyCar before moving to NASCAR, estimated she’s suffered a dozen concussions in her career.

“Every time you crash you have a concussion on a varying degree, I’m sure,“ she said. “It is a little bit thought-provoking ... because while we’re not football players, we don’t get the repeated hits like in succession over a short amount of time, but it’s rough in the car and the hits are probably singularly bigger.

“There’s nothing better than having somebody like Dale Jr. going so far as to get out of the car for as long as he did and saying, ‘Hey, I have a problem,‘ because it makes it more available for everyone else. I think we like to sweep it all under the rug as drivers like we feel fine and nothing is wrong, but it’s our life.“

TURN 4 TROUBLES

Hendrick Motorsports has been admittedly aggressive in preparing for the Daytona 500, and it may be the cause of the problems the team has had in Turn 4 at Daytona International Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson twice spun in that turn Sunday during an exhibition race, and pole-sitter Chase Elliott got loose in the same spot in practice. In last year’s Daytona 500, both Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun in Turn 4.

“We can’t sit still. We need faster cars. Everybody is working on it,“ Johnson said. “We were very aggressive in the (Clash) trying to create speed for the car, and I’m a guy that likes a loose race car so I was willing to roll dice.“

Johnson also noted that Alex Bowman and Kasey Kahne had no problems with Turn 4 in Sunday’s race.

“We have great notes to fall back on. We had a very good driving car in last year’s 500, and then two teammates that didn’t spin out in the Clash, so we have plenty of notes to go to, but we’re definitely being aggressive.“

TOYOTA TEAMWORK

A solid game plan got Toyota its first Daytona 500 victory last season, and the manufacturer wants to use that same teamwork this year during Speedweeks. It was on display during the Clash on Sunday when the Toyota entries ran 1-2-3-4 for most of the race.

It remains to be seen if the same strategy will work in the Daytona 500. The Toyota fleet now includes a pair of rookies in Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, and neither has much experience in a Cup car.

“Game plans don’t necessarily all work out,“ said Toyota driver Matt Kenseth. “You’ve got to have strong cars to do it. The car has to end up there, not be separated by bad pit stops or strategy. I thought we had it lined up really good in the Clash. We had all four of us in a row for a while.

“We just weren’t quite fast enough.“

RACE FAVORITES?

Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano teamed to win six of the last nine restrictor-plate races, and Logano won the exhibition Clash on Sunday.

It means Team Penske is a heavy favorite for Sunday, and eager for the 500 to arrive.

“I wish it was Sunday right now, I’m ready to go racing,“ Keselowski said.

Austin Dillon praised the way Keselowski raced Sunday, and called a move Keselowski made where he went to the bottom, then the middle, then back to the bottom, “pretty wicked. That was a sweet move.“

Dillon called Logano, Keselowski and defending race winner Denny Hamlin the drivers to beat.

“As a race car driver you always look to be better at certain things,“ Logano said. “When I first started speedway racing, I wasn’t very good at all and I’ve worked really hard at it to become better. I’m confident enough to say I’m the best race car driver out there, but I guess at the same time after the race I’m able to look back at the race and say, ‘Why did I do that? I screwed this up. I did that wrong.‘ I’m able to still find a lot of things that I can be a lot better at.“


►  Only 2 Cities Are Still Bidding to Host 2024 Olympics

The International Olympic Committee is due to meet in September to vote on the site of the 2024 Olympics—but if one more city drops out, they won’t need to. The Hungarian government confirmed Wednesday that Budapest’s bid has been withdrawn, leaving Paris and Los Angeles as the only remaining contenders, the BBC reports. Hamburg and Boston dropped their bids in 2015, and Rome withdrew in September last year. More than 250,000 Hungarians signed a petition calling for Budapest to drop out, saying the money would be better spent on hospitals and schools, reports the New York Times.

The cost of hosting the Olympics has made it an increasingly unattractive proposition in recent years. Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos only started supporting the bid after the IOC introduced its Agenda 2020 reforms two years ago to make hosting the Games more affordable, Reuters reports. On Wednesday, he seemed ready to put the bid to rest. “I never insisted on the Olympics,“ he told the city council, calling for the issue to be resolved quickly. “There is no point dragging out this process like strudel dough.“ If LA wins in September, it will become the first US city to host the Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996.


►  Tom Brady Has a Few Suspects in Stolen Jersey Case

Tom Brady has revealed his list of “suspects” in the case of his missing Super Bowl jersey, posting a “suspect board” on Instagram on Wednesday. The tongue-in-cheek group of shady characters includes halftime performer Lady Gaga, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and the “guy who stole Khaleesi’s eggs” from Game of Thrones. Oh, and also Jaws, because he “takes things without asking” and has a “violent history.“ See all the suspects HERE .

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►  Phil Jackson, Jeanie Buss say they have ended engagement

New York Knicks President Phil Jackson and Lakers executive Jeanie Buss have ended their engagement.

Jackson tweeted a statement Tuesday night in which the couple said because of their professional obligations and geographic distance, “sustaining the relationship has been difficult.“ They added that they had shared wonderful moments and “expect to remain supportive of each other in the future.“

Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president, later tweeted that she would always love Jackson but that the Lakers were the love of her life and “it’s not fair to him or Lakers to not have my undivided attention.“

Jackson and Buss began dating in 1999 while he coached the Lakers and were engaged before he moved across the country to take the Knicks job in 2014. Buss not only encouraged him to take the position but also to coach the team, though Jackson said he knew he wasn’t physically up to that.


►  NFL Team Rains on Parade by Finally Winning Game

Cleveland Browns fans were looking forward to a “Perfect Season Parade,“ though that “perfect” season was meant to be perfectly winless, reports NPR. But then the players had to go and ruin everything by winning their Christmas Eve matchup against the San Diego Chargers 20-17, leaving more than $10,000 sitting in the GoFundMe account created to pay for parade security, insurance, and facilities. The event’s organizers recovered the fumble by making a charitable decision: to donate the money instead to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, News 5 reports, which added its own surprise note. “Thanks to the Browns fans who donated $10k+ to the Food Bank! The @Browns have announced they’re MATCHING with an additional $10k!“ the food bank tweeted on Tuesday, bringing the total received to $20,000. Not bad for a sad season’s work.


►  Russia Admits Doping Was ‘Institutional Conspiracy’

It was an institutional conspiracy,“ Anna Antseliovich, acting head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, admits to the New York Times, marking the first time Moscow has come clean about an elaborate doping scheme that has marred its Olympics competitions. But all is not utter contrition, notes the BBC, which reports her agency later said her wording had been “distorted” and emphasized that the state was not involved in a cover-up. World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren has issued two extensive reports this year that allege Russian athletes downed steroid cocktails and that urine samples were tampered with or swapped. His recent findings spurred the IOC to begin disciplinary proceedings for upward of two dozen more Russian athletes. “From my point of view … we made a lot of mistakes,“ says Vitaly Smirnov, a former sports minister appointed by Vladimir Putin to lead the country’s anti-doping reforms, though, like Antseliovich, Smirnov denies the doping was state sponsored.

That’s not to say, however, that Smirnov and the others are feeling especially apologetic, despite accepting the probe’s core findings. “Russia never had the opportunities that were given to other countries,“ he says, citing hacked medical records that showed Western athletes like Serena and Venus Williams were given the OK to take banned drugs for therapeutic reasons. And the owner of the company that makes the Russians’ Olympic uniforms says time shouldn’t be wasted assigning individual blame and punishing future athletes, noting, “Even during Stalin’s times there was a saying: ‘The son is not responsible for his father’s sins.‘“ The Times speculates Russia may have come around to confessional mode because it doesn’t want to lose out on hosting future Olympics and other events, which regulators had said wouldn’t happen if it doesn’t cop to the doping. McLaren, for his part, says he’s glad Russia is finally conceding, though he also calls it “damage control.“


►  Steelers Coach Has Brilliant Comeback to Bradshaw Slam

NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw raised eyebrows recently when he derided the current coach of his former team—that would be Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers—as not so much a coach as a “cheerleader guy,“ notes NBC Sports. Tomlin’s response is great: He begins with self-deprecation, saying that, like most, he doesn’t qualify as a “great” coach. “Now that being said, terms like ‘cheerleader guy,’ to me, maybe fall outside the bounds of critique or criticism. They probably fall more toward the area of disrespect and unprofessional. But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas [Cowboys] fan. Particularly, a Hollywood Henderson fan.” The unspoken zing? As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains, Henderson was a Cowboys linebacker who years ago said of Bradshaw: He “couldn’t spell cat if you spotted him the C and the A.“

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►  Accreditation group gives ‘warning’ to Baylor University

A leading university-accrediting body has issued a “warning” to Baylor University that the school’s compliance with the body’s standards will be closely monitored for the next year.

Baylor said in a statement it was notified by the Southern Association of College and Schools earlier this month that it will monitor the university’s compliance with three standards: whether university student support services are adequate, institutional control of intercollegiate athletics is firm and a healthy, safe and secure student environment is being maintained.

The Board of Regents has told The Wall Street Journal that 17 women had reported domestic violence or sexual assaults involving 19 football players since 2011, including four gang rapes. They told The Dallas Morning News that about 125 cases of sexual assault or harassment campus-wide were under review.


►  Russia’s lab wizard created drug cocktails but caught cheats

Even as he worked to cover up doping by Russian athletes, Grigory Rodchenkov was developing technology which would help to catch them years later.

The former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory is the star witness for the World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren, whose report Friday accused Russia of operating a state-backed doping program which covered up more than 1,000 tainted drug test samples, including for medalists at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

However, Rodchenkov’s role in helping catch drug cheats isn’t widely known outside a small circle of the world’s leading anti-doping scientists.

Methods devised by Rodchenkov and his former assistant at the lab, Timofei Sobolevsky, to detect two common steroids have become a crucial weapon for drug testers in a wave of retesting carried out this year by the International Olympic Committee, though some dispute the Russians’ work.

So far, 62 athletes — almost half of them Russians — have been disqualified from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in IOC retests after testing positive for turinabol, a banned substance which Rodchenkov helped make much easier for labs to find in samples.

There are also six cases involving oxandrolone, another steroid on which Rodchenkov carried out research, though all but one of those also tested positive for turinabol, a black-market steroid developed in the old East Germany which bulks up muscle and has plagued global sport for decades.

“Even if they are old and quite well known substances, there is continuous research on the metabolic behavior of these substances,“ said Tiia Kuuranne, head of the laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland, which handles retests for the International Olympic Committee.

“These advances are the ones that lead to these kinds of breakthroughs or leaps in doping control.“

Those who tested positive for turinabol in IOC retesting competed for 10 different countries, mostly in the former Soviet Union, and range from Kazakhstan’s Ilya Ilyin, who used his record-breaking weightlifting career to build a following of 400,000 on Instagram, to a Belarusian runner and a Russian wrestler. Many of them deny doping, including Ilyin.

The key advance was the discovery of new turinabol metabolites, the chemical traces left when complex steroids break down in the human body. Turinabol produces a wide range of metabolites, some of them quickly flushed out of a doped athlete’s system, others which can linger for much longer.

If the steroid can be detected for longer, drug testers can catch dopers who ended their steroid use a few weeks before a major event like the Olympics, expecting they could never be caught.

“It’s very non-sexy science to find these metabolites, but it’s really cool what it can do, so many dopers. It’s just amazing,“ says Marcus Ericsson, director of a WADA-accredited lab in Sweden.

Research conducted in 2011 by Rodchenkov and Sobolevsky found six new metabolites. One referred to as M3 in their research proved to be the key, raising the detection window from a few days of last use to as much as seven weeks, Rodchenkov and Sobolevsky estimated.

Rodchenkov and Sobolevsky “had excellent scientific knowledge on methods, on steroid metabolism, really excellent,“ says Peter Van Eenoo, who runs a drug testing laboratory in Belgium and frequently met both men at conferences.

“Grigory, I need to say, also had knowledge which was better than most other lab directors, if not all lab directors, on usage, how people were using, the doses they were using ... It did make some people wonder how he knew about this.“

Turinabol, also known as dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, has not been manufactured for legitimate medical purposes for years but is widely sold on the black market without proper quality control. In many countries, that means it’s difficult to conduct scientific studies using volunteers without breaking medical ethics rules, so it’s hard to tell exactly how long it stays in the human body.

The drug has also been linked to health problems by East German athletes forced to take it during the Cold War.

Before the 2012 London Olympics, McLaren alleges Rodchenkov helped Russian authorities with secret testing of his own before their departure to ensure doped athletes would test clean later. His new discovery about turinabol was published too late to use in testing at the games, but was pioneered by a laboratory in Germany soon after. The new technology began to catch dozens of athletes, though not from the Olympics, because those samples had already been processed.

However, Rodchenkov was playing a more complex game. According to his testimony, he had been doping Russian athletes with turinabol but now, as McLaren writes, “while appearing to be at the forefront of the development of doping detection science, he was secretly developing a cocktail of drugs with a very short detection window.“

Rodchenkov testified earlier this year that turinabol was replaced in the new “Duchess” cocktail with trenbolone, a steroid usually used for muscle growth in farm animals. There is still no new test for trenbolone using long-term metabolites, and there have been no positive cases for it in more than 100 IOC retest cases from 2008 or 2012.

Rodchenkov hasn’t explained his motivations for publishing his research into turinabol, but Van Eenoo, the director of the Belgian lab, suspects an attempt to catch out Russia’s rivals. Many Russians have been caught but other ex-Soviet countries like Belarus and Kazakhstan have seen their Olympic weightlifting programs almost wiped out by turinabol retests.

“If you’re really clever, you’d only do this once you’ve got something else and you want to hit the competition,“ Van Eenoo said.

Rodchenkov’s double life and his lurid testimony of steroids dissolved in whiskey and samples swapped in the middle of the night have led some to doubt the credibility of his turinabol research.

“They can’t be described as those turinabol metabolites using this method,“ says sports lawyer Artyom Patsev, who represents some Russians who failed IOC retests. “What could they be? Maybe they’re metabolites of a different steroid. Maybe they’re metabolites of orange juice.“

Of several lab directors consulted by the AP, some privately expressed reservations about how the original research may have been conducted in the tainted Moscow lab, but all said its findings had been upheld by subsequent work elsewhere. The metabolite in question, they said, could only come from turinabol or “designer steroids” based on turinabol but so close to the original they would also come under the same ban. WADA says it’s a “validated method.“

Rodchenkov left Russia for the U.S. before going public with his revelations. The Russian state’s position toward him varies. Some officials have attacked his mental health or claimed he is being paid to lie, while others, particularly in law enforcement, have painted him as the ringleader in a conspiracy to force athletes to dope.

In Switzerland, Rodchenkov’s public research and his illicit practices have combined to produce the busiest year of Olympic drug retesting ever. More is to come after the IOC said Friday every Russian sample from 2012 would be examined again.

“It has been an interesting period,“ Lausanne lab director Kuuranne said last week of her ever-changing job handling the IOC’s retests. “This, I think, is the spice of any kind of forensic analysis. It’s quite a dynamic field.“

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►  Russia Doped Its Athletes on ‘Unprecedented Scale’: Investigator

The Russian doping scandal just keeps getting bigger: A new report implicates 1,000 athletes in 30 sports over recent years, along with officials at various levels of government. The upshot is sure to be increased pressure to penalize Russia ahead of the 2018 Winter Games. In the report—which amplifies an earlier one in July—World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren lays out 1,166 “immutable facts” he says prove Russia to be guilty of an “institutional conspiracy” between 2011 and 2015, per the New York Times. This involved cheating “on an unprecedented scale” at the 2012 London Olympics, where athletes were given a “cocktail of steroids ... to beat the detection thresholds,“ McLaren says. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency says accusations of cheating haven’t been proven, reports USA Today.

Though his initial report helped ban 30% of Russia’s delegation from the Rio Games, McLaren’s investigation continued. American athletes, for example, have discussed boycotting the world championships in bobsled to be held in Sochi in February over lingering concerns about doping. “Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field,“ McLaren says, per the AP. “It’s time that this stops.“ New evidence presented in the report shows Russian officials swapped or tampered with urine samples, including those of 15 medalists at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Samples from female athletes, for example, had male DNA. IOC’s president has said he supports lifetime Olympic bans for athletes and officials involved.

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►  Bach: World leaders back IOC position on Russian doping

IOC President Thomas Bach says he has received support from dozens of world leaders for the decision not to impose a total ban on Russian athletes from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Bach says he has met with many heads of state and government since the Olympics in August and they all backed the IOC’s handling of the Russian doping scandal.

The IOC was heavily criticized by anti-doping bodies and some athletes’ groups after rejecting calls by the World Anti-Doping Agency for a complete ban on Russia over evidence of systematic cheating. The IOC let international sports federations decide which Russian athletes could compete.

Bach told a meeting of national Olympic committees in Doha on Tuesday that “the acknowledgment and appreciation by so many political leaders was a confirmation of our decision.“


►  Columbia Wrestlers Benched Over Racist Texts

Columbia University is investigating racist and homophobic group text messages reportedly sent by members of its men’s wrestling team just days after similar incidents at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. According to student-run news site Bwog, which received screenshots of GroupMe messages sent over the past three years, “the men in the group message mock women’s appearances, make jokes about rape, use homophobic and racist slurs, and engage in other distasteful interactions.“ Columbia says it has “zero tolerance” for such “appalling” texts, which sparked protests outside the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, home to several Columbia wrestlers, over the weekend, reports the New York Times.

After the wrestling team was forced to withdraw from what was to be its first meet on Sunday, per Reuters, the university “has decided that Columbia wrestlers will not compete until we have a full understanding of the facts on which to base the official response to this disturbing matter.“ The team continues to practice, however. It isn’t clear when an investigation could wrap up. Meanwhile, a Change.org petition calling for wrestlers to be expelled has 900-plus signatures as of this writing. The team’s “use of appallingly violent anti-Black slurs, their blatant anti-Semitism, and their homophobia … celebrates the danger that some of Columbia’s most vulnerable students are put in on and off campus,“ it reads. “This is unacceptable.“

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