Tuesday December 22nd, 2009

Even though he has never won a World Cup race, biathlete Tim Burke achieved a major breakthrough when he took the lead in the points standings and earned the right to wear the yellow jersey when the season resumes. The honor is similar to the one bestowed on the leader of the Tour de France as the cyclists progress through the stages of the race. No man from the U.S. Biathlon Team has ever worn the leader's jersey, but Burke's sixth-place finish in a 12.5-kilometer pursuit race in Pokljuka, Slovenia, on Sunday left it on shoulders. "I think every biathlete has thought about [wearing the yellow]," Burke, 27, said after the race. "It really hasn't hit me yet."

Despite equipment issues and a wildly inconsistent start to her season, Lindsey Vonn grabbed the lead in the overall World Cup standings last weekend after a victory and third-place finish in Val d' Isere, France. Vonn won the super-combined event on Friday thanks to a blistering run in the downhill. Her pal Maria Riesch of Germany made up half the 1.5-second deficit in the slalom run to close the gap somewhat, but couldn't catch Vonn. After bad weather forced officials to cancel the downhill on Saturday, Vonn skied a strong but flawed super-G on Sunday to finish third and cement her place in the standings. She leads Riesch by 50 points heading into the Christmas break.

Remember the name Ross Powers? He's a demon on the halfpipe, right? Not any more. As the Olympic champ from the Salt Lake Games in 2002, Powers has been there and done that, so now he's taking on a new discipline: snowboardcross. Granted, both are snowboarding events, but that's like saying Michael Jordan can play baseball because both sports have a ball. Powers placed third in the snowboardcross World Cup event in Telluride, Colo. on Saturday, reaching the podium despite a horrible start in the final race.

Powers became enamored with his new challenge when he watched the debut event at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, where he was an alternate. He now finds himself squarely in the mix to qualify for another Olympics with an eye to speed on a slope rather than tricks on a pipe.

The (almost) best of times followed the worst of times for bobsled driver Steven Holcomb last weekend on one of the world's toughest tracks in Altenberg, Germany. On Saturday, Holcomb crashed his sled on the treacherous Turn 13 during the second of two runs, sending himself and teammate Justin Olsen on a sideways ride. Neither athlete was injured. Despite needing surgery to repair a degenerative eye problem two years ago, Holcomb won the world title in 2009 and had not crashed his sled in competition since 2003. He bounced back the next day, taking the silver medal in the four-man event with teammates Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz. Holcomb now has 1,053 points to lead the World Cup four-man standings. "The hardest thing for a driver is to get back and go again after a crash," he said. "This is probably the hardest course in the world."

Germany's Andre Lange drove his sled to victory in both races.

The U.S. Luge Team completed its final raceoffs last week in Lillehammer, Norway and announced its Olympic squad. World champion Erin Hamlin will lead the women, along with Julia Clukey and Megan Sweeney, who had to defeat her 16-year-old sister Emily during a raceoff to secure the final berth. The men's singles team features Tony Benshoof, who has been battling back problems all season, and Chris Madzer and Bengt Walden, who previously competed at the Olympics for his native Sweden. Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin survived a three-race raceoff against Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall to earn their fourth trip to the Games as a pair. Grimmette has competed in five Olympics overall. The duo has won bronze and silver at the Olympics and has been on the podium six times at the World Championships. Christian Niccum and Dan Joye will also compete at the Vancouver Games.

The roster for the U.S. women's hockey team was finalized last week, with no major surprises. Defender Angela Ruggiero and forward Jenny Potter were the only two members named to their fourth Olympic teams. The pair has won one medal of every color. Forward Angie Keseley and defender Rachael Drazan were the final cuts by head coach Mark Johnson, a former member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team that won gold in Lake Placid.

Team USA is younger in average age (23.5) than Team Canada (26), and even though the U.S. defeated Canada at the World Championships earlier this year, the rivalry between the two has recently turned one-sided. Canada last week took two games, a 4-2 decision in Denver and a 6-2 thumping in Calgary. The Canadians controlled play for the balance of the two, outshooting the Americans in five of the six periods of play. The U.S. is now 1-5 in recent action against Canada and will have two more cracks at its likely Olympic finals foe -- on Dec. 30 in St. Paul and Jan. 1 in Ottawa.

Sarah Kwak: Canada cause for concern

U.S. oarsmen fared very well as the International Rowing Federation announced its annual award winners last week. Erin Cafaro and Susan Francia shared Female Crew of the Year honors after winning gold medals in pairs and eights at the World Championships in Poznan, Poland. Tom Terhaar was also recognized as the Womens Coach of the Year. Cafaro, 26, and Francia, 27, were members of the eights team that captured Olympic gold in Beijing.

Now that he's broken a 27-year drought for U.S. runners at the New York Marathon, winner Meb Keflezighi will try to snap another at the Boston Marathon in April. Both Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, and his training partner Ryan Hall, the winner of the 2008 Olympic marathon trials, have announced that they will join the Boston field on Patriot's Day. The last U.S. runner to win in Boston was Lisa Larsen in 1985. No U.S. man has won since Greg Meyer in 1983. Kenyan men have captured 16 of the last 19 Boston Marathons.

It's been a rough year for U.S. softball players, who saw their sport's bid to rejoin the Olympic program rejected in October when the IOC opted to add golf and rugby instead. Last week, the International Softball Federation announced that it would have to move the 2010 World Championships from Oklahoma City to Caracas, Venezuela because of a scheduling conflict with the Central American and Caribbean Games. Only a handful of teams would have been able to participate in both tournaments had the ISF kept its original dates (July 9-19). Organizers in Venezuela offered to schedule the championships during a more favorable time period (June 23 -- July 2), hence the change.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.