Tuesday January 5th, 2010

The snowboarding community and the sports world at large have rallied around Kevin Pearce, the 22-year-old Olympic hopeful from Norwich, Vt. who suffered a brain injury during a practice run on the halfpipe last week in Utah and remains in critical condition. As of Tuesday morning, more than 14,000 people signed on to the Facebook group Well Wishes to Our Friend Kevin Pearce. The site has received notes of support from fans and fellow snowboarders, but also from many survivors of traumatic brain injuries who have described the productive lives they now lead.

A recent posting from his brother, Adam, reads as follows: "Kev continues to maintain his condition with some positive signs. He is extremely determined and can definitely feel all of your love and support. Still can't thank all of you enough."

Pearce was practicing a Double Cork maneuver, two backflips with a twist, when his ski caught an edge and flipped him onto his forehead on Dec. 31.

In a sport renowned for staunch independence and, often, irreverence, Pearce has been a sportsman. He had a halfpipe built for his personal use in Mammoth, Calif. and has invited many of his teammates -- in effect his top challengers -- to train with him. The group was tabbed The Frends, with a missing letter "i" to suggest, in effect, that there was no self-interest among the group.

He worked hard to overcome dyslexia and he often speaks of looking to inspiration from his brother David, who was born with Down's Syndrome.

Though the hospital in Salt Lake City will not accept cards, gifts or packages, his family said he would welcome cards that are sent to:

Mosaic Sports Management c/o Kevin Pearce 829 Second St. (Suite B) Encinitas, CA. 92024

General manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson have brought a new look to the 2010 men's Olympic hockey team. The squad averages 26.5 years of age and only three of the team's 23 members have previous Olympic experience: Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Drury and Brian Rafalski. Gone are known commodities such as Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Scott Gomez. (As a side note, the player with the most experience as a member of Team USA at all tournaments, (i.e. world championships, under-18 championships, world juniors) is defenseman Ryan Suter, with 56. Ryan is following in the skate steps of his father, Bob Suter, a gold medalist on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.) Still, the squad is heavy with NHL experience as 16 teams are represented on the roster.

On paper, the team's greatest strength is in goal, where Buffalo's Ryan Miller is as good as anyone in the game when he's on, and Boston's Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy last season. (Kings netminder Jonathan Quick is the No. 3 goalie, who will likely not play in medal-round games, if at all.) That's good news in a tournament that becomes a single elimination run of three games once a team reaches the quarterfinals. For that reason, a hot goaltender can steal a gold medal, as Dominik Hasek did for the Czech Republic at the 1998 Nagano Games.

The U.S. women's hockey dropped two more games to Canada, the squad it is likely to meet in the Olympic final in Vancouver. The Canadian women have now bested their Southern neighbor in seven of 10 contests this season. Last Wednesday in St. Paul, the U.S. team dropped a 2-1 decision to the Canadians, despite holding a 41-27 edge in shots on goal, including 32-13 over the final two periods. Charline Labonte made 38 saves, further asserting herself in the competition for playing time with Kim St. Pierre and Shannon Szabados between the pipes for Canada. Karen Thatcher scored the lone goal for the U.S. team.

On Sunday in Ottawa, Labonte again stood out in pacing Canada to a 3-2 win by stopping three U.S. tries in a shootout. Labonte's heroics thwarted the efforts of Julie Chu, who had scored with 17.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the score for the U.S.

Less than two weeks after winning the U.S. trials, Johnny Spillane won the first Nordic combined world cup of his career in Oberhof, Germany on Sunday, finishing 30 seconds ahead of the pack in the cross-country phase of the competition. Spillane used to see the ski portion of the event as a weakness and a source of what he once called "consistent inconsistency." After a strong jump, he began Sunday's race just two seconds back, then overwhelmed Austrian veteran Felix Gottwald in building his sizable advantage on the snow. It was Spillane's first individual podium since 2007.

Spillane said he learned from a meltdown during a 10K race on Saturday, when he began with a 23-second hole after the jumping phase. He rallied to grab the lead, held onto first place until the final 8.6 kilometers into the race, then fell behind Finland's Hannu Manninen and eventually dropped from second place to fourth in the final two-tenths of a kilometer.

With world champ Bill Demong finishing eighth and 13th in the two races, Spillane has now emerged as the country's best hope to become the first athlete to win an individual Olympic medal in the Nordic combined. The prospects in the team event may be even stronger.

Is it too soon to worry about Lindsey Vonn's arm injury? Vonn missed a gate during Sunday's World Cup slalom race in Zagreb and skied off-course during her second run. The zero cost her the lead in the overall World Cup standings, as she fell five points behind Maria Riesch of Germany.

While Vonn was skiing with pole taped to her left hand and a brace on the arm she injured in a giant slalom race a week ago, France's Sandrine Aubert won her third slalom race of the season, establishing herself as an early favorite to win that Olympic race in Whistler. Granted, Vonn skied with a taped pole last season after cutting her wrist on a champagne bottle, but, as she points out, the discomfort was localized during the season; this injury affects her entire arm, and at least for now, is affecting her balance and making her more tentative as she attempts to shift her weight quickly in anticipation of an abrupt turn.

She'll have fewer of those next weekend when she competes in the speed events as the women ski two downhills and one Super-G in Haus im Ennstal, Austria.

British Olympic Association Chairman Colin Moynihan has proposed a bill within the U.K.'s House of Lords that would allow authorities to raid the houses of suspected doping cheats during the 2012 London Olympics. Police in Turin pulled similar raids on the Austrian biathlon and Nordic teams during the 2006 Games. They confiscated both illegal substances and equipment used during blood transfusions during the raids. Canadian law enforcement officials have already received authority to conduct raids at the villages in Vancouver and Whistler next month if they believe they have probable cause and are able to obtain a search warrant.

During those London Olympics, Australian hurdling star Jana Pittman-Rawlinson may have a new look. The two-time world champion in the 400-meter hurdles announced this week that she had breast implants removed, in anticipation of a final run at an Olympic medal. Pittman-Rawlinson, 27, was an early favorite to win gold at the Beijing Games, but missed the Olympics because of a toe injury in 2008. She made the controversial remark that she first had the implants because she did not want to look like a man, as she felt many of her competitors did.

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