Tuesday July 6th, 2010

In its first major tournament without official status as an event on the upcoming Olympic calendar, the U.S. softball team roared through the competition to win the world championship on Friday in Caracas, Venezuela, beating Japan, 7-0, in the gold-medal game. The U.S. team won all 10 of its contests, outscoring opponents 95-6 during the tournament and avenging a loss at the Beijing Olympics to the Japanese, who won the Olympic gold medal by beating them, 3-1, in the final game in 2008. Softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympic program beginning in 2012. Rugby and golf were added for the 2016 Games in Rio, though softball, baseball and other sports will have chances to get back in during subsequent years as the International Olympic Committee tries to update its program. The lack of parity at the top of the sport was one of the reasons cited by IOC members as a need to remove softball from the Games. The U.S. team has now won seven straight world titles since 1986 without surrendering a run in any of the final games. Japan has three straight silver medals, also dropping 1-0 and 3-0 decisions in 2002 and 2006. Alia Haber led the U.S. team with 11 hits, including six doubles, in 18 at-bats during the tournament. Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott combined on the shutout in the final game. Osterman had struck out 12 and allowed one hit in a 4-0 victory against Japan earlier in the tournament.

David Oliver tied Dominique Arnold's U.S. record of 12.90 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles on Saturday at the Prefontaine Meet in Eugene, Ore. The reigning bronze medalist in the event at both the Olympics and world indoor championships, Arnold took the lead at the fourth hurdle in Eugene and easily outpaced the field. Ryan Wilson, the No. 2-ranked hurdler in the U.S. this season, finished second in 13.16 seconds. It has been a strong comeback season for Arnold, the former wide receiver from Howard University who missed much of the 2009 campaign because of a strained calf. He has already beaten Cuba's Dayron Robles and China's Liu Xiang in separate meets this season.

• With the World Cup heading toward its final games, South African officials are already looking ahead at what could be a potential bid for the country to host the 2020 Olympics. The country's president, Jacob Zuma, is expected to meet with IOC President Jacques Rogge at the final in Soccer City this weekend. No African city has hosted an Olympics, although the committee's selection of Rio in 2016 is a further indication that the IOC wants to add greater global diversity to the staging of the Games. Rogge has been publicly encouraging an African city to bid and Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks, an Olympic medalist and member of the IOC's executive board, said last year that a successful World Cup should compel the South African IOC to aim for the next Games that will be selected in 2013. Other African cities have bid for the Games before. Cape Town was among the three finalists considered for the 2004 Games that were ultimately awarded to Athens. Cairo bid for the Games four years later, but did not make the group of four finalists. Possible bids for 2020 are also expected from among Tokyo, Madrid, Rome, Budapest, Istanbul and Dubai. New Delhi and Auckland have also been named as possibilities, though sports officials in India and New Zealand have expressed reservations about costs and logistics.

• Remember it isn't about winning and losing, but rather how you play the game. Just don't play it badly. After a poor showing at the World Cup, the Nigerian soccer team is in danger of missing out on the 2012 Olympics. First the country's president, Goodluck Jonathan insisted that the team sit out the London Games so a new group of coaches and administrators would have time to reorganize the team and national program. The president also called for a review of accounting funds to make sure no money was misspent. That led FIFA, soccer's international governing body, to step in and threaten its own ban against the team for a period that could last until the 2014 World Cup because the federation specifically prohibits governments from interfering in the running of national teams. In failing to advance to the round of 16, the team suffered defeats in its first two games in South Africa, losing to Argentina, 1-0, and Greece, 2-1, before drawing with Korea, 2-2. The team has had better results at the Olympics, where the majority of roster spots are reserved for players aged 23 and younger. Nigeria won gold at the 1996 Games and took silver in 2008 behind Argentina.

• The feel-good story of Dutch speedskater Gretha Smit doesn't feel quite so good these days. Smit was the marathon skating champion who logged many miles on lakes, rivers and ponds and stunningly qualified for the Dutch Olympic team late in 2001 after only recently jumping onto the confines of Olympic-style long tracks. She not only made the Dutch team, but also won a silver medal at the Salt Lake City Games in the 5,000 meters. But this weekend, a Dutch Sports Commission announced its findings that Smit, 34, had offered a bribe of more than $60,000 for Polish rival Katarkyna Wojcicka to drop out of the same race at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Wojcicka was among 16 skaters who had qualified for the race, and Smit was in the position of first alternate. Smit's Canadian coach, Ingrid Paul, was also implicated in the charges, but both have denied involvement. Wojcicka, who allegedly received and rejected the offer, mentioned the bribe last December, spawning an investigation by the Dutch Olympic Committee and Royal Netherlands Speedskating Association. The Dutch national coach, ironically named Ab Krook, was not fingered by the investigation. Wojcicka finished last among the 16 skaters in Turin. Smit has since retired, but is still likely to face sanctions in the coming weeks.

• Who needs snow? The U.S. Nordic combined team held an unseasonal championship, the July 4th Ski Jumping Extravaganza, in Steamboat Springs, Colo., last weekend, pitting the nation's top Olympians from the 2010 Vancouver Games in a combination of summer jumping off a plastic hill and roller skiing along the city streets. Olympic medalist and two-time world champ Todd Lodwick won the event, beating out Olympic teammates Johnny Spillane, Brett Camerota and Taylor Fletcher.

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