Wednesday October 6th, 2010

Just three weeks after the U.S. men's basketball team defeated host nation Turkey in the finals of their world championship, the U.S. women's team knocked off the hosts from the Czech Republic, 89-69, to capture the women's title in Karlovy Vary on Sunday. Angel McCoughtry led the U.S. with 18 points and Diana Taurasi added 16. The victory also gave the U.S. squad an automatic berth in the tournament at the London Olympics.

In recent years, the U.S. women have been more dominant than their male counterparts. Since 1979, the women have medaled at all nine world championships, taking six golds, a silver and two bronzes. The men have won only three golds over the past 14 tournaments. Though the women's championships have been held in countries such as Chile, Colombia, Peru and Malaysia, the U.S. has never hosted any of the 16 women's tournaments held to date. The 2014 championships will be held in Indonesia.

At a basketball summit held in conjunction with the championships, FIBA officials suggested ways to improve and bring more attention to the women's game, including the idea of lowering the rims from their present height of 10 feet. The idea was favorably received, but would still need to be tested by various federations over a prolonged period of time before officials considered it for permanent implementation. Officials also discussed changing the timing of the women's championships to another time of year, or a different yearly cycle, so as not to conflict with the men, who inevitably garner more attention. That proposal, if accepted, could be implemented within the next few years.


On Sunday, more than 60,000 spectators filled Nehru Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India as Prince Charles officially opened the Games and fireworks lit up the night sky. The evening brought a hint of satisfaction to the city, but scandal, building delays and tragedy have rocked the run-up to the ill-fated Games that were to feature 6,500 athletes from 71 nations.

Awarded the Games in 2003 on an announced budget of $100 million, organizers only began building in 2008. With costs soaring to an estimated $10 billion, builders still pieced together venues that are either unfinished or unsanitary. In July, reports surfaced that construction firms were inflating costs and forging documents about meeting building codes. On Sept. 21, a footbridge connecting a parking lot to Nehru Stadium -- the venue for track and field, as well as opening and closing ceremonies -- collapsed, injuring 27 workers. The next day, part of the ceiling at the weightlifting venue tumbled.

Suresh Kalmidi, the organizing committee president, has encouraged the city to place a bid to host the 2020 Olympics, a laughable suggestion given the crisis that has surrounded these Games. Village mishaps ranged from unfinished wiring, poor plumbing and insufficient furnishings to more serious issues of cracks in unstable foundations and excrement left in rooms, the latter presumably coming from desperate construction crewman called in to toil under inhuman conditions. Onlookers described scenes of many workers living in tents or iron huts near unfinished venues as their children played in filthy water nearby. Most worked for below the $4.50 minimum wage with no nearby toilet facilities beyond the ones they were constructing. To date, 42 have died from a combination of building accidents, illnesses brought on by dengue fever and the living conditions during an oppressive heat and an extended monsoon season.

Officials have also had little time to prepare security in a city where on Sept. 19, gunmen on motorcycles shot two members of a Thai TV crew. As a result of the lack of security and unsanitary conditions numerous teams threatened boycotts or delayed flights, and several prominent athletes actually withdrew, including: Australia's Dani Samuels, the world champ in the discus throw; Britain's Peter Waterfield, the Olympic diving silver medalist; and Britain's Beth Tweddle, the floor exercise world champion. When Phillips Idowu, the world champ in the triple jump and a father of two withdrew two weeks ago, he left a Twitter message saying, "Sorry people, but I have children to think about." If only Games organizers had done the same.


With the New York Marathon a month away, defending champ Meb Keflezighi showed he's in peak form with a victory in the Rock n' Roll Half Marathon on Sunday in San Jose. Keflezighi, 35, ran side-by-side with his Mammoth Track Club teammate Patrick Smyth for the first five kilometers before assuming control. He won the race in 1:01:45. Brian Medigovich finished second in 1:04:55. Blake Russell, a marathoner on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, won the women's race in 1:11:55. It was her first race since having a child.

According to Merhawi Keflezighi -- Meb's agent and brother -- the U.S. Olympic silver medalist from Athens has been training with an eye on what may be the greatest challenge of his career: a confrontation with Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, who warmed up for his New York Marathon debut by winning the half marathon at the Great North Run in Newcastle, England in 59 minutes, 33 seconds. Gebrselassie said he had hoped to have better competition to push him in the race, but he was free and clear from the halfway point. Gebrselassie plans to arrive in New York only a few days before the race. Keflezighi will arrive with five or six days to spare, though he is just flying in from the west coast. The pair will have good company in the loaded field that includes Kenyans Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, the four-time Boston Marathon champ, and Martin Lel, a two-time winner in New York; Brazil's Marilson Gomes dos Santos, another two-time winner; and Morocco's Abderrahim Goumri, a two-time runner-up in the race.


In the meantime, the Chicago Marathon will feature some familiar faces on Sunday. Both Joan Benoit Samuelson and Steve Jones, winners of the race in 1985, will honor the 25th anniversary of their near-world-best victories by racing again next weekend. A year after her triumph in the inaugural Olympic women's marathon, Samuelson finished in a U.S.-record 2:21:21. Jones, the rugged Welshman who now lives in Colorado, missed a world best by one second, defending his 1984 title in 2:07:13.

Top contenders in the elite fields include Russia's Liliya Shobukhova and Germany's Irina Mikitenko on the women's side, and Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede and Kenyans Sammy Wanjiru and Robert Kiprono for the men. Top U.S. hope Ryan Hall withdrew from the race because of training fatigue.


European riders dominated the first week of action at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. Being held for the first time in the U.S., the event is the sport's premier showcase outside of the Olympic Games.

Germany's Michael Jung won the individual eventing competition, as Great Britain took home team gold, followed by Canada and New Zealand. The U.S. contingent placed fourth. The New Zealand team featured 54-year-old Mark Todd, a legend in the sport and the individual gold medalist at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Todd retired after the 2000 Games, but started a comeback two years ago. His original horse, Gandolf, died last winter, and Todd took on a new horse for competitions this season named Gross Valley.

Dutch rider Edward Gal swept through the dressage competition, sweeping gold aboard Moorlands Totilas in the individual, team and Grand Prix Special events. Laura Bechtolsheimer of Great Britain finished second while Steffen Peters of the U.S. took third.

U.S. riders enjoyed more success in the non-Olympic event of reining, a predominantly western riding competition that entails a series of spins and quick stops unlike its dressage cousin. Tom McCutcheon rode Gunners Special Nite to a gold medal, with U.S. teammate Craig Schmersal second and defending champ Duane Latimer of Canada third.


Olympic hopeful Sarah Veress is turning a near miss into a new opportunity. The Stanford grad placed third in the hammer throw at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. with a toss of 68.60 meters, but failed to earn a spot in Beijing because she had not met the A-standard (69.50m) required to earn a place at the Games. Instead, fourth-place finisher Loree Smith ended up joining Jessica Cosby and Amber Campbell at the Games.

On Sunday, Veress, 27, won the 75-kilogram division at the U.S. Weightlifting Open in Colorado Springs, Colo. giving her hope in a second Olympic sport. Veress had dabbled in soccer and jumping events before settling on the hammer throw. She naturally incorporated weight training into her preparation for the event, but had never competed until last week. She recorded a total of 164 kilos in the snatch and the clean and jerk events.

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