The country's top two-sport phenom has made a career choice.
Lukas Verzbicas, one of the best high school distance runners in history, will leave the University of Oregon after two months, less than one cross-country season, to pursue triathlon full-time. He ultimately hopes to qualify for the Olympic team in 2012.
Verzbicas moved to the U.S. at age nine with his family from Lithuania, where his mother, Rasa Verzbickiene, had once broken the national record for the 3,000 meter run. Both of his parents are track & field coaches, so Verzbicas practically grew up on a track.
During his high school career, Verzbicas broke the national high school record for the indoor 5,000 meters, and he topped several national freshman high school records: the indoor mile, two-mile and 5k; and the outdoor two-mile. He also became the fifth U.S. high school student in history to break the four-minute mile barrier, joining Jim Ryun, Tim Danielson, Marty Liquori and Alan Webb. Appropriately, Verzbicas was named high school cross-country athlete of the year as a sophomore and junior in Orland Park, Illinois before graduating early and skipping his senior year.
When he learned that fellow triathlete and best friend Kevin McDowell had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma last March, Verzbicas postponed his running career in order to compete in triathlon, honoring McDowell. In September, Verbzicas won the world junior triathlon title in Beijing, leaving him with a tough career and academic decision.
In an admittedly abrupt move that surprised some Oregon officials, Verzbicas announced midseason that he would relocate to UC-Colorado Springs in January and become a resident at the USOC's Olympic Training Center. Several moves supported his decision. His stepfather, Romas Bertulis, was named head of the Elite Triathlon Academy that began in Colorado Springs three months ago. Verzbicas, who will turn 19 in January, is also not yet a U.S. citizen, and rules for international representation are now less restrictive for triathlon events than for track and field competitions.
In another sign that he is rounding into shape for the London Olympics, Michael Phelps won all five races he entered at the Minneapolis Grand Prix swim event this past weekend. Phelps, who was neither shaved nor tapered for the meet, captured the 100 and 200-meter butterfly races, the 100m backstroke, 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. Though none of his times were close to personal bests, his winning time, 1:57.58, in the 200m IM on Sunday night was the fourth-fastest in the world this year, but still well off the 1:54.00 world record swum by Ryan Lochte at the World Championships in Shanghai this summer. Phelps still holds the world record (4:03.84) for the 400m IM, but has already said he will not swim that race in London next year.
On Sunday, the U.S. women's ice hockey team captured the Four Nations Cup, the most prestigious tournament outside the World Championships and Olympics. Hilary Knight scored the clinching goal in a 4-3 shootout win to secure the title in the final game against Canada, as the U.S. team enjoyed a stunning 60-38 edge in shots on goal. The victory avenged a 3-1 defeat to the Canadians in pool play. The U.S. also defeated Sweden, 8-0, and Finland, 10-0, earlier in the week. Goaltender Jesse Vetter made 35 saves in the championship game and was named MVP of the tournament. Kelli Stack scored five times and was chosen as the tournament's best forward, while Kacey Bellamy earned best-defenseman honors.
Rio police stormed through the Rocinha favela, the city's most dangerous and drug-infested slum, last week, in an apparent show of force, taking over an area near the famed Maracana soccer stadium previously off-limits to law-abiding citizens and offering another sign that the city will be safe for visitors during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Rio Governor Sergio Cabral hailed it as a "historic day for all of Brazil." But don't get too comfortable just yet. This was as close to a staged police action as possible. The raid, conducted with seven helicopters and 24 armored vehicles, was announced in advance, giving time for cartel and gang members to flee and, most important, to avoid the violence that has often accompanied these periodic raids in the past. A month before Rio staged the Pan-Am Games in 2007, police drove into Rocinha on an unannounced operation, killing 13 ringleaders in a gunbattle that lasted five hours. Ten others were wounded.
The IAAF awarded the track and field world championships to London in 2017, putting to rest the controversy over what will happen to the Olympic stadium after the 2012 Games. In their bid for the Games, London organizers had promised to leave a legacy of a new stadium designed to stage future athletics meets, but the West Ham soccer team has since made a strong push to take over the stadium after the Games, throwing the promise into peril. London won the rights to host the championships by a 16-10 vote despite an eleventh hour push by Doha, Qatar that offered $29 million in added cash incentives through guaranteed television and sponsor revenue, if the Games could be staged in Qatar. In all, Doha's financial commitment, including more than $7 million in prize money for athletes, totaled just over $235 million and would have made it the largest budgeted world championship ever staged in any Olympic sport other than soccer's World Cup. Moscow will host the championships in 2013. Beijing will host in 2015.
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame announced its group of eight new inductees on Monday. Aerialist Joe Pack and alpine star Eva Twardokens will lead the group that will be inducted in Seattle on April 14. Pack won one Olympic and two bronze medals and reached 12 world-cup podiums in his career. Twardokens was a two-time Olympian and world medalist.
Traditional powerhouses from China and Russia dominated the field at the World Weightlifting Championships in Paris. Chinese lifters led all teams with six golds and 13 total medals followed by Russia's total of four golds and eight medals. Six world records fell in the competition including marks in the snatch by superheavyweights Behdad Salimi (214 kgs.) of Iran and Tatiana Kashirina (147 kgs) of Russia. China's Zhou Lulu hoisted a combined total of 328 kgs., the most ever lifted by a woman. U.S. lifters were shut out of the medals and also the top ten across the board. Sarah Robles finished 11th in the 75 kg division to mark the team's highest finish. As a result, the U.S. qualified just two Olympic slots for women and one for men next summer.