You might be surprised at who's hopped on the Olympic bandwagon
Last weekend, on the resplendently powdered slopes of Vail,
Colo., the World Snowboarding Championships were held, and they
were unlike anything seen in Salt Lake City. The crowds numbered
in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Goggled spectators
mingled with goggled competitors in the laid-back base lodge. In
the absence of network TV coverage, contest schedules were
constantly changed. Like many snowboarding events, it was barely
Beneath the surface, however, a dramatic shift was taking place.
Before the Winter Games, many of the world's leading
snowboarders, including the U.S.'s Tara Dakides and Norway's
Terje Haakonsen, had been defiantly indifferent and even hostile
to the Olympics, what with the Games' overcommercialized
corporate ethos. But last week in Vail, in the wake of the Ross
Powers-Danny Kass-J.J. Thomas Olympic sweep in the men's
halfpipe and Kelly Clark's gold in the women's halfpipe, even
the old schoolers acknowledged that the stakes had changed. In
short, snowboarding has gone mainstream, and its famously
antiestablishment athletes were making noises about coming
onboard for the ride.
Which isn't to say that snowboarding's hard core has taken the
Olympic oath just yet. Many top riders still chafe at the idea
of being regulated by the Federation Internationale de Ski
(FIS), the sport's governing body. As the old schoolers see it,
the FIS is responsible for the outdated judging system used in
Salt Lake City, which rewarded such pedestrian tricks as
straight airs, in which a rider grabs his or her board in the
air but doesn't spin. The competitors in Vail pulled off tricks
that were far more creative and eye-popping. There was, for
example, Mike Michalchuk's signature double back flip with two
spins, a move that would have been less appreciated in Salt Lake
than it was at Vail, where it received high marks from the
International Judges Commission, a progressive group that
encourages pushing the limits.
Still, the sport's momentum coming out of the Games is
undeniable. For that to continue, the FIS hardliners should
embrace snowboarding's rebel roots. They should stop ignoring
the sport's highest-profile stops, like the World Championships,
the U.S. Open and the Winter X Games, and make them Olympic
qualifying events for 2006. They can also replace the Games'
lame parallel giant slalom event--sorry, but snowboarding has
never been about racing--with the more popular slopestyle, the
individual downhill event that mixes big-air jumps and slide
"Snowboarding still has 15, 20 years before it plateaus, if we
grow it right," says Jay Moore, head judge at the Worlds. "Right
now, everybody in America thinks snowboarding's cool. The thing
is, it could be so much cooler." --Josh Elliott
THE MONIKER MORASS
NAMING RIGHTS DEALS
If you want to bring a joyous Patriots fan down to earth, ask
him to remind you of the name of the place where New England
will play next year. CMGI Field may be an unwieldy mouthful, but
it was only one of the awkward titles borne of the stadium
naming rights boom that began in the late 1990s. Between '98 and
2000, 27 teams struck naming rights deals with corporate
sponsors worth an average of nearly $100 million each. Now,
however, along with the national economy the naming rights
market is sputtering, leaving a number of teams searching for
any sponsor and several teams scrambling to get out of fruitless
or image-damaging partnerships.
Both the Ravens' PSINet Stadium and the Panthers' National Car
Rental Center have been left out in the cold recently after
their title sponsors filed for bankruptcy. More notoriously, the
Astros filed a motion on Feb. 5 seeking a release from their
deal with scandal-tainted Enron. In the meantime no fewer than
15 venues are searching for corporate partners. The Seahawks,
for example, are only months away from opening their new stadium
but are still looking to set up a naming rights deal.
Teams that have formed partnerships are doing so cautiously. "We
weren't in a hurry," says Eric Stisser, director of corporate
sales and marketing for the Rams, who after a yearlong search
signed a $31.8 million contract last month that will allow
brokerage firm Edward Jones to lend its name to their stadium,
the erstwhile Trans World (as in the defunct airline TWA) Dome.
"We wanted to make sure we were getting involved with a company
that would be around for a while."
Like the economy, the naming rights market will bounce back.
"Sponsorship deals are a necessity," says Dean Bonham of the
Bonham Group, a sports marketing firm that orchestrated a number
of stadium deals. "The vast majority of team owners need the
revenues, and low-profile companies need to become recognizable
names." That's why CMGI has no intention of breaking its
15-year, $114 million commitment to the Patriots, even though
the stock of the Internet firm has plummeted 95% since the deal
was signed in 2000. In other words, tough luck, Pats fans.
Put these ball players in ascending order of age. (Hint: Don't
rely on baseball's official media guides.)
Bartolo Colon, Indians pitcher
Deivi Cruz, Padres shortstop
Rafael Furcal, Braves infielder
Ramon Ortiz, Angels pitcher
Neifi Perez, Royals shortstop
Timo Perez, Mets outfielder
Enrique Wilson, Yankees infielder
1. Furcal. The 2000 National League Rookie of the Year admitted
on Feb. 15 that he's 23, not 21 as previously stated. As is the
case with the other players listed here, the discrepancy came to
light when Furcal applied for a visa in the Dominican Republic.
(Tighter security procedures since Sept. 11 have led to
increased scrutiny of passports and other official documents in
that country.) Furcal, who had 40 stolen bases in 2000, was
stripped of the single-season record for steals by a teenager.
The mark has been restored to Ty Cobb, who had 23 stolen bases
in 1906 as a 19-year-old.
2. Timo Perez. Not 24, as believed, but 26. The age correction
and subsequent visa problems have caused Perez, who's fighting
for a major league job, to report late to New York's camp.
3. Colon. Last week, fireballer (left) was revealed to be 27,
4. Wilson. When he signed with Twins in 1992, his agent shaved
two years off his age. Last week this well-traveled utility man
revealed he's 28, not 26.
5. Neifi Perez. Perez revealed he too is 28, not 26. Said Royals
general manager Allard Baird, "I would be concerned if he were
30, 32 years old."
6. Cruz. Aged three years, from 26 to 29, which could hurt the
recent free-agent pickup, who's battling highly regarded rookie
Ramon Vasquez, 25, for the starting job.
7. Ortiz. Also aged three years, from 26 to 29. "We're excited to
have a more mature, knowledgeable player." says Angels vice
president Tim Mead.
Chest thumping is passe. Raising the roof is so five minutes
ago. The on-court preening gesture du jour in the NBA is the
"antennas up" salute. Introduced by the Clippers' Darius Miles
and Quentin Richardson in a Spike Lee-directed commercial (left)
for Nike's new Air Jordan XVII sneaker, the motion consists of
bouncing your closed fists off the top of your forehead, as if
you were pulling up invisible antennae. Following Miles and
Richardson's lead, many of the Clippers have taken to using it
as a taunting gesture after a spectacular move. Now other NBAers
have also picked up the salute, for the most part without
knowing the meaning of the motion. "I have no clue what it is,"
says Heat guard Eddie Jones, a nonantenna man. "What are these
young kids going to come up with next?"
Miles and Richardson will say only that the move began as their
inside joke. Already the race to define a new signature gesture
is on among the league's other young guns. Says the Bulls'
19-year-old Tyson Chandler, "I don't know what the heck it is,
but Eddy Curry [also 19] and I have been trying to put something
together. They brought national attention to what they do, so
it's time for us to step in and get us a little something."
A Full Press
Which is the more pressure-packed situation: having to nail a
triple axel to win an Olympic gold or staring down a
three-footer to win the Masters? Sports is all about scores and
statistics, yet its defining moments are associated with intense
pressure, a wildly subjective quality. However, although
pressure may not be quantifiable, a relative scale can be
established. For instance, athletes in individual sports face
greater pressure than those in team sports. (The Bills' Scott
Norwood was in a bind when he came in to kick the deciding field
goal with eight seconds left in Super Bowl XXV, but at least he
could blame his teammates for putting him there.) Do-or-die
scenarios are more dire than situations involving tie games.
Also, the fewer shots at redemption you have, the greater the
pressure; it's not so bad if you can say, "There's always next
year." Finally, the longer you have to chew on your situation,
the higher the tension.
That said, here are the five most pressure-filled sports moments
in recent memory:
5. Michigan guard Rumeal Robinson's two game-ending free throws
in the 1989 NCAA title game. With three seconds left and the
Wolverines trailing Seton Hall by one point in overtime, he sank
both--even after the Pirates called a timeout to ice him.
4. Roberto Baggio's penalty kick in the shootout of the 1994
World Cup final. Italy trailed Brazil 3-2 in the shootout.
Baggio needed to score to avoid defeat. He didn't.
3. Tiger Woods's six-foot putt on the last hole of the 2000 PGA
Championship. Needing to sink it to force a playoff with Bob May,
Woods did and then won the playoff.
2. Bernhard Langer's six-foot putt on the last hole of the 1991
Ryder Cup. He missed, and the Europeans, who would have won had
he made it, lost the Cup to the Americans.
1. Michelle Kwan's long program at the 2002 Winter Olympics. She
had four years to prepare for the most stressful four minutes in
sport, but came up short.
The feud between Lance Armstrong and 1998 Tour de France winner
Marco Pantani. "He is a great rider, but not a great champion.
He's clever at making the most of his sickness," Pantani told a
Madrid paper, referring to the three-time Tour champ's successful
battle against testicular cancer.
Why climbers pass gas at high altitudes. According to a recent
report in the U.S. journal High Altitude Medicine and Biology,
mountaineers who climb higher than 11,000 feet are susceptible
to a condition called High Altitude Flatus Expulsion, or fits of
violent flatulence, because the stomach's resistance to the
expansion of gas is reduced.
MSNBC's report on the death of Wall Street Journal reporter
Daniel Pearl. The cable station waited 40 minutes after CBS
first reported the news so that it would not interrupt the gold
medal curling match between Switzerland and Great Britain.
"Obviously, if there's something of the magnitude of Sept. 11,
we'll cut into coverage," says MSNBC spokesman Mark O'Connor,
"but this didn't warrant it."
Willie Thrower, the first black quarterback in NFL history, of a
heart attack at age 71. Thrower played his first and last game in
the league with the Bears on Oct. 18, 1953, completing 3 of 8
passes in a loss to the 49ers. It would be 15 years before
another black quarterback took a snap in an NFL game.
British golfer Colin Montgomerie, by heckling at U.S. events.
Claiming he was taunted by fans during his loss to Scott McCarron
at last week's the Match Play Championship, Montgomerie said he
likely won't play in any U.S. events after 2002. "There's only
one thing worse than losing, and that's spending another day in
your country," Montgomerie snapped at a fan.
Gimme a Pee!
Introduced in 1998, Stadium Pal, a $24.95 strap-on catheter that
allows male sports fans to relieve themselves without leaving
their seats, was a big enough hit that the device's makers are
introducing Stadium Gal, which offers female fans the same, uh,
comforts. We sent two reporters--one male and one female--to a
Clippers-Knicks game last month to try out the gadgets.
I was living every man's dream: kicking back in a $200 seat,
knocking back Madison Square Garden's finest Scotch, taking in
the cool celebs sitting within bounce-pass distance: the Beastie
Boys, Sandra Bernhard, Magic Johnson. All the while my johnson
was fixin' to work a little magic of its own. I was prepped to
take a whiz right there in my chair, and if all went well, never
again would I have to kow-tow to my wussy bladder and miss a
crucial stretch of game. Two Scotches and the aqueous sound of a
Charlie Ward swish later, it was go time. Talk about a sweet
The Stadium Pal isn't perfect: I developed a kink in my tubing
(go ahead and laugh) that temporarily prevented my urinary
output from finding its way into the pouch attached to my calf.
Plus, I practically had to summon a mohel to remove the sticky
condomlike apparatus from my member later that night. I ended up
dipping myself into a glass of warm water to ease the
extraction. Still, it sure beat having to wait on line to take a
leak next to some Clippers fan with bad aim. --Jamie Bufalino
Telltale signs only a man could have invented Stadium Gal: The
how-to manual begins by instructing me to "assume a type of
'frog leg' position" and "use a ruler to measure the valva [sic]
opening." It goes on to promise me "long-lasting satisfaction."
Yeah, like I haven't heard that before.
Nonetheless, I went into this assignment with an open mind and a
full bladder. I arrived to watch the Knicks with the Gal's 18
inches of tubing elegantly snaking its way around my
fishnet-covered legs. Sure, I had a momentary cork-up when the
woman next to me implied I was a blight on the sisterhood when I
told her I had on the Gal--"Women would never need this," she
scoffed. "Men are just weak"--but something about the announcer
yelling "Spreeeeeewell!!!!" opened the floodgates.
And wouldn't you know it: Allan Houston, we have a problem. Even
done secretly, peeing in the middle of Madison Square Garden is
a shame-filled experience. But that's nothing compared to the
embarrassment--not to mention excruciating pain--of spending 45
minutes in a scalding hot shower trying to remove the Gal's
adhesive glue from my "valva." Of course I did emerge with a
bikini wax, which leads me to the one good thing about the Gal:
It brought me a step closer to being a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
swimsuit model. --Jessica Shaw
Move over, Anna and Sergei: The sports world's newest buzz
couple is Martina Hingis and Sergio Garcia. Rumors about a
Hingis-Garcia pairing have been circulating since the beginning
of the year, when Garcia, an avid tennis player, showed up to
watch Hingis at the Australian Open. Then paparazzi shots of the
duo tooling around Spain in Garcia's blue Ferrari turned up in
European papers earlier this month, and last week Hingis (right)
was a conspicuous presence in the gallery at the Match Play
Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., where Garcia lost in the third
round. When asked by a reporter about "a certain tennis star" in
the crowd during a match last week, Garcia coyly smiled and
said, "I guess she likes golf." ...John Rocker is a psycho. The
Rangers' reliever will make his acting debut this year as a
killer in a low-budget slasher film called The GreensKeeper. In
the movie--which is being produced by a small Atlanta production
company and costars Playboy model Christi Taylor--Rocker plays a
madman who dresses up as a golf course greenkeeper and offs a
bunch of country club types using assorted gardening tools.
Kevin Greene, one of the film's producers, says Rocker was
surprised when offered the role but warmed to the idea quickly.
"I think he understands that his public persona can be utilized
in entertainment," says Greene. The producers are looking for a
national distributor but hope to premiere the film in Atlanta in
May.... Prime Time is going prime-time. On Friday, Deion Sanders
will cohost the 51st Miss USA competition with former Miss USA
Ali Landry (better known as the Doritos girl in those Super Bowl
ads). "I'm a big fan," Sanders says of the event. "I think every
man with a heartbeat is a big fan." To prepare, Deion, the first
athlete to host the show, is leaving nothing to chance: "I've
been on the phone with my tailor, and I'm going to get my nails
done, as well as a full makeover." Where have you gone, Bert
Five Top Snowboarders You Didn't See in Salt Lake City
Terje Haakonsen NORWAY Norse boarding god is still world's best
but skipped Games (as he did in 1998) because of FIS involvement.
Kevin Jones U.S. Three-time Snowboarder magazine Rider of Year
is sport's premier slopestyler, an event not on Olympic schedule.
Tara Dakides U.S. Like her boyfriend, Jones, the sport's most
famous female star eschews halfpipe in favor of slopestyle.
Jussi Oksanen FINLAND Haakonsen's heir apparent has his
countryman's talent--and his distaste for FIS judges.
Shaun White U.S. Teenage phenom fell short in bid for U.S.
halfpipe team but won slopestyle competition at World
Days after Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said, "You couldn't
ask for a better citizen than Doc Gooden," that the former Cy
Young winner was charged with DUI in Florida.
Miles that Hall of Famer Bob Gibson allegedly pursued a driver
who had cut him off in traffic in Omaha; the chase ended in a
fight, and Gibson received a citation for third-degree assault.
Winners, since 1966, of NASCAR's season-opening Daytona 500 who
have gone on to claim that year's Winston Cup championship.
Winners, since 1966, of NASCAR's second race, held at North
Carolina Speedway, who have gone on to claim that year's Winston
Fans at a cricket match in New Zealand who, during a tea-time
break, chanted, howled and beat their chests to simulate the
sound of Orcs for use in The Two Towers, the upcoming second
film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
More than 2,000 entries have been received at
www.whenwillojkillagain.com, an online betting pool in which
contestants pay $1 to guess "the date when O.J. [Simpson] will
Jim Shea Jr.
thrills, skeleton is the moonshine of thrills."