Sports Outside the Beltway

Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Karine Ruby dead at 31

She died in a mountain climbing accident. How Tragic. RIP.

Karine Ruby, a former Olympic snowboarding champion who had been training to become a mountain guide, died Friday in a climbing accident on Mont Blanc. She was 31.

Ruby was roped to other climbers when she and some members of the group fell into a deep crack in the glacier on the way down the mountain, Chamonix police official Laurent Sayssac said.

A 38-year-old man from the Paris region also died in the fall, and a 27-year-old man was evacuated by helicopter with serious injuries and hospitalized, Sayssac added.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon called Ruby an “exceptional sportswoman.”

“Karine incarnated the emergence of snowboarding in France,” Fillon said in a statement. “The people of France will hold on to the memory of her talent and her joie de vivre.”

Ruby won a gold medal in the giant slalom at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and a silver in the parallel giant slalom at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

She was a six-time world champion with 65 snowboard World Cup victories.

She retired after the 2006 Turin Olympics, where she was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the snowboardcross event.


Colorado Rockies fire Manager Clint Hurdle

He had led the Rockies since 2002. From AP-

The Colorado Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle on Friday, less than two years after their incredible “Roctober” run to the World Series, and replaced him with bench coach Jim Tracy for the rest of the season.

Without reliable hitting, pitching or defense, the Rockies stumbled to an 18-28 start and were 14½ games behind Los Angeles in the NL West heading into Friday night’s action.

“It was been a tremendous ride. It has been life lesson after life lesson,” Hurdle said. “And I will tell you this, the last seven weeks I have said the serenity prayer more times than I did in the last seven years.”

Hurdle, who had been Colorado’s manager since replacing Buddy Bell three weeks into the 2002 season, was 534-625 for a .460 winning percentage in his seven-plus seasons.

“Obviously, he takes the sword for us,” first baseman Todd Helton said in a subdued clubhouse. “He didn’t have any bad at-bats, he didn’t throw any bad pitches. He’s the same manager he was two years ago. So, we realize that ultimately we’re the reason he got fired.”

I agree Hurdle did nothing wrong. The Rockies just haven’t performed and the manager as always makes a convenient scapegoat. Tracy has managed both the LA Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. While the Pirates stunk during Tracy’s term with the team and would have done so with anyone in the job, the Dodgers arguably were one of baseball’s biggest MLB underacheivers from 2001-2005. Tracy is unlikely to alter Colorado’s fortunes this year.


Board votes to discontinue harness racing at Prairie Meadows

The Iowa track is cutting back on all forms of horse racing. From the Des Moines Register-

Prairie Meadows’ board voted to adopt a new racing format for 2010 over the objections of thoroughbred owners, who said a shorter season would cripple horse breeding in Iowa.

The board voted 9-0 with three abstentions in favor of a 2010 season that would have a 56-day thoroughbred meet followed by a 30-day quarter horse season, and no harness racing.

This year, Prairie Meadows offers a 50-day thoroughbred season, a 32-day mixed thoroughbred-quarter horse meet and a 16-day harness meet.

Betting and horse breeding have decreased over a decade, and the thoroughbred meet has fought horse shortages and small fields. The track in 2008 paid $20million in purses while taking in $4.8 million in pari-mutuel betting revenue. Including other expenses, the total loss has been estimated between $23 million and $29 million.

These losses occurred despite the fact that Prairie Meadows being a casino in addition to its hosting horse races. This throws cold water on the beliefs of some horsemen that other forms of gambling can save racing industry.

If there are any Iowans among my readers, can one of you tell me if there are any other harness tracks still operating in your state? I seem to recall there being one in the Quad Cities area of the state.


Former NHL player Peter Zezel dead at 44

His best seasons were with the Philadelphia Flyers in the mid-1980′s. The AP article makes no mention of the controversy at the end of Zezel’s career. He had a niece who was very ill in the Toronto area, so Zezel requested a trade to an Eastern team. At the time Zezel was playing for the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks traded him, but to Anaheim the team furthest from Toronto in the NHL. Zezel retired rather than play for the Ducks. The trade, made by then Canuck GM Brian Burke, was heavily criticized at the time. RIP.

Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44.

Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died on Tuesday. Zezel suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001.

He was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his conditioned worsened.

“Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice,” Zezel’s family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.”

The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists.

His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie “Youngblood” that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19.


LPGA Tour Championship set but without sponsor

The successor to the ADT Championship will be played this November in Texas. From AP-

The LPGA Tour is going ahead with its season-ending Tour Championship without Stanford Financial.

The tour said Tuesday the LPGA Tour Championship will be played at The Houstonian Golf & Country Club on Nov. 19-22.

What remains puzzling is the 120-player field with limited daylight in Houston that time of the year.

The field will be cut to the top 70 and ties after two rounds, then cut to the top 30 players after the third round. The purse is $1.5 million, which is only $240,000 more than first prize at the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.

No exclusive field, no million dollar winner. Sounds like any other tour stop to me. I make a bet Tour players wish the ADT Championship was still around.

Also blogging on this news- Hound Dog who asks “So how long will it take for Ms. Bivens to start plugging her Tour Championship as “the fifth major”?”


Back to the finals- Pittsburgh sweeps Carolina

Pittsburgh became the first NHL team in 25 years to make it to the Stanley Cup finals the year after being defeated in the finals. From AP-

The Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup finals, clinching a return trip with a 4-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night that finished off a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. Pittsburgh lost to Detroit last year in a six-game final series.

“We didn’t touch [the trophy] last year, and things didn’t go the way we wanted,” Crosby said. “I thought we’d change it up this year.”

Max Talbot had a goal and an assist, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin also scored, and Craig Adams added an empty-netter.

Crosby had two assists to extend his point streak to six games, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the final 30 shots he faced in shutting down Carolina during the last 58 minutes.

The Penguins outscored the Hurricanes 20-9 in the series, netted at least three goals in each game, and trailed for a total of 20 minutes, 30 seconds, in advancing to the Cup finals for the fourth time.

No doubt, the Penguins were impressive in how they dismantled Carolina. I just don’t think they can beat Detroit. Admittedly, I never thought Penguin would get this far in the playoffs either.


Kentucky horse racing ‘in serious jeopardy’

Say it ain’t so. From

Under the backdrop of an empty paddock at Churchill Downs, officials of Kentucky racetracks–including The Red Mile’s president and CEO Joe Costa–gathered for a press conference Wednesday afternoon to plead their case for expanded gaming in the Bluegrass State.

In making his comments at the Louisville track which was closed Wednesday for live racing after a request to cut one day from its weekly schedule was granted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Costa noted that Standardbred racing “is the canary in the coal mine,” noting that between The Red Mile, Thunder Ridge and Player’s Bluegrass Downs there are just 76 days of live harness racing in the state in 2009.

Costa used a college basketball analogy in comparing Kentucky’s plight against neighboring states which have expanding gaming at its tracks. Costa posed the question to the crowd of about 150–which included major media outlets from across the state including Lousville and Lexington and several horsemen including Bernard “Chip” Wooley, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and veteran trainer Bernard Flint–that universities such as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky would not be able to compete on the basketball court if they were unable to offer scholarships as schools such as Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are.

Bob Evans, president of Churchill Downs, bluntly stated, “If you think it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse.” Evans then added, “The time to act is now. We simply can’t wait any longer. All we are looking for is to pass a simple piece of legislation.”

Even if the tracks get the legislation they want, it hardly guarantees horse racing in Kentucky will survive. As we’ve seen in case, after case, after case, slots and other types of gambling don’t draw sufficient people to race tracks to keep them operating as their owners hoped and planned to.

I love horse racing myself, but can understand why most people have little interest in going to the track. You watch a race for two minutes, then basically do nothing other than handicap the next race and place your bet till the next post time that isn’t for another 20-30 minutes. Simulcasts from other tracks help to fill the time, but the number of people in the United States who enjoy the ‘Sport of Kings’ any more is continues to dwindle. I’m not optimistic about the future of horse racing.


NHL may bump up Cup finals start date

As it stands now, hockey fans will see a repeat of the 2007-08 final. From AP-

According to multiple sources, if the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings can wrap up their respective Conference final series by Wednesday night, the Stanley Cup finals likely would start on Saturday, May 30 in Detroit. In this scenario, Game 2 would be played on Sunday, May 31.

This is a change from a May 22 press release from the league that indicated that the championship series would begin on Friday, June 5, if both Conference final series didn’t end in four-game sweeps.

The Penguins can close out their series with a victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Tuesday night. The defending champion Red Wings, meanwhile, have positioned themselves to advance with a win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday in Detroit.

I think Chicago is more than capable of taking Detroit to Game six. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has so dominated Carolina, I would be surprised if the series don’t end in a sweep.

I think bumping up the schedule is a good idea if the semi-finals end early. Why wait a week to begin the final round?

The NHL may be making this schedule change to accomodate NBC’s programming more than to satisfy its fans need for closure to the 2008-09 hockey year.

For the past several days, the league has been working behind the scenes with NBC, which has limited prime time real estate to devote to the Cup finals due to important “sweeps” week programming and the Tonight Show re-launch with new host Conan O’Brien.

According to wikipedia, May sweeps are over and the next isn’t till July.

NBC concentrates on just a small handful of NHL teams for their broadcasts. Two of whom are Detroit and Pittsburgh. I’m sure network executives are delighted these teams will battle it out for the Stanley Cup.


Tampa Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura out for the year with a knee injury

This news is a definite blow to the team’s chances to repeat as American League champions.

Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura will miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his left knee.

Iwamura was injured trying to turn a double play in the eighth inning Sunday against the Florida Marlins and was carted off the field.

He will have surgery after the swelling goes down, according to Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

The infielder is in his third season with the Rays after playing in Japan’s Central League. In 44 games, Iwamura was hitting .310 (48-for-155) with no home runs, 16 RBIs and eight stolen bases in nine attempts.

Iwamura is a good offensive second baseman.(Good OB percentage, plus good ability to hit doubles and triples) As a defensive player, he did a good job transitioning to 2nd base from 3rd base. 2nd base is the toughest position other than catcher to play on a baseball team. It is also the one that sees the most injuries. Iwamura is 30 years old, and this injury could have serious career consequences for him.

Tampa will have a tough time replacing Iwamura.


In a blaze of glory- Yani Tseng wins the final Corning Classic

It was the Taiwan born golfer’s first LPGA win since last year’s LPGA Championship. From AP-

The LPGA Corning Classic certainly received a memorable farewell.

Just when Yani Tseng seemed headed for a playoff Sunday with fellow South Korean Soo-Yun Kang, Tseng watched in amazement as Kang missed a 3-foot par putt on the final hole.

Tseng, 2008 LPGA rookie of the year, finished at 21-under 267, one shot better than Kang (69) and Paula Creamer (65).

Japanese rookie Mika Miyazato (70) finished alone in fourth at 19 under, while Song-Hee Kim (67) of South Korea, Ai Miyazato (68) of Japan, Sandra Gal (69) of Germany and Vicky Hurst (69) were another shot back.

It was the second career victory for the 20-year-old Tseng, who won the 2008 McDonald’s LPGA Championship in a four-hole playoff with Maria Hjorth.

“I’ve been waiting for a year to win a tournament,” Tseng said. “I wrote my [winning] speech in January. Every time I get so close and I don’t win. This week I just let it go.”

Tseng finished 2nd five times last year, and once this year. That enabled her to climb to #2 in the Rolex rankings only to Lorena Ochoa. I think Yani is very talented, but I’m not sold that she is the second place female golfer on this planet.

Soo Yun Kang’s 2nd place finish was by far her best performance since the 2005 ADT Championship. I was pulling today for the ‘Fashion Model of the Fairways’. Partly because I planned to use the words Fashion plate in a headline. Another chance may never arise I fear.

For the second consecutive weeks an Asian born golfer has won on the LPGA Tour. I guarantee none will win next week. Only because there is no tournament. Just another hole in the LPGA schedule brought to you by Carolyn Bivens. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the players were going to Atlantic City instead?


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