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Bummer Of A Run For Bode

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- I took the 90-minute trip up the hill to the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center on Sunday morning, expecting to see Bode Miller make history. Instead, he made excuses.

Miller, looking to become the oldest man to win an Olympic alpine event, finished eighth in the downhill. He crossed in 2:06.75, more than half a second slower than the 2:06.09 he recorded Saturday in his second practice session. Austria's Matthias Mayer won the gold in 2:06.23. Christof Innerhofer of Italy took silver and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, the favorite coming into the Olympics, settled for bronze.

As usual, Miller began fast. Starting in the 15th position, he covered the first interval in 25.44, putting him well ahead of the leading pace. He was still flying at the second interval. But he lost a lot of ground in the middle of the course and was well off medal pace heading into the final stretch.

Miller leaned forward, his head in his hands, after seeing his time posted. He slumped down and sat on the snow in evident disappointment.

"This can be a tough one to swallow," Miller said, "having skied so well in the training runs and come in and be way out of the medals. But I think I skied really well, honestly. I was super aggressive. The conditions didn't favor me today, but all things considered, I skied really well."

Miller said the middle of the course slowed considerably by the time he raced. Mayer said later that he thought the first 10 or so competitors had a slight advantage. Miller said the visibility was a problem. He had thrived in sunny conditions in practice, but it was cloudy on Sunday and he said it was difficult for him to see the snow as he sped down the hill.

"I would have loved to win, obviously," he said. "This is the premier event and something I thought about quite a bit. When it's out of your control, that kind of takes the disappointment away more or less. I mean, I don't think I would change much. I think I skied well enough to win, but it just doesn't happen sometimes."



Bode Miller Tears It Up In Training Run

SOCHI, Russia -- Bode Miller issued one last warning call to his Alpine rivals here Saturday morning, finishing his final training run on the treacherous downhill course at Krasnaya Polyana with the fastest time of the day, a stunning 2:06.09 clocking.

Miller's time was .66 seconds better than the second-fastest of the day -- world downhill champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. There were 10 racers who failed to finish on the icy hard conditions. A few crashed. Another 19 decided not to line up. Miller, 36, was in his element.

"I was going to go easier but seeing those first couple of guys crashing, I decided not to do that," Miller said. "It is so damn fast and the snow is so hard that you don't want to sacrifice edge pressure and grip on the snow for aerodynamics If you are not totally focused, this course can kill you. It is one of those courses where I don't think you are safe going easy."

"The whole middle [section] you can see the glare ice reflection, but I just said, (bleeping) bring it'. It's a pleasure for me to ski on this track. I would be angry with myself if I had wasted this opportunity to properly run on this track."

Sunday morning's final is shaping up as a two-man battle between Miller and Svindal, who seemed resigned to the fact that Miller is the main competition.

"I think I will have to beat Bode Miller," Svindal said. "He is really fast and skis really well. What he is doing is impressive."

Live blog: Opening Ceremonies in Sochi

Road to Sochi / Steven Holcomb

Steven Holcomb, 33, is attempting to become the first American driver since 1932 to win consecutive Olympic golds in the four-man bobsled. He’s also entered in two-man and looking to be the first American since 1936 to win that event. No U.S. bobsledder has ever won both in the same year.

Steven Holcomb, center, and his team are going for back-to-back golds in four-man bobsled. (Getty Images)

Four years ago in Vancouver, Holcomb guided the first U.S. four-man sled to capture gold since 1948. His crew included Steve Mesler, the Buffalo native and City Honors graduate, who has since retired.

Holcomb, a native of Park City, Utah, began as a downhill skier, but soon found his true calling as a bobsled driver. John Morgan, an NBC commentator and bobsled veteran, marvels at Holcomb’s equanimity on the course and said "He was born to drive a bobsled."

He was also born with a serious, degenerative eye disease, which nearly cost Holcomb his sight. In his autobiography, "My Journey From Blindness to Olympic Gold," Holcomb wrote of his battle with depression – and a suicide attempt – as he dealt with the possible lost of his vision.

Holcomb had surgery on his eye in March of 2008 and won the World Cup a year later. "I didn’t really have any options," Holcomb said in a Voice of America interview. "It was retire and go blind or save my eyes and continue my career. I was lucky. It worked out fabulous and I have 20-20 vision.

Speedskating's Point Guard

SOCHI, Russia -- Leave it to me. I go halfway around the world to cover the Winter Olympics and the first great interview I get is with a basketball player.

Brittany Bowe, one of the rising stars on a talented U.S. long-track speedskating team, played four years as the point guard at Florida Atlantic University from 2006-10. But growing up in Ocala, Fla., Bowe's singular dream had always been to compete in the Olympics.

She had been an eight-time world champion in-line (wheels) skater as a girl. So after watching the some of her former teammates and rivals from the in-line world competing on ice in Vancouver, she decided to get back on skates. Ice skates.

"It kind of lit my fire," Bowe said Thursday in a team interview session in the Main Press Center. "I knew I needed to make the transition onto ice and move to Salt Lake City in July of 2010 to try to make this Olympic dream a reality."

Bowe was intimidated at first, but she applied herself with her usual vigor and became one of the best in the world.  She made her first World Cup podium in the 1,000 meters in January, 2013, and won her first World Cup gold medal in the 1,000 six weeks later. This past November, she set a world record (1:12.58) in the 1,000 meters on a fast track at Salt Lake City.


She has become a leader on the U.S. long track team, which is the most talented American group in 12 years. Bowe's coaches credit her for helping forge the strong bond between the skaters on the national team. She said it was a natural progression from her days as a college point guard.

"In basketball, I always loved having the ball in my hands," said Bowe, whose parents grew up in Victor. Most of her extended family still lives in the Rochester. "I was the point guard. I liked being in control. On the ice, being an individual sport, I'm in control of everything I do. So I think that's pretty cool and kind of relevant.

"I never want to step on other people's shoes," she said, "but it's kind of in my blood to be a leader. Getting on the national team, I kind of led by example. I found myself within the team and found who everybody else was on the team. If you want to be a leader, it's important to know who you're working with."

It helps that teammate Heather Richardson, the 2013 world sprint champion, is her good friend and roommate.  Bowe and Richardson give the U.S. a rare double sprinting threat among the women. It's also unusual because both of them are from the South, which isn't known for producing ice skaters. Richardson is from North Carolina, though she didn't play basketball as a kid.

"We've had some games together," said Bowe, who still has dreams of playing pro basketball some day. "She's getting better. She's developing a nice little jump shot, for sure."

Road to Sochi/Brooks Orpik

(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)


Orpik, who was a steady defenseman on the U.S. team that won silver four years ago in Vancouver, will try again to add a gold medal to the Stanley Cup he won with the 2009 Penguins. Orpik is expected to be in a paired with Paul Martin, his blue-line partner for Pittsburgh.

In early December, Orpik suffered a concussion on a cheap shot by Boston's Shawn Thornton, putting his Olympic prospects in doubt. But the former Amherst resident returned to the ice two days after Christmas and was selected for his second U.S. team.

Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Sabres, Orpik had one goal and 11 points for the Penguins, who are the overall leaders in the NHL's Eastern Conference.

But Orpik isn't relied on to score. It's his steadying influence and veteran leadership that are invaluable to a hockey team. At 33, he is the second-oldest player on the U.S. team after Miller, who is a few months older. Orpik knows how to get ready for the physical demands of an Olympic year.

"It's all about making sure you prepare yourself properly for the game," Orpik said. "Especially in an Olympic year, you have to be disciplined. Your off-ice habits have to stay together. You usually don't get that West Coast trip with one or maybe two games in five days.

"It's now like three games in four days. And now we have long travel to deal with to go to Russia for the Olympics. This isn't Vancouver. You're really going to have to fight to stay sharp."








Road to Sochi/Lolo Jones

(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)


One thing you can count on at an Olympics: Where Lolo Jones goes, controversy will follow. Jones will make history in Russia when she becomes one of 10 athletes to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games. Last month, she was named the third brakeman on the third women's bobsled after just two years in the sport. Lauryn Williams a former Olympic sprinter, is also on the team.

But Jones' selection caused resentment among several American bobsledders, who felt the choice was more a reflection of her fame than her talent. "I should have been working harder on gaining Twitter followers than gaining muscle mass," said Emily Azevedo, one of the women who lost out to Jones.

"My name was called and it was a deep sigh of relief," Jones told USA Today.

Jones, 31, competed in the hurdles for the U.S. in the Beijing and London Olympics. She was expected to medal in the 100-meter hurdles in 2008, but clipped a hurdle near the end of the race and finished seventh. She finished fourth in London. Jones was criticized during those Games by veteran New York Times writer Jere Longman, who said the attention Jones received was "based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign."

It's no wonder her rapid ascent in bobsled has caused such conflicting feelings. Jones, a three-time track NCAA champion, is a terrific athlete, but a polarizing figure who has never won an Olympic medal. She caused a stir in a 2012 interview by announcing that she was a virgin. She was interviewed on Jay Leno before the London Games. She recently appeared on Today and the NBC Nightly News.

Last year, Jones posted a video of her modest paycheck from the U.S. bobsled federation, upsetting some of her national teammates. Still, it was the federation that picked her for the team. While Jones is on the weakest of the three women's sleds and not expected to medal, the U.S. bobsled leaders felt she was a worthy choice.

"I haven't heard anyone making the argument about Lolo not being a better athlete right now," said Darrin Steele, CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skelton Federation. 

Russell Wilson: The NFL's Biggest Bargain

The next time you hear some old guy rant about how "a contract is a contract" and athletes have no right to renegotiate, try to remember Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who led Seattle to a Super Bowl championship Sunday night in his second season in the NFL.

Wilson is the best bargain in the NFL, and maybe all of sports. Because he was drafted in the third round in 2012, he is finishing the second year of a four-year, $3 million deal. That's tip money for the average starting NFL quarterback. But Wilson is making peanuts because he was a late draft pick and rookies get their contracts slotted by when they're selected.

 Next year, Wilson is due to get a hike to $817.302, or less than long snapper Garrison Sanborn made for the Bills last season. Is it his fault that the entire league passed him by twice, because he was supposedly too small to be a starting QB in the league?

Wilson's deal gives Seattle great flexibility to bolster other positions on its team. That's a big deal in a salary cap league. Many teams (Denver, for one) pay huge bucks to the quarterback, which compromises their depth at other positions. That showed in the Bowl when the Broncos were thin on defense and paid for it against an opportunistic Seahawks offense.

If I'm Wilson's agent, I'm asking for a raise. It's only fair. He had no control over his original contract (same as Jairus Byrd). That's the case in pro leagues that have drafts and restrict the ability of players to choose  where they play. And that's why it's perfectly reasonable for players to want more money when they've outperformed contracts that were the result of the NFL's inability to judge their real talent.

Go ahead and make the tired argument that a contract is sacred. This isn't the real world. It's sports. If you make that argument, you should also be pushing for the abolition of drafts, too.


Road to Sochi/Shaun White

(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)


White, the best snowboarder in the world and perhaps the most famous athlete in the Games, will attempt a daunting double in Russia. He'll attempt to win a third consecutive gold medal in the halfpipe and also win the slopestyle event, which will be contested in the Olympics for the first time.

It's a tough assignment. Many of the other top snowboard competitors will limit themselves to one event or the other. White used to dominate slopestyle, which requires riders to negotiate a series of rail, jumps and boxes. He's a five-time gold slopestyle gold medalist in the Winter X Games. But he stopped competing in slopestyle to concentrate on halfpipe.

The slopestyle final is on Feb. 8, the first Saturday of competition. White will have face a tough field, led by Canadians Mark McMorris and Max Parrot, who won gold at the X Games last  month. White skipped the X Games to train privately. He had never missed an X Games; he medaled in every Winter X Games between 2002 and 2013.

Snowboard fans are eager to find out if White, 27, is still good enough to rise above the field. He has reinvented himself since Vancouver. He has shorn the long red locks, along with the nickname "The Flying Tomato." He has a more conservative look these days and has a rock band called "Bad Things." White plays guitar. The band's first album is scheduled to come out early next year.

White has a multitude of sponsors and has grown very wealthy through snowboarding. He has been featured on TV and in movies. He has an array of business interests, including cameras, drink makers and clothing. He still loves the sport, but says he has learned to be more judicious with his training on the board and more involved with physical conditioning.

But is he still the greatest snowboarder in the world, or is legion of rising stars going to take him down?

"This will be my third Olympics," White said last month. "So I know the drill about what goes on. But every single time around it's different. That's what's so exciting."

Road to Sochi/Sarah Hendrickson

(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)


Before she was 10 years old, Hendrickson was on posters hailing her as "The Future of Women's Ski Jumping." Hendrickson, 19, lived up to that lofty promise two years ago when she won the first women's World Cup. Last year, she won nine of 13 World Cup events and became the world champion.

Hendrickson was seen as the top U.S. hope for gold medal in the 2014 Olympics, which will be the first time women are allowed to take part in the event. The sport had closed its doors to females for two centuries. But in 2008, women from five countries filed a discrimination suit against the organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, seeking the right to compete. In time, the IOC relented.

Last August, Hendrickson overjumped a hill and tore up her right knee while training in Germany. She tore the ACL and MCL and figured the worst. 

"I laid at the bottom of the hill and thought everything was over," said Hendrickson, a native of Salt Lake City. "My dreams of being an Olympian were over."

Hendrickson spent five months, rehabbing six to eight hours a day, to come back. She called it the hardest thing she ever had to do. But last month, she resumed jumping on the 90-meter hill in Utah and was named to the first U.S. women's team later in January.

While Hendrickson was rehabbing, Japan's 17-year-old Sara Takanashi was winning eight of nine World Cup events and establishing herself as the favorite for gold in Russia. It remains to be seen whether Hendrickson will be able to perform at an elite level in what has been dubbed as "The Sara of the East vs. the Sarah of the West" in Sochi.




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