February 11, 2010

Chris Erskin is in Vancouver, to cover his first Winter Olympics for the LA Times and had this to say: “I am here in search of Sonja Henie, my first Olympics ever. They should’ve known better, obviously. In fact, when they first mentioned my going, I just assumed it was some sort of hoax. The Olympics, really?
What do I know about the Winter Games? To me, they are Jim McKay in my father’s sweater and 500 dudes named Sven.

Besides, I don’t travel particularly well. Me flagging a media bus in a new city is like Charlemagne chasing the Saxons. But OK, whatever. I like the snow.
And I adore that Sonja Henie.

So here I am. Let the mind games begin.

First, let me just note that if the Brady Bunch had their own country, it would be Canada.

This earnest nation seems so well-meaning, so good for the mind and spirit, it may well be made of antioxidants. They’re pouring on the hospitality here and it’s making me a little uncomfortable. No, for the fourth time, I don’t want more iced tea. Thanks, though. No, seriously, no more tea. OK, thanks.

After almost two days in this sugar-glazed country, here’s what I’ve managed to discern so far:

* The Canadians love hockey the way the Germans love opera.

* There’s more snow in Big Bear right now than at Cypress Mountain, site of this year’s half-pipe.

* I think I’m being followed.

Yep, they have someone from the tourism bureau shadowing me, like I’m Hunter Thompson. She’s a sweet kid by the name of Emily and right now she’s no doubt reevaluating her choice of careers. To her, the military is looking mighty good right now.

Trust me, kid, I’m no Hunter Thompson. He carried a gun and had better drugs. All I have is a half keg of NyQuil and a notepad. How much harm — or
good — can I do? (See bus, above.)

Yet, for all my limitations, I’m on the trail of some very important stories. Like, what’s with those Olympic mascots, the ones who look like the offspring of SpongeBob SquarePants?

One of them, a sea bear thingy named Miga, says in an interview that she likes to warm up with a good stretch and “a few practice butt wiggles. It’s my
signature move.”

Obviously, if I can nail that story, instant Pulitzer.

As if that’s not enough, there is something here in Canada called a Loonie, which sounds vaguely illicit, when in fact it’s their word for a one-dollar coin. I think.

I’m also trying to find out what you can buy up here for less than 20 bucks (early indications, nothing).

I’m all over that one too.

Frankly, I’ve been all over Vancouver the last day and a half. It’s hard to believe that at one time, this was just another old mill town. Arriving here — over water, past mountains — is like landing on a piece of jewelry.

In my early reporting, I’ve learned that Vancouver was founded in 1867 by a saloon keeper known as Gassy Jack. He’s gone now; presumably, he exploded.

In his place is a gleaming, multi-textured place with heavy Pac Rim influences, mixed with some very British DNA. Folks come down from the Yukon for the weekend and many never leave. That’s the allure of Vancouver. Marry Santa Monica with Chinatown with Balboa Island, then triple it.

Add a lot of coffee too. I’ve seen towns with an abundance of Starbucks before, but this is ridiculous. There are coffee shops within coffee shops. Like little Russian pocket dolls.

Good thing too, because as much as you’ve heard about the melting snow, it is bone chilling here in Vancouver. Wednesday, the temperature barely broke 50.
Seriously, how do people live here?

Quite well, apparently. It seems every view is a seascape. The cherry blossoms are blooming and the daffodils are awake a month early. There are palm trees — palm trees? — on the edge of town. How a place with palm trees nailed a Winter Games is beyond belief.

It would make no sense, except that Vancouver is ringed by some of the finest mountains on Earth, and for two full weeks it will also be ringed by Olympics rings. Two days till opening, everything seems nearly perfect.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Schwarzenegger is about to run the torch. Yeah, that Schwarzenegger. No word yet on whether he’ll be tested afterward.

Man, this is going to be fun.“

Bob Molinaro, of, said that he’s starting to change his mind. “There’s a move afoot to expand the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams.
Too bad for Roy Williams and his floundering Tar Heels that expansion can’t be implemented until 2011.
It could happen that fast if the NCAA opts out of its current broadcast agreement with CBS following the Final Four in order to re format its television deal to include the larger tournament field and split-rights coverage between an over-the-air partner and a cable network.
If TV and more money are involved, chances are very good that the NCAA’s new motto will be, “Bigger is better.”
In that case, let the complaining begin. College fans in love with the current 65-team tournament are already expressing outrage over the alleged conspiracy to dilute a great event.
That was my first reaction, but I’m trying to remain open-minded. There’s a first for everything, right?
Those of us opposed to expansion of the field will argue that it provides undeserving opportunity for too many relatively inferior teams.
This, in turn, will produce too many unattractive match-ups.
And everybody understands the damage a bigger bracket does to the regular season. It makes it even more meaningless.
Besides, why fix what ain’t broke?
The sticky problem for dissenters, though, is that these are precisely the same arguments that were used when the tournament expanded from 48 teams to 64 in 1985.
We complained then that the NCAA was inviting riff-raff, and that this would detract from the grandeur of the competition.
Instead, the opposite reaction took place among fans. Office pools grew into a national phenomenon.
Lowly, double-digit seeds were instantly embraced. Today, the highlights of every tournament include mid-majors taking down, or throwing a scare into,
marquee teams. People love that, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Zealots will tell you that the tournament is the year’s grandest sporting event. But they exaggerate.
The first couple days of the tournament create most of the excitement. Interest peaks among casual observers when the plucky underdogs challenge the household names, but anticipation diminishes as the marquee teams move along, asserting their dominance.
A larger field would mean 31 more games over an extra week. The top 32 teams would get byes.
The tournament’s configuration would require some adjustments by fans, but people would be left with more hoops – and perhaps more lovable overachievers.
Would that really be a turn off?
No, I’m not convinced that 96 is the way to go. But maybe we should resist knee-jerk reactions, especially when some of the outspoken supporters –
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski – have nothing to gain by expansion.
Also, by creating a 96-team field, the NCAA could absorb the 32-team NIT, which it also owns. Eliminating the NIT isn’t the worst idea.
Krzyzewski is a recent convert to the 96-team concept. A few months ago, he warned against diluting the product, but recently said, “I don’t think we put
enough value on the regular season. By expanding to that – and not having the NIT – you reward everybody who wins the regular season.”
An automatic NCAA bid for the team that finishes first in the standings – in addition to the slot reserved for the conference tournament champion – would be an attractive proposition for mid-major leagues that struggle to get at-large invitations.
“You’re rewarding regular-season champs,” Krzyzewski says.
This, he notes, can only enhance the attractiveness of mid-major conference games in February’s dead zone.
It’s a potentially effective rebuttal to objections over a 96-team field.
While I’m not yet a convert, I can recognize another argument: Nothing succeeds like excess.
It’s a philosophy that has served big-time athletics very well over the years.
Maybe it will again.”

Greg Logan, of NY Newsday, wrote about the serious need for blood testing in prize fighting. “Shane Mosley was desperate enough for a major payday and
for the chance to reclaim his soiled reputation that he agreed to Floyd Mayweather’s demands for Olympic-style random blood testing as a condition for their May 1 bout in Las Vegas. The testing requirements for the bout were the same ones rejected by Manny Pacquiao when his planned bout with Mayweather fell apart.
In announcing the Mosley matchup last week, Mayweather adviser Leonard Ellerbe said his fighter is “happy to set the precedent for random blood testing in order to ensure fair and safe contests for all fighters.”
But anyone who thinks this agreement set a precedent for either Pacquiao or the Nevada State Athletic Commission is dead wrong. “I think [Ellerbe] was
saying it sets a precedent for guys that fight Mayweather, but that’s between Mayweather and the other side in future fights,” Keith Kizer, executive director of NSAC told Newsday. “It’s a private contractual clause.”
Asked what effect it might have on future championship bouts in Nevada, Kizer was blunt. “Nothing from our standpoint,” he said. “Whether Mayweather or Mosley or Golden Boy will have that in their fight agreements is something for them to answer. But it won’t affect the way we do things.”
In fact, Kizer has no idea who will administer the random blood tests to Mayweather and Mosley before their bout, and he added it would be viewed as “supplemental” to the Nevada commission’s own testing program for performance-enhancing drugs.
“I would want a copy, though, of each and every test result they do for a fight in Nevada,” Kizer insisted. “We’ll request a copy directly from the lab.”
Under Nevada regulations, fighters submit urine samples before and after their fight that same night. They are subject to what Kizer described as
“Olympic-style” protocols. But blood testing is not part of the process.
Travis Tygant, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, recently called the tests administered by state boxing commissions “a joke” because of the lack of blood testing or testing for EPO, a blood oxygen enhancer.
Kizer said Nevada is comfortable with using urine testing which is much cheaper. “We also have a much smaller budget than USADA,” Kizer said.
Besides testing on fight night, Nevada occasionally conducts out-of-competition urine testing. Kizer said Mayweather and Pacquiao were tested at the end of December, and both results were clean.
In grand jury testimony related to the BALCO investigation, Mosley admitted using “the cream” and “the clear” while preparing for his 2003 bout with Oscar De La Hoya. Mosley has maintained he didn’t know he was receiving steroids. As a result, he has been required to provide grand jury testimony and lie
detector test results to the NSAC.
“He’s been tested here several times, as well,” Kizer said of Mosley. “We want to make sure he’s going to be clean when he fights Mayweather.”
As for Pacquiao, who has been accused by the Mayweather camp of using steroids, he will undergo normal urine testing for his March 13 bout against Joshua Clottey in Dallas. “Assuming Manny and Floyd both win, which is a big assumption, they could reach some sort of agreement for supplemental testing,” Kizer said of a potential future bout. “But that’s up to them.”
In other words, it will be back to square one if and when negotiations resume between Mayweather and Pacquiao.”


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