Drug controversy hits Olympics
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The first drug controversy of the Winter Olympics cost Russian cross-country superstar Larissa Lazutina an almost certain record-equaling 10th career medal Thursday.
Austrian hero Stephan Eberharter, meanwhile, won his first Olympic gold medal in what was his final opportunity. He did so by holding off American Bode Miller, who in typical fashion charged from behind on the second run of the giant slalom and passed five skiers to earn a silver medal.
Attention then moved to two very different groups of female skaters. The women's hockey gold medal was at stake Thursday night between the United States and Canada. And in the final night of Olympic figure skating, American Michelle Kwan went after the only major title she has never won.
One of the most predictable events at the Salt Lake City Games was the women's cross-country relay, where the Russian team was considered unbeatable. A win in that race would have brought Lazutina the 10th medal of her career, which would have equaled the most ever for a women in the Winter Olympics.
But Lazutina was barred from competing in the relay when an out-of-competition blood test turned up a higher-than-allowed amount of hemoglobin, or red blood cells. Russian officials said results of a test they administered were normal and were outraged at the announcement. No Russian team competed in the 4x5-kilometer relay.
Germany wound up winning the race by 1.3 seconds over Norway. It was the 10th gold medal of the games for Germany, which moved into a tie with Norway in that department -- one ahead of the United States.
Most international sports governing bodies set limits for red blood cells because an excessive amount could demonstrate that the drug EPO has been used. EPO boosts the amount of red blood cells and, thus, the amount of oxygen carried into the body. The more oxygen available, the more stamina for an athlete.
As that controversy was developing, the men's giant slalom produced plenty of drama. Eberharter, 32, is the king of Austrian alpine skiing and he had already won two medals in Utah. But neither of them was gold. After the first of the two runs Thursday, he was virtually certain of victory as long as he could say on his skis. He had a lead of .74 of a second over Italian Massimiliano Blardone of Italy.
Back in seventh place after the first run was Miller, who won a silver medal in the alpine combined earlier in the Olympics by rallying from 15th place following the downhill portion of the event. In the second giant slalom run, Miller turned in a lightning-fast 1:11.27, giving the six competitors following him an impressive target.
One by one, they failed to better Miller's combined time of 2:24.16. Finally, only Eberharter was left. Eberharter needed to turn in a second run of just over 1:12 to clinch the gold and he did much better than that. His time of 1:11.30 was a mere .03 of a second shower than Miller's second run and made Erberharter the Olympic champion. His two-run total was 2:23.28.
Bucs sign GM McKay to 6-year extension
TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended any doubts about the future of Rich McKay on Thursday by signing their general manager to a six-year contract extension.
Financial terms were not disclosed. McKay had one year left on a contract that will pay him $1.8 million this year.
The announcement came three days after the Bucs ended their prolonged search for a coach by prying Jon Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders on Monday and signing him to a five-year contract.
McKay is entering his 11th season with the Buccaneers and his eighth as general manager. Under his leadership, Tampa Bay has had 35 Pro Bowl selections since 1995. Prior to his arrival as general manager, the Buccaneers had just 18 total Pro Bowl selections in the club's first 20 seasons.
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have flourished under the leadership of general manager Rich McKay," Bucs vice president Bryan Glazer said. "We are extremely excited about the unlimited possibilities that exist for the future of this franchise with Rich McKay as our general manager and Jon Gruden as our head coach."
The Bucs tried to hire Gruden, who had one year left on his contract with the Raiders, last month, but were unable to put together a compensation package to the liking of Oakland owner Al Davis until Monday. Before hiring Gruden, McKay and the Bucs also were jilted by Bill Parcells and talked to Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci.
McKay admitted to talking with the Atlanta Falcons about their vacancy before staying put. "I asked for permission to talk to Atlanta but I never said 'fire me' or 'get rid of me.'" said McKay, who has been tied to the franchise since his father was the team's first coach.
First black NFL QB dead at 71
NEW KINSINGTON, Pa., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Willie Thrower, the NFL's first black quarterback who also starred at Michigan State, died Wednesday of a heart attack. He was 71.
Thrower played in one game for the Chicago Bears in 1953, relieving George Blanda and throwing for 27 yards and an interception in a 35-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It would be 15 more years before the next black quarterback would appear in a pro game. In 1968, Marlin Briscoe started for the Denver Broncos of the American Football League.
Thrower also was the first black quarterback to play in the Big Ten and led the Spartans to a national championship in 1952.
After a short stay with the Bears, he played three years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
A Pennsylvania native, Thrower is recognized in an exhibit about black players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Colts release four players
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Trying to clear room under the salary cap, the Indianapolis Colts released four players Thursday--starting tight end Ken Dilger, defensive back Jeff Burris, strong safety Chad Cota and defensive tackle Mike Wells.
Indianapolis entered this offseason just over $3 million under the salary cap. Under new coach Tony Dungy, the Colts are expected to try to strengthen a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.
Dilger, who was set to make $1.64 million this season, was placed on the expansion list and received a letter from the club that said he would be released if he was not chosen in Monday's expansion draft by the Houston Texans. Last summer, the Colts signed Marcus Pollard--Dilger's backup--to a five-year, $15 million deal.
A starter in each of his seven seasons with the Colts since being taken in the second round of the 1995 draft, Dilger was one of quarterback Peyton Manning's favorite targets. This past season, Dilger made the Pro Bowl as injury replacement after catching 32 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown. In 109 career games -- 106 starts--Dilger has 251 receptions for 3,181 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Burris, Cota and Wells all were part of the Colts' expansion list as well.
O'Hern sets record at Singapore
SINGAPORE, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Ian Woosnam's hopes of another victory here suffered an early blow as he struggled to a 1-over-par 73 on Thursday in the first round of the Caltex Singapore Masters.
Australian Nick O'Hern broke a course-record with an 8-under-par 64 to take the lead. Christophe Pottier of France is second after carding a 65 and Carlos Rodiles of Spain is third after shooting a 66.
Woosnam has not played in Singapore since winning the 1996 Johnnie Walker Classic by defeating Scotland's Andrew Coltart at the third hole of a sudden-death playoff at Tanah Merah, literally across the road from the Laguna National course, which is hosting the $900,000 event.
With the top 64 players in the world golf rankings at the World Matchplay in California, Woosnam was one of the pre-tournament favorites despite not playing competitively for more than three months.
Linebacker Romanowski leaving Denver Boncos,
DENVER, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Bill Romanowski' s successful but often turbulent tenure with the Denver Broncos appeared Thursday to be over.
The Denver Post reported that the veteran linebacker asked for and will receive his unconditional release from the Broncos. Romanowski could be cut as early as Thursday but no later than March 1, saving the Broncos $1.1 million against this season's salary cap, the report said.
The newspaper reported that Romanowski made his request after the Broncos asked him to convert his contract from one that called for $2.2 million in base salary to one loaded with incentives. He i was expected to receive reduced playing time due to the the emergence of outside linebacker Ian Gold, who was selected to this month's Pro Bowl as the AFC's special-teams standout.
A 14-year veteran, Romanowksi started all 16 games last season and finished with 69 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He has been a member of four Super Bowl championship teams--two with Denver and two with the San Francisco 49ers.
Seniors visit Mexico for Audi Classic
NAUCALPAN, Mexico, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- In a country where it is often suggested that you avoid drinking the water, Mike McCullough knows all about ending a drought.
McCullough will try to defend his title as the Senior PGA Tour heads south of the border for the $3 million Audi Senior Classic, which begins Friday at the Club de Golf Chapultepec near Mexico City.
McCullough won for the first time in 612 PGA Tour-sanctioned events last season, beating Jim Colbert and Bob Eastwood by a stroke at La Vista in Puebla. Currently 15th on the money list, McCullough faces a field that includes Hale Irwin and Bruce Fleisher.
Irwin, a 33-timer winner on the elder circuit, finished second in last week's Verizon Classic, one shot behind winner Doug Tewell, who is taking the week off.
No suprises at Dubai
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Top seed Venus Williams of the United States and the next three seeded players all were victorious Thursday in the quarterfinals of the $585,000 Dubai Women's Open.
Williams defeated a Russian opponent for the second straight day as she notched a 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Anastasia Myskina. On Wednesday, Williams improved to 7-0 lifetime against Anna Kournikova, beating her for the second time in as many weeks.
The 21-year-old Williams captured her WTA Tour-leading third title on Sunday when she defeated Justin Henin of Belgium, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in the final at Antwerp. She opened the year with a victory at Gold Coast, Australia and claimed the Open Gaz de France in Paris two weeks ago.
Williams is 17-1 in 2002, with her lone defeat coming to countrywoman Monica Seles in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open last month. Second-seeded Seles had an easier time Thursday, breezing to a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Angeles Montolio of Spain.
Third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France, who has six career titles, faces Seles in the semifinals. Mauresmo, who has lost twice to Williams this year, defeated Slovakian Tina Pisnik, 6-1, 6-2 on Thursday.
Fourth seed Frenchwoman Sandrine Testud, who is seeking her fourth career title, eliminated sixth-seeded Tamarine Tanasugarn, 6-2, 6-0. Testud, who reached the quarterfinals here last year, improved to 3-1 lifetime against Tanasugarn.
Watson named baseball discipline chief
NEW YORK, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Major League Baseball Thursday hired Bob Watson as its new dean of discipline.
Watson, a two-time All-Star and former general manager, was named vice president of on-field operations. He replaces Frank Robinson, who last week became manager of the Montreal Expos, a franchise now run by the commissioner's office.
The 55-year-old Watson, who was hired by MLB in December 2000 to supervise pace of games, will handle player discipline, time of games, uniform policy, stadium configuration and all other on-field matters. He will report directly to Sandy Alderson, MLB executive vice president.
Watson played 19 seasons in the major leagues for the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. He became baseball's first African-American general manager when the Astros promoted him in 1993. He also worked in that capacity for the Yankees from 1995-97, winning a World Series in 1996.