Vonn takes 2nd women's World Cup overall title

USA's Lindsey Vonn celebrates with the trophy after the women's ...
ARE, Sweden – Lindsey Vonn became the first American woman to win two World Cup overall titles after her victory Wednesday in the last downhill of the season.

The American completed the 1.6-mile Olympia course at the World Cup finals in 1 minute, 42.49 seconds after posting the fastest splits all the way down.

"It's amazing," Vonn said. "It's been a long season and it's been really difficult and challenging, but I'm really happy that it's over."

She needed at least an eighth-place finish to win the title again.

"Winning the overall a second time it's huge," Vonn said. "No American female has ever done that so it means a lot."

Maria Riesch of Germany was second in 1:42.89 and also finished second overall.

Austrian veteran Renate Goetschl, a five-time winner at Are, placed third in 1:44.39.

With three races left at the finals, Vonn has an insurmountable lead in the overall standings with 1,688 points. Riesch is second with 1,299 and Anja Paerson of Sweden third with 990.

A double gold medalist a last month's world championships, Vonn also has a chance to win the super-G title, trailing Fabienne Suter of Switzerland by only 15 points. The last super-G is Thursday.

Vonn had already clinched the downhill title for the second straight year, matching hero and friend Picabo Street's consecutive titles in 1995 and '96.

Vonn topped the final downhill standings with 502 points. She won two downhills this season and earned points in the remaining five races.

Andrea Fischbacher of Austria and Riesch were, respectively, second and third with 326 and 292 points.

"I couldn't asked for anything more," Vonn said. "I'm really, really happy."

Paerson flopped badly as she returned for the first time to the hill where she won the downhill, super-G golds at the 2007 worlds.

She started fast, but lost pace at the bottom, winding up 16th of 24 finishers, 2.38 seconds behind Vonn.

"I made mistakes where I shouldn't have made them and after that it was impossible to catch up," she said.

The race was held in snowy conditions with fog at the top of the course.

South Africa may host Champions Trophy: ICC

South Africa may replace Sri Lanka as the venue of the Champions Trophy tournament later this year, the International Cricket Council said on Wednesday.

A teleconference between members of the ICC's chief executives' committee, comprising representatives of the 10 Test nations, concluded that South Africa would provide better weather conditions than Sri Lanka in September-October.

A final decision on the twice-postponed tournament, the second biggest after the World Cup, will be taken by the ICC's Executive Board in Dubai on Monday.

The committee recommended the tournament be switched to South Africa because "it was felt that it would be too great a risk to stage the tournament in Colombo at a time of year when there was a distinct possibility of rain," ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said in a statement.

"This was especially relevant given the length of this year's Champions Trophy has been reduced to 12 days, part of our desire to make it a short, sharp event, as on that basis there would be no room for reserve days.

"South Africa was a successful and excellent host of the ICC World Twenty20 at much the same time of year two years ago and the weather pattern in the area around Johannesburg in September and October is stable and ideal for cricket.

"The meeting therefore agreed it would be prudent to look to hold the tournament in South Africa, subject to agreement over financial arrangements."

The eight-nation tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Pakistan last year, but was put off by a year and then taken away from the strife-torn nation due to security concerns.

The teleconference came just over a week after a deadly attack on the Sri Lanka team in the Pakistani city of Lahore that killed eight people and injured seven Sri Lankan players and their assistant coach.

Sri Lanka, the original reserve venue, was also thrown in doubt due to the seasonal wet weather in the months of September and October when the tournament is due to be held.

The previous Champions Trophy was held in India in 2006 and won by Australia.

Ferguson expects golden oldies to keep on shining

Ferguson expects golden oldies to keep on shining AFP/File – Manchester United's English midfielder Paul Scholes. Sir Alex Ferguson has challenged his elder statesmen …

MANCHESTER, England (AFP) – Sir Alex Ferguson has challenged his elder statesmen at Manchester United to extend their glittering Old Trafford careers beyond the end of next season.

Long-serving defender Gary Neville, who turned 34 on Wednesday, penned a new contract extension on Friday which will keep him at the club until June 2010.

Neville followed in the footsteps of Ryan Giggs, the club's most decorated player, and Paul Scholes, who have also committed themselves to the end of next season.

The thirtysomethings boast a combined age of 103 and are in the twilight of their careers.

Yet Ferguson, chasing his third successive Premier League title, believes all three still have something to offer the team and is reluctant to show them the door.

"If they keep their performance levels up then they will be here for another year, there's no doubt about that," said Ferguson. "We'll see what happens next year."

Giggs, Scholes and Neville are all products of United's famous youth Academy and have never played anywhere else in their careers.

Their loyalty has not gone unnoticed by Ferguson, who labelled the trio as the "spirit" of Manchester United and a glowing example for the younger generation of players emerging at the club.

"I think there are a lot of players in the country who are quite wealthy who don't want to put themselves through the whole process of pre-season training," added Ferguson.

"But these three players seem to want to do that all the time. It speaks volumes for their own desires that they want to keep involved with Manchester United for as long as they can.

"They are the spirit of the club and they are an example to everyone."

Although Ferguson is no longer able to guarantee his old guard a starting place in every game, all three are set to feature in some capacity over the coming days as United's pursuit of an unprecedented five trophies in one season enters a crucial phase.

Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan await Ferguson's Club World Cup winners when the Champions League resumes on Tuesday and then it is off to Wembley to face Tottenham in the League Cup final on March 1.

Yet despite winning it 10 times in the past, it is the Premier League that Ferguson, whose team are also in the last eight of the FA Cup, craves the most.

But the Scot believes his players have a long way to go before they can celebrate their latest league triumph.

"You can't forget the chances we missed at West Ham when we only needed one goal to win the league in 1995," Ferguson said.

"Then there was the 12-point lead over Arsenal that we threw away in 1998.

"It was a foregone conclusion until the beginning of March when injuries played their part.

"When you lose a game it gives the chasing team encouragement. These are great reminders to us.

"My feeling is we should never get carried away because this game can kick you in the teeth.

"We can go the distance but we just have to make sure we keep our focus because every game for us now is a must-win situation."

Dubai event fined record $300,000 for Peer ban

MIAMI: The Dubai Championships was fined a record $300,000 by the governing body of women's tennis (WTA) on Friday after top Israeli player Shahar Peer was barred from taking part in the event.

The WTA said in a statement that the fine was largest ever levied against a WTA Tour member and that Peer would be awarded $44,250, an amount equal to the average prize money she earned per tournament in 2008.

"The actions taken are intended to redress the wrongs suffered by Shahar Peer, who was victimised by an unjust policy of discrimination by the UAE," WTA chief Larry Scott said in a statement.

"These actions are also intended to send a clear message that our Tour will not tolerate discrimination of any kind and that we will never allow this situation to happen again in the UAE or elsewhere."

The UAE, like most Arab countries, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and routinely denies entry to Israelis.

Mashrafe now a $6 lakh cricketer

Mashrafe Bin Mortaza hit an amazing figure when the Kolkata Knight Riders purchased the Bangladesh fast bowler for six-lakh dollars (US) after a sensational bidding in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Goa yesterday.

There was more good news for the Tigers as Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful was sold to Mumbai Indians, who roped in the batsman at his base price of US$ 75,000.

After a dramatic bidding, Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan's Knight Riders got pace spearhead Mashrafe, dubbed "Narail Express", for a price that is the biggest ever deal for any Bangladeshi sportsman in history.

Mashrafe's bidding started with a base price of US$ 50,000 but the figures skyrocketed with the Kings XI Punjab also wanting him. They stayed hot on the heels of Knight Riders but the Kolkata side had the last laugh offering 12 times higher than the floor price.

The 25-year-old Bangladesh vice-captain, number eight in the ICC ODI rankings for bowlers, will be playing beside the likes of former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly, Australian captain Ricky Ponting, West Indies' Chris Gayle and New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum.

It is the first time Bangladeshi players have been put to the IPL auction after left-arm spinner Abdur Razzak signed for Bangalore Royal Challengers after negotiations in the first version of the million-dollar Twenty20 competition.

Surprisingly, no buyer showed interests to Tigers' star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, the world's number one all-rounder in ODI rankings, while dashing opener Tamim Iqbal, the other Bangladeshi cricketer in the auction, also remained unsold.

England's Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff were sold for US$ 1.55 million each making them the highest-paid cricketers in the competition.

USA Swimming bans Phelps for three months

WASHINGTON: Record-setting Olympic champion Michael Phelps has been banned for three months by USA Swimming amid controversy over a photograph pub
Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps takes a break while training at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center in Baltimore. (AP Photo)
lished in a British newspaper purportedly showing him smoking marijuana.

Phelps's financial support has also been cut off for the same three-month period, the sport's national governing body said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation added.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust," the statement said.

The photograph, said to have been taken at a November party at the University of South Carolina, was published by British tabloid newspaper News of the World last Sunday.

Phelps accepted the ban, saying he understood USA Swimming's "point of view," the swimmer's spokesman Drew Johnson said.

"He feels bad he let anyone down," Johnson added. "He's also encouraged by the thousands of comments he's received from his fans and the support from his many sponsors. He intends to work hard to regain everyone's trust."

Phelps has repeatedly apologised for the incident and said he may backtrack on his plans to compete at the London Olympics in 2012.

The International Olympic Committee said his apology was proof of his sincerity and the world swimming's governing body FINA is also backing the embattled swimmer.

Phelps has won 14 career Olympic gold medals, making him the most successful competitor since the modern Olympics began 113 years ago.

Best phase for Sania to improve: Amritraj

CHENNAI: Legendary Vijay Amritraj feels Sania Mirza is in the best phase of her life to improve on her results and rankings because she would be l
Bhupathi and Sania
Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza hold up their trophy after winning the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open. (Reuters Photo)
ess prone to injuries as Indian players mature late physically.

"We Indians mature late physically. Do not push your muscles at young age because (Boris) Becker did it or someone else did it. The best period for an Indian player is 25 and 32. This is the period an Indian is physically strong enough to take huge load of work but for the rest of players in the world it is about 18 to 26," Amritraj said.

"For a female, it is little bit more. For example, Sania is 22. Now is the best chance for Sania to improve upon her results and ranking for another five or six years to do what she need to do and work harder without getting hurt," he added.

Asked reasons for Sania's injury prone nature, Amritraj said it was because she had put in extra effort at young age.

"At a young age, I think she puts in a lot of efforts. So, injury come fast and fury. You think you have been playing well and working harder but suddenly when injuries come you had it," he said.

"(Roger) Federer reached the top of the peak at 26. For an Indian that will be the time that he has to be hitting at it," he said.