Cubs

Fuming French accuse England of dirty tricks

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Fuming French accuse England of dirty tricks

From Comcast SportsNet
LONDON (AP) -- It's a feud that's been simmering for seven years -- or, if you leaf through the history books, since at least the Middle Ages. From the moment in 2005 that London trumped Paris by four votes in the contest to host the 2012 Olympics, France has seethed -- furious that their neighbors and historical adversaries had scored a victory every bit as painful as Napoleon's humbling at the fabled Battle of Waterloo. Now, French anger has burst out into the open. In newspapers, on television debate shows and in scores of posts to social networks, Britain is accused of cheating its way to gold medals in the cycling velodrome and of stretching rules on the rowing course. British crowds have been blasted for failing to show enough support to rival nations' competitors, while organizers have faced scorn for failing to rein in judges deemed too harsh on French athletes. British Prime Minister David Cameron has even defended his country's track cyclists -- who won a formidable haul of 14 medals -- from insinuations that their success must be the result of drugs or illegally modified bicycles. "Of course there is no cheating," an indignant Cameron told France 2 television in an interview Wednesday. "There are the most strict anti-doping tests in these Olympics that there have ever been. There are very strict rules about equipment." French cycling fans were already digesting the shock of Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British rider ever to win the prestigious Tour de France last month. To crown that feat, Wiggins and his teammates then won seven of 10 events in the Olympic velodrome -- once a French stronghold. "It's driving the French mad," Cameron teased Thursday, speaking to BBC radio. "I think they found the Union Jacks on the Champs-Elysees a bit hard to take." First Isabelle Gautheron, director of the French Olympic cycling team, stirred old animosities by suggesting Britain's gold streak may have been aided by subterfuge, hinting at the U.K. team's "magic wheels" and its little discussed work with the McLaren Formula One team on cutting edge technology to produce the quickest bike. "They hide their wheels a lot. The ones for the bikes they race on are put in wheel covers at the finish," Gautheron was quoted as telling the French sports newspaper L'Equipe. Then France's world champion cyclist Gregory Bauge -- beaten to gold in the individual sprint category by Britain's Jason Kenny -- hijacked a post-race news conference, demanding that his rival divulge the U.K.'s secrets. Tempers reached boiling point when Britain's Philip Hindes suggested he had crashed his bike deliberately after a lackluster opening during a team sprint -- causing the race to be restarted. Hindes went unpunished; Britain later took gold. Animosity hasn't been confined only to those on two wheels. French rowing coaches complained bitterly after Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter of Britain were allowed a restart in the lightweight double sculls final. A seat in their boat had snapped off, but the French insisted the incident had happened after 100 meters of the race had passed -- meaning there should have been no leniency. Guy Drut, who claimed the 110-meter hurdles gold in 1976 and serves on an International Olympic Committee commission, has complained that British crowds have cheered loudly only for their home athletes -- refusing to acknowledge the efforts of other nations. A controversial decision that cost French boxer Alexis Vastine a win in his bout with welterweight Taras Shelestyuk of Ukraine also brought a furious online reaction from French fans, who castigated officials and organizers. Complaints about favoritism for British athletes aren't all coming from the French. After his team was beaten in a quarterfinal by Britain, Spain field hockey coach Dani Martin complained that some "countries are being favored" by referees. "This is (like) a district tournament," Indian welterweight boxer Manoj Kumar said, speaking through a translator, after he was defeated in a close contest by Britain's Tom Stalker. "It's not an Olympic tournament. Cheating, cheating, cheating."

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.