Cubs

Olympics will show off more than just London

647302.jpg

Olympics will show off more than just London

From Comcast SportsNet
HAMPTON COURT, England (AP) -- Medieval cottages crowned with thatched roofs. King Henry VIII's storied riverside palace. A wind-swept naval fort that helped to defend Britain's coastline during World War II. Away from the bustle of London's Olympic stadium, the Summer Games will also showcase the country's postcard perfect rural charms, and highlight centuries of its history. While it was Britain's vibrant capital that won the right to host the 2012 Games, events aren't confined to London. Spectators will flock to Wales and Scotland, to verdant hills in southern England, and even to a working farm -- where rare breed sheep must make way for Olympic cyclists. "It might be called London 2012, but really it's a countrywide event. There are places right across the country which are getting a chance to taste the Olympics," said Beverley Egan, of the Salvation Army charity, which owns a swath of eastern England countryside where the Olympic mountain bike competition will take place. Egan, the organization's director of community services, lives close to the site, the 950-acre Hadleigh Farm, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the London stadium, where cattle graze amid the ruins of a 700-year-old castle. Sports fans can head to 10 venues outside Britain's capital. Canoeists will slalom through bubbling rapids at Lee Valley White Water Center just beyond London's northern outskirts, while rowing crews will compete on a lake at Eton Dorney, set inside a tranquil 400-acre park about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital. On England's southern coast, visitors will watch sailing events at Nothe Fort -- a 19th century naval defense post. During World War II, troops fired the fort's heavy guns in warning on two suspicious ships, but later found the vessels were carrying refugees fleeing the Channel Islands, the only corner of Britain to come under Nazi occupation. Quaint images of rolling hills will provide a quintessentially British backdrop to events beamed around the world. However lovely, they are also critical to the country's plans for capitalizing on the Olympics, which have cost Britain 9.3 billion pounds (14.6 billion) to stage. Ministers hope prospective visitors will be captivated as they see historic landscapes and landmarks and book a vacation. They also hope potential investors can be wooed. Competitors in road cycling races will travel into England's picturesque countryside as they compete for gold medals. Their route -- 156 miles (250 kilometers) for men, 87 miles (140 kilometers) for women -- begins outside Queen Elizabeth II's Buckingham Palace home, but quickly swaps London streets for tree-fringed country lanes. Their path winds through fields of grazing deer in Richmond Park, bringing the Olympics into the southern England county of Surrey and to the historic Hampton Court Palace. Home to Henry VIII from the mid-1500s, the palace sits at the heart of his scandalous personal life. It was here that he and his aides plotted England's break with the Roman Catholic church to allow the king to divorce. The king married two of his six wives here, too. Two were accused of adultery and beheaded. Road race cyclists will flash by, headed toward the spine of chalk hills known as the North Downs -- but competitors in time trial events will start and finish their races inside the palace grounds, where William Shakespeare and his company of actors once performed for King James I. During the road race, athletes will continue past the ruins of the 12th Century Newark Priory, on through woodland copses shaded by canopies of trees and down heart-stopping, twisting slopes. Alan Flaherty, a highway engineer at Surrey County Council and a road cycling fanatic since he first visited the Tour de France in 2004, helped to devise the course once organizers chose to take the event outside London. Olympic authorities had planned for the route to snake through the capital, but the sport's governing body wanted a course that would better challenge riders and show off more iconic British views. Flaherty was tapped to share some of his own favored paths. "I literally went out with my rucksack, a camera and a pen and paper and looked at the whole route and then reported back," he said. The final course offers a checklist of famous British images -- from Westminster Abbey to sheep-filled meadows -- and some competitors have already interrupted training rides with Flaherty to snap pictures with their smartphones. "It does manage to go past all the main tourist sites in London, starting and finishing on The Mall, and also takes in a huge amount of Surrey," Flaherty said. "It's a real contrast -- all the countryside shows another element of Great Britain to the rest of the world." Spectators, though not the riders who will speed by, can admire a vision of English nostalgia nestled along the course at Shere, an unspoiled village with a 12th century church, tea house, gently gurgling stream and cluster of thatched roofed cottages. Nearby at Box Hill, a favorite southern England picnic spot and vantage point, competitors face a grueling ascent up the aptly named Zig Zag Road, an energy-sapping climb which men will complete nine times and women twice. The summit will host about 15,000 spectators, while tens of thousands more are expected to pack along the remainder of the course. Flaherty said that since he helped to finalize the route scores of enthusiasts have taken to the course with their own bikes -- meaning he must find new paths for his own peaceful weekend cycle rides. "I've been cycling around here for about 25 years and one of the things I liked is that it's always really quiet," Flaherty said, ruefully. "Then I got involved with the Olympics and now there are hundreds of people out on the route every weekend. The lesson is to be careful what you wish for."

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

2-19_anisimov_kings_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: