BALA CYNWYD, Pa. – So long steel cages, pyrotechnics and theme music. Kurt Angle wants to get real about wrestling again.
Angle believes the time is right to swap that big gold TNA Wrestling championship belt around his waist for another shiny gold medal around his neck.
Creeping up on 43, Angle is serious about becoming an Olympic wrestler for the second time.
The 1996 220-pound freestyle wrestling gold medal winner in the Atlanta Games has scaled back his professional commitments for TNA and dedicated the last seven months to training for a run at making the U.S. team for next summer’s London Olympics.
Like Angle once blurted out for a catchphrase: It’s true! It’s true! Yet, this improbable comeback seems straight out of a storyline in the fantasy world of pro wrestling.
Angle understands the skepticism that he can make the team, much less contend for a medal, against amateur wrestlers more than 15 years younger than him who have not been hardened by the grinding of a body wracked by 13 years of arduous travel, devastating injuries, and an addiction to painkillers.
His Angle Slam is useless in Iowa.
His suplexes are grounded in London.
Angle has to get back to the amateur basics, the style that made him a worldwide force in the 1990s that culminated with him on his knees as tears poured down his face when the referee awarded him an overtime decision over Iranian Abbas Jadidi in the gold-medal match.
“I love pro wrestling,” Angle said, “but I’m glad I’m going back to the Olympics.”
Up first, a date in the main event of his real job.
Angle defends his TNA title against Bobby Roode in the promotion’s Bound For Glory pay-per-view event Sunday night at Temple’s Liacouras Center. Hulk Hogan vs. Sting is the other headline bout for a company still looking to make a dent in WWE’s sizable grip on the sports-entertainment industry.
From there, it’s back to work for his longshot bid for a medal.
Angle has been training three to four hours a day with former wrestling All-Americans at various colleges and a training facility around Pittsburgh. Angle said he’s been smarter this time around, training fewer hours and days, and feeling less pressure than in ’96 when it was gold medal or bust.
“I know what I did back then was completely insane. If you ever followed my regimen, you’d think I was out of my mind,” Angle said. “But I thought the harder I trained, the better I’d be. To some extent, it was counterproductive. I also burned out quite a bit. Now the pressure’s off. I won it. I have an Olympic gold medal. This has been a lot more fun for me rather than being nervous all the time.”
In the ring, Angle has no nerves – and few peers who can match his ability.
He’s been at the top of the sport for more than a decade and long ago proved his decision to spurn his amateur roots and potential career as a high school wrestling coach for the lucrative, outlandish, and scripted world of professional wrestling was the right one. He burst on the scene with the WWE three years after Atlanta and was quickly pushed into the main event picture. He took on The Undertaker, The Rock, Brock Lesnar, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and main evented the company’s showcase PPV cards, like WrestleMania.
In sports entertainment, crushing injuries and an overbooked schedule are part of the price for taking hazardous bumps in a new city every night. There are no lockouts, no offseason in wrestling. It’s an unrelenting schedule that can tame even the toughest tough guy.
Angle was no exception, finding little time to take a breather and heal serious injuries.
He won the gold medal months after suffering a broken neck that almost forced him out of the Olympics. He said he needed 12 shots of Novocain in the neck before his Olympic trials and Atlanta matches, which numbed the pain during competition, but left hours of excruciating pain once the drug wore off.
His neck woes continued deep into his WWE career. By Angle’s count, he broke his neck five times, including twice in 2003 – once courtesy of Lesnar’s wallop with a steel chair over his head – and again in 2004. In late 2003, Angle became hooked on painkillers, starting a two-year addiction to drugs like Percocet and Vicodin that could never be quenched. Every two weeks, Angle claimed the number of pills he needed to get through each grueling day on the road and the next punishing main event would grow into a staggering and, nearly lethal, number.
“I was taking 65 extra-strength painkillers a day,” he said. “It wasn’t enough.”
Angle said WWE officials, especially chairman Vince McMahon, ordered him to quit when his addiction and erratic behavior became obvious to the company. He said he went against doctor’s orders to wean himself off the drugs and decided to quit the pills cold turkey – and without a stint a rehab.
The ride back from the physician’s office where he detailed his addiction and desire to stop was one of the worst days of his life.
“I cried the whole way home,” Angle said. “The next five days I watched ‘Harry Potter’ movies with a blanket around me to get through it. It was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life and I’ll never touch a painkiller again in my life – and I’ve been offered.
“I will never let something consume me the way painkillers did in 2004. That was the devil taking over.”
Angle was granted his release from his WWE contract in 2006 and signed later that year with TNA. The company has been attractive to former WWE stars like Angle, Hogan, Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy, and Rob Van Dam because of a lighter schedule and fewer dates set for TV tapings. The WWE castoffs, however, have done little to bolster TNA’s brand recognition, TV ratings or PPV buyrates.
Outside the ring, Angle has had enough run-ins with the law to make him a staple on TMZ as much as TNA.
“I’ve done a lot of things I’m ashamed of,” Angle said.
He admits to using human growth hormone and steroids – big no-no’s at the Olympics – and has been charged with everything from reckless driving to assault and harassment. In most instances, however, charges have been reduced or dropped. He says he’s never had a problem with alcohol.
Not exactly the portrait of an All-American Olympic hero.
He shattered the stigma that came with crossing over from the serious stylings of amateur wrestling to the wild and wacky world of doublecrosses from rule-breaking bosses. NCAA stars like Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin soon followed him to the WWE, and any animosity USA Wrestling had toward the amateurs who swapped their real names for stage names has mostly subsided. Angle’s potential return has been greeted warmly – yet with great curiosity.
“It’s obviously good for the sport and we’re excited to hear it,” said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling. “You can’t deny that Kurt Angle was one of America’s great wrestlers. Hopefully, if he’s serious about the comeback, he’ll make the effort to get to Colorado Springs and do some training camps and get into some competition prior to the trials.”
Angle said he’s at about 90 percent of where he’d like to be (“I need a little bit of conditioning and polishing my technique”) and has no plans to compete until the U.S. Olympic Team Trials are held April 21-22 at the University of Iowa.
History could work against him. Unlike his current profession where geriatric stars like Hogan and Sting work into their 50s, the oldest Olympic wrestler to medal was Chris Campbell, who won bronze at 37 at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Angle turns 43 on Dec. 9.
Driven to succeed at everything from his blossoming movie career to running his own food company (Angle Foods), Angle strongly believes he has one more serious run left as an Olympic champion. If not, it’s back to going for the 1-2-3 count against his high-flying foes in TNA.
“As long as I give it my best shot, that’s all I can ask for,” Angle said. “It’s not do or die.”
Posted on 14 October 2011.
There’s a whole lot of confusion over the first two weeks of the season that have been canceled. The league doesn’t know how many games will be canceled, so it can’t make any announcements on the status of the games that have already been canceled. The assumption is that the games that were lost are gone forever. But that’s probably not the case. From the New York Post:
The Post has reported that over the last two months NBA schedulemaker Matt Winnick has designed a handful of contingency schedules including 74-game, 70-game, 60-game and 50-game schedules, based on arena availability. Many of those schedules looking nothing like the original 82-game version.
“It’s not like the preseason where you just lop off games and pick it up,” one source said.
In fact, even though the Knicks have lost their home opener vs. Miami on Nov. 2, there is still a good chance they play Miami all four times in the unlikely event that the lockout settles soon. The games lost mostly will be interconference games, according to two sources.
via NBA web schedules off the mark.
Makes sense, right? You can’t just pick up the season mid-way through and have some teams playing significantly more division games than their division rivals. You have to find balance in those. The same home and away splits will be maintained because trying to squeeze in games in an arena’s schedule that’s filled out with concerts and rodeos and circus clowns and what not is a logistical nightmare.
So those great opening night games may not be gone forever, nor some of those key matchups in the first two weeks. All we have to do is get a season.
We’re so screwed.
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Posted on 09 October 2011.
With the players and owners meeting Sunday, there’s still little hope that a deal gets done. The perception is that they’re still extremely far apart. But here’s the thing. They’re really not.
From Ken Berger of CBSSports.com this morning on Twitter:
So here’s where we are: At their previous % of 43, owners would get .1B/six years… at 50 pct, they’d get .7B …
At 48.5 pct, owners would be 7M/year better off that previous deal, which more than addresses 0M annual loss …
By holding out for 50-50, owners are drawing line in sand over 0M total over six years, half of which they’d lose by canceling 2 weeks.
Similarly, players are holding out for 0m/six years by insisting on 53 pct. vs. 51.5 … they’d also lose half of that in 2 wks.
Also, difference between 53 and 51.5 for players in year 1 is million, which they’d lose in less than a week of canceled games.
So to sum up, if games are canceled tomorrow, it won’t be due to money or common sense. It will be due to ego and stubbornness.
That is the money part, which makes sense. The psychological aspect of negotiations, sometimes, does not.
Sometimes, you have to follow through on your threats to make sure the other side knows you’re serious.
via Ken Berger (kbergcbs) on Twitter.
If you want to boil that down, here you go.
Both sides are willing to have games canceled despite the fact that it would actually cost more thansplitting the difference at 51.5 percent.
It literally does not make financial sense for them to not make a deal.
But neither side wants to go to the middle. They want to win. They want that extra 1.5 percent. That’s where we’re at. 98.5 percent of the way there, and that extra 1.5 percent is the ocean. If it seems like that would indicate we’ll get a deal, don’t get your hopes up. That’s how moronic this whole thing has become. It’s about principle, not common sense. It’s about ego, not business. The numbers are there.
The season is not.
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Posted on 06 October 2011.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Olympic figure skating champion Yuna Kim will help promote the first Winter Youth Games.
The IOC says the 21-year-old South Korean skater will join Olympic ski champions Lindsey Vonn and Benjamin Raich as an “ambassador” for the games, which will be held in Innsbruck, Austria, from Jan. 13-22.
Kim set a world record in winning Olympic gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. She also helped Pyeongchang’s winning bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee says ambassadors are meant “to inspire and mentor … while encouraging young people from all over the world to become more active in sport.”
More than 1,000 athletes between the ages of 15 and 18 will compete in the Youth Games.
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Posted on 05 October 2011.
The NBA is about to shoot itself in the leg. After a season where the league generated more revenue than ever before, when television ratings were the highest they had bee since the Jordan-era Bulls, the league next Monday will cancel regular season games.
Because they can’t figure out how to divide up the fans’ money. In the middle of a deep recession. It’s idiotic.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but know this — most of it belongs on the NBA owners and Commissioner David Stern. They are pulling the trigger, they will seriously damage the league for years.
Usually fans blame players when professional sports leagues go on strike or are locked out. The players are faces and names we recognize, and we know exactly how much they make — and we don’t relate to those sums. Even the NBA league minimum salary puts a player into the nation’s highest tax bracket.
But we don’t really know who the owners are (outside of Mark Cuban). And we don’t know how much money they make off their teams (which is hard to determine as teams are in tangled financial webs). They are faceless unknowns, big impersonal corporations (except when Dan Gilbert writes letters). We blame the players because we know and understand them in a way we don’t the owners.
However, the NBA players are the ones making the real concessions in these negotiations, not the owners. The players have tried to negotiate in good faith, the league has tried to bury them.
The real labor issue is the definition and split of “basketball related income” or BRI. It’s always about the money. BRI is basically all the money that comes into teams from national television deals, ticket sales, a percentage of in arena concessions and sponsorships, and so on.
In the old deal, the players got 57 percent of BRI in salaries. They have offered to reduce that down to 53 percent according to both the union and league. That is about a $ 160 million give back of real dollars from the players to the owners next season. David Stern said Tuesday (in a press conference shown on NBA TV) that is not enough.
“In order for us to have the robust revenue sharing that the owners want, and that the players want, we have to be profitable as a league,” said Stern, who has claimed the owners lost $ 300 million last season (a very debatable figure). “And there’s simply no way that ($ 160 million give back by players) makes us profitable.”
The owners started these negotiations trying to move the middle — the spot of compromise where a deal can be struck — by making outrageous demands. They wanted to roll back salaries of signed contracts, they wanted an NFL-style hard cap, they wanted no guaranteed contracts, and they wanted the players to only take 46 percent of the BRI. Basically, they wanted everything, they talked about radical changes.
There was Stern on Tuesday talking about all the things the owners have given back in these negotiations — they moved off the hard salary cap, the demand for non-guaranteed contracts and the salary roll backs. All things they didn’t have in the first place, all just give backs on paper. And they upped their offer to 47 percent of the BRI. A whopping one percent.
The players have moved $ 160 million, the owners $ 40 million in real dollars.
The middle ground? With the owners starting at 46 percent and the players at 57 percent, the average is 51.5 percent of BRI. The players have moved toward that but stopped because the owners have barely budged.
The owners are not a group trying to make a deal, that’s a group trying to steamroll the opposition. The owners know they have the leverage and they plan to use it. They are led by hardliners that made bad business decisions — overpaying for franchises, bringing in a lot of partners and leverage to do it — then complain they can’t make enough money on it. Certainly they deserve the chance to make a profit, but it’s not the players fault that a bunch of owners have huge debt service payments on their franchises. The owners want to make those payments on the backs of the players.
Stern said that they floated the idea “in concept” to the players of discussing a 50-50 split of BRI under the old definition, but the players rejected it. Sources with the union told Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld that was not how things went at all. Know this — BRI is not total revenue, the owners get to write off expenses off the top, then the rest is divided up. So even that 50-50 is less than half of what the league brings in.
And the league is about to bring in a lot more money. The Lakers local television rights deal is about to jump from around $ 30 million a year to more like $ 150 million a year. The Celtics just inked a new deal, as did the Nets with the move to Brooklyn. Then there is the new national television deal in 2016.
The owners are going to see more money, they are just fighting to keep a larger share of it. The good of the game be damned.
In the end, it’s the fans that get screwed over in this. Well, the fans and the arena workers and others who depend on the league and now will be looking or a second job to keep a roof over their heads and food in front of their children. Arena workers are not making big money and they have no way easily replace that income.
Fans should be angry. Just know that it is the owners that locked the doors. It’s the owners not really moving in negotiations. It’s the owners that want to see how the players react when they miss a paycheck or two, so they will drag this out. The owners are trying to steamroll the union, not find a fair deal in the middle.
This lockout is on the owners, make no mistake about it.
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Posted on 30 September 2011.
John Thomase of the Boston Herald has some details on how the Red Sox’s clubhouse atmosphere deteriorated this season, including a report that “more than one pitcher drank beer in the clubhouse during games on the days he didn’t pitch.”
Because relievers don’t really have off days that suggests “pitchers” are really “starting pitchers” and that narrows down the list of candidates considerably.
A total of 10 pitchers started for the Red Sox this season, but only Jon Lester (31), Josh Beckett (30), John Lackey (28), and Tim Wakefield (23) started at least 20 times. Other starters were Clay Buchholz (14), Andrew Miller (12), Erik Bedard (8), Daisuke Matsuzaka (7), Kyle Weiland (5), and Alfredo Aceves (4).
Of course, whether or not drinking beer in the clubhouse between starts is big news is debatable-Thomase notes that the Red Sox famously sipped Jack Daniels together before ALCS games in 2004-but either way it’s certainly not something the Red Sox would want made public amid Terry Francona’s departure and talk of various players not being in good shape and wearing down late in the season.
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Posted on 20 September 2011.
It is not impossible for the NBA season to start on time. However, once you factor in time needed for a shortened free agent period and training camps (again shortened), the owners and players need to hammer out a deal in about a week or so.
So, not impossible, but I wouldn’t bet your rent money on things starting on time. Or even your drinking money.
And if the season is shortened, things get wildly complex for schedule makers. Over at the fantastic Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell, they touched on the challenges San Antonio faces with its annual “rodeo road trip.”
If the 2011-12 season is shortened by the current NBA Lockout, though, the Spurs won’t have anything near as favorable a schedule as the 1999 season was. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is scheduled to run from February 6 through February 23, and, as far as I know, those dates are set in stone; the Rodeo won’t change its schedule to accommodate the NBA. San Antonio is looking at a nine game road trip as things stand now.
In 1999, the Spurs played 12 games from February 6-23, the span that the 2012 Rodeo runs. If the NBA season is shortened to 50 games and the Rodeo sticks with its current dates, the Spurs could be forced to start the season playing almost half of their road games in a row.
It’s not just the Spurs. The Bulls have the annual “circus trip” that sends them out for weeks. The Lakers and Clippers get kicked out Staples Center for much of February to allow set up for the Grammys then time to clean up after whatever Lady Gaga did to the place.
If the league starts missing games, things are going to get ugly schedule wise for a few teams. Balance will go out the window. Just be warned.
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Posted on 19 September 2011.
Steve Nash has to be in the conversation for funniest NBA player. Maybe not the funniest, I’d actually submit Tim Duncan, yes, Tim Duncan for that honor. (Seriously, have you seen the H-E-B commercials?) But Nash needs to be in the running. And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got a video with Nash facing off against U.S. Women’s Soccer goalie Hope Solo in EA Sports’ FIFA 12 to show you.
“I worked hard for that degree.”
I know how you feel, Nash.
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