Tuesday 31 July 2012

Kearns Slams Foley Shock Waratah Exit

Former New South Wales hooker Phil Kearns has slammed the shock decision of coach Michael Foley to leave the Waratahs and join Western Force.

The Waratahs confirmed Foley's shock exit on Tuesday and reports suggest the 45-year-old will link with the Force, who are currently without a coach, for the 2013 season.

Kearns, who combined 73 NSW caps with 67 for Australia during his decorated career, was left stunned by the decision.

He said his former Wallabies teammate should have stayed with the Waratahs, especially after recently committing his future to the Sydney-based franchise.

"It's a little surprising from Michael given he confirmed and re-applied for his job as coach of the Waratahs," Kearns told Fox Sports News.

"They appointed him, they accepted his new strategy and his plan going forward and then he pulls the pin.

"It's a very, very strange situation.

"Given he was contracted and that contract was just renewed, it's a pretty poor decision to say the least.

"There will be some people around NSW rugby disappointed with what he's done."

Phelps Sets New Olympic Medal Record

Michael Phelps became the most decorated athlete in Olympic history when his gold in the 4x200 metres freestyle relay took him to 19.

The 27-year-old had equalled Larisa Latynina's record earlier this evening with silver in the 200m butterfly.

However, the United States swimmer moved him beyond the Russian whose record had stood since 1964 to stand alone at the pinnacle with three more events to come.

The American has always maintained he is not interested in medal counts and will be furious with himself after Chad le Clos beat him on the touch in his first race of the evening - the 200m butterfly. 

It is a measure of the expectations placed on the Baltimore swimmer that there was audible shock around the Aquatics Centre, a feeling of deflation even.

However, credit is due to Le Clos who swam a superb race to take advantage of Phelps' poor judgement, the American gliding into the wall rather than finishing on a full stroke as has been his hallmark.

The South African won in one minute 52.96 seconds, 0.05secs ahead of Phelps with Japan's Takeshi Matsuda third.

RFL Super League Leave Stobart Deal

The Rugby Football League today began the search for a new sponsor for Super League after scrapping the controversial deal with the Stobart Group.

The League signed a three-year deal with Stobart in January, but the clubs have decided to exercise an opt-out clause after 12 months.

The RFL received no cash from the agreement, although the Super League clubs and players were advertised on 100 of Stobart's famous green trucks and they argued at the time that the deal could be worth up to £2.5million a year.

The vote to accept the Stobart deal was far from unanimous, however, and the governing body came in for fierce criticism from several clubs for rejecting a cash offer from a betting company who wanted to take over from previous sponsors Engage Mutual Assurance.

On Tuesday the RFL attempted to put on a brave face over the about-turn, pointing out that, since entering into the partnership, Super League had increased its TV audience by 45 per cent and experienced record attendances.

Super League commercial director James Mercer said: "We are delighted at the success of our one-year partnership with Stobart and the exposure that this ground-breaking concept has created.

"The partnership has placed the sport in a wonderful position to move into the next cycle of our commercial strategy in 2013.

"Innovation has always been at the heart of the Super League and this collaboration showcased the creativity and unity of our clubs.

"With a combined TV audience of over 25 million, huge attendance levels and a national and international expansion the sport is well placed for an exciting future."

Stobart Group chief executive Andrew Tinkler said: "Stobart Group is pleased to have contributed to the promotion and success of the Super League in 2012, with a 45 per cent increase in television audiences.

"The plan was always to review the partnership after the first year and we've decided to step back and allow the RFL to work with commercial partners that can offer the financial support it needs to further develop.

"As such, both parties have mutually agreed to end the collaboration at the close of the season."

Moynihan States TeamGB Shiwen Position

Teenage Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen is not a drug cheat, the British Olympic Association's chairman has said, after a US coach cast doubt on her world record-breaking swim.

Lord Colin Moynihan said Ye, 16, had passed drug tests, was "clean" and deserved recognition for her talent.

Ye smashed her personal best by at least five seconds in the 400m Medley.

Senior US coach John Leonard said her performance was disturbing and hinted that doping could have been involved.

Mr Leonard, executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, said the performance reminded him of the East German women swimmers in the 1980s, who were doping on a systematic basis.

"History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, unbelievable, history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved," he told the UK's Guardian newspaper.

But Ye, who will compete later in the 200m Medley final, has strongly defended herself and denied that she would ever use banned substances.

China's anti-doping chief has said Chinese athletes have undergone nearly 100 drugs tests since arriving in London, and that not a single Chinese athlete had tested positive.

Former swimmers, other Olympic champions and experts have all given their support to Ye.

Lord Moynihan told a news conference that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) was "on top of the game".

"She's been through Wada's programme and she's clean. That's the end of the story. Ye Shiwen deserves recognition for her talent," he said.

International Olympic Committee officials also insisted that if there were any drugs cheats, they would be caught.

The US Olympic Committee (USOC) has distanced itself from Mr Leonard's comments, and Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the US Olympic Committee, told the BBC the Americans were trying to smooth things over with the Chinese.

A member of USOC's international relations team is expected to make contact with the Chinese Olympic Committee later on Tuesday, says the BBC's David Bond.

"We are reaching out to the Chinese and their Olympic committee to ensure they know that this gentleman [Mr Leonard] is not part of our delegation, USA Swimming or the US Olympic Committee," the USOC member said.

"His comments are an independent view and not from us."Earlier scandals

Earlier, former British Olympic champion Adrian Moorhouse said the rumours appeared to be a case of sour grapes.

"The Chinese might have just found this really talented kid, who can work really hard, has the perfect shape and can cope with all the pressure thrown at her," he told the BBC.

Suspicions over Ye's performance were heightened when it was pointed out that in the final 50m of her race she swam faster than the winner of the men's race, Ryan Lochte.

However, her world-record time was still 23 seconds slower than Lochte's winning time, and several of Lochte's competitors were faster than her over the final 50m.

Chinese officials also pointed out that Lochte was easing to the finish, comfortably in the lead, whereas Ye had to battle to the end to take first place.

China's swimming team was repeatedly hit by doping scandals in the 1990s.

Seven swimmers tested positive for drugs in the 1994 Asian Games, and four years later four Chinese swimmers failed pre-tournament drug tests before the World Championships in Australia.

Chinese officials insist they have cleaned up the sport, but earlier this year another 16-year-old swimming prodigy, Li Zhesi, failed a drug test.

All medal winners at the Olympics are drug tested. In addition, any athlete whose performance is far better than anything they have achieved before can be targeted for extra tests.

Davies Hoping for Rio 2016 Gold

Laura Davies, one of Britain’s leading sports stars, will be going for golfing gold in the ISPS Handa Ladies British Masters taking place at Buckinghamshire Golf Club on the outskirts of the capital just after London 2012

The eyes of the world are fully focused on London for The 2012 Olympic Games but Britain’s Laura Davies is relishing the opportunity to celebrate when the ISPS Handa Ladies British Masters takes place on the outskirts of the capital in a fortnight’s time.

The tournament will be played the week after the Olympic Games and before the Paralympic Games on Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th August at Buckinghamshire Golf Club in Denham, just a 20 minute drive from the city of London.

Not surprisingly, Davies, from Lyne in Surrey, is thrilled to be playing at home on her own doorstep and at such an exciting time for British sport.

“I’m really looking forward to competing in front of a home gallery with the support of the British public so it will be one of the highlights of the year for me,” Davies said.

Davies admits that she’d love to be competing at the Games, which is a possibility in four years time in Rio de Janeiro, when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

Britain’s most successful golfer, she has won the Ladies European Tour order of merit a record seven times and racked up 79 tournament wins including four major championship victories, but says that playing in the Olympics would be the icing on the cake.

“To me the Olympic Games are the ultimate sporting events and of course I would love to represent my country playing in it. Whether or not I will play, I don’t know, but I will certainly be watching it on television this year and cheering on Team GB.

“I am playing in the Ladies Irish Open this week, but it is a very special time for the country and I hope that the festivities carry over to the ISPS Handa Ladies British Masters, which will give sports fans a taste of what’s to come in Rio in four years time.” 

The ISPS Handa British Masters is being played for the first time at Buckinghamshire Golf Club, which has excellent rail links, with Denham train station located right next to the golf course. 

Royal Greenwich Silver for Team GB

A brilliant final clear round from Tina Cook saw Great Britain win a team silver medal behind Germany in the eventing competition at Greenwich Park.

Their brave gold medal challenge ultimately came up short as European champions and Olympic title favourites Germany took gold, with New Zealand clinching bronze.

Cook's show-jumping round - she had just one time fault - meant Britain secured second place and gave Britain its 18th Olympic post-war eventing medal alongside her team-mates of Zara Phillips, Nicola Wilson, William Fox-Pitt and Mary King.

After New Zealand's Mark Todd had one fence down it meant Cook, a double Olympic bronze medallist four years ago, could afford to have one fence down and still secure silver for her country.

And she collected just one time fault, meaning she had one of three counting scores alongside King, who jumped clear, and the Queen's granddaughter Phillips, who had seven faults.

Phillips, making her Olympic debut on High Kingdom, was watched from the stands by her mother the Princess Royal, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cornwall.

But she was disappointed with her round, which saw her knock the second fence down and also have three time faults.

Speaking immediately after the round, Phillips said: "I messed up, and I had to get on with it."

Britain's eventers had not won gold since Munich in 1972, when Phillips' father Captain Mark Phillips was in the team, but they gave it everything against a crack German quintet of world champion Michael Jung, Ingrid Klimke, Peter Thomsen, Dirk Schrade and Sandra Auffarth.

Attention now turns to the individual competition this afternoon, which could bring further British success.

King, seeking her first Olympic individual medal, lies third, just ahead of Cook.

Sweden's Sara Algotsson Ostholt leads the individual competition, with Jung second. Jung is bidding to become the first rider in eventing history to hold Olympic, world and European titles simultaneously.

World number one Fox-Pitt, who had a discount score of 53.30, despite jumping clear, has added another silver to his considerable medal collection.

"We are all being carried along on this wave of craziness, " said Fox-Pitt, of the London 2012 experience.

"This is something we have never experienced in our careers and never will again. It's just not normal."

The Business of Sport - Adidas

The rising cost of manufacturing, combined with difficult labour conditions and a feeling that the playing pitches are not level for foreign operators, is putting increased pressure on manufacturing in China, for so long the world’s factory.

Companies are starting to shift elsewhere, mostly to other Asian venues. Sports equipment maker Adidas said this month that it would close its 160-worker factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, at the end of October. It looks like it will probably take its operations to Burma, which is slowly opening up.

China will remain a key market for sourcing goods for the Herzogenaurach- based Adidas as it has more than 300 supplier partners in the country and sourcing is something China still does better than anyone else in the region.

But as the global market slows, Adidas is keen to cut costs and manufacturing is becoming an increasingly expensive business in China. “Monthly salaries of workers in China’s sportswear industry are about 2,000 yuan (€255) to 3,000 yuan (€382),” analyst Ma Gang told the Global Times.

This is more than double what a worker would earn in Cambodia.

The China Daily, in a commentary, said the move was not something Chinese people needed to worry about. Nike closed its self- owned shoe plant in Taicang, also in Jiangsu province, in March 2009. “The rise of labour costs, house rent and resource prices in China necessarily make companies move their factories to other countries with lower production costs,” it said.

One reason is the growing domestic market in China. In 2011, the sportswear market in China was worth 124.7 billion yuan (€16 billion). Adidas’s sales in the first quarter this year increased 26 per cent year on year, and the Chinese market accounted for 23 per cent of its global sales, it said. Sales in Europe fell 7 per cent in the same period.

It has opened more than 6,000 stores since it entered the Chinese mainland market in 1997. And Adidas’s China unit is planning to open up to 600 shops in more than 300 lower-tier cities by the end of the year, most of them in western and northwestern China.

In April, the world’s biggest sporting goods maker, Nike, reported a 21 per cent increase in Chinese sales for its fiscal third quarter.

Closing Adidas’s last factory is the start of a new stage for Chinese industry, the China Daily said. “This change means China should gradually transform itself from a manufacturer to a designer. It also means China’s competitiveness in the world trade is no longer based on its cheap labour, but on its innovation and product quality.”

Murphy Forced to Withdraw from London

Grainne Murphy revealed that she had little choice but to withdraw from the London 2012 Olympics on medical grounds.

Murphy from Ireland had been due to take part in the 800m freestyle event on Thursday, but has dramatically pulled out as she is still suffering from the effects of a case of glandular fever.

The Limerick-based Murphy was hit with the viral illness last March, and despite her best efforts, the after effects have prevented her from competing.

She said: "I tried to keep it very low key, I’m not really a person that likes to say these things out. It was very difficult to come to terms with it myself so it took me a while to adjust."

Murphy had already pulled out of the 200m freestyle, hoping to be fit for the 800m, but after she finished last in her 400m heat, it became apparent that she was well below her best.

"After swimming the 400m and speaking to everybody, getting advice from, (Chef de Mission) Sonia (O’Sullivan), speaking to Peter Banks (Swim Ireland performance director), I think this is the best decision for me," she said.

Murphy insisted that she has no regrets in going to London and that she did everything she possibly could to ensure she would be ready for the Olympics.

She said: “I prepared everything I could coming up the Games, I did my recovery, I worked very well with [my coach] Ronald [Claes] and the support team, so we did everything we possibly could to get here.

"I came here to compete as best I can, but right now my ability isn’t up to where I want it to be. I think after swimming the 400m on Sunday I now realise that I need to recover and get better for next season and do the best I can."

Peter Banks insisted that Murphy will continue to have the full support of Team Ireland, saying: "We obviously want to support Grainne, want to make sure that she’s in the right place and that all the team members and staff around her are supporting her and that we can give her any kind of help and support she needs."

Camilla Speirs Suffers Bad Fall

Event rider Camilla Speirs is recovering well after an ugly fall aboard her horse Portersize Just a Jiff that saw her exit the Olympic Games.

Speirs had started well in the Eventing cross-country challenge, but took a heavy fall just three jumps from the end.

Screens were erected around both Speirs and Portersize, leading to fears of a major injury, but team Ireland vet Marscus Swail has confirmed that both rider and horse are recovering well and have avoided any serious damage.

"The horse sustained some bruising to his ribs and chest during the fall. He has been under observation at the Olympic Venue Veterinary Clinic during the night and this morning was comfortable," Swail said.

"He is moving to another veterinary clinic off site today for a few more days of observation just to make absolutely sure that he’s fine."

Speirs added via her twitter account @CamillaSpeirs: “My brave little [superstar] in a lot of pain but being a trooper as always. Will spend [night] wit him 2nt. so proud of him.” (Sic)

Cork rider Michael Ryan, aboard Ballylynch Adventure also suffered a fall on the opening day leaving the Irish team with just three competitors after both he and Speirs were disqualified for their falls.

Frankel Seeking Glory at Goodwood

Glorious Goodwood begins on Tuesday, with most attention at the five-day meeting on the unbeaten Frankel.

Sir Henry Cecil's colt has won his first 11 races and is a long odds-on shot to defend his Sussex Stakes title against three rivals on Wednesday.

Richard Hannon seeks his third Lennox Stakes in five years on Tuesday with stable stalwart Libranno .

Last year's winner Hoof It is out of Stewards' Cup on Saturday, which also features the Nassau Stakes.

Aidan O'Brien had the choice of Irish Guineas winner Power, Jersey Stakes winner Ishvana or Reply for the coveted Group one-mile Sussex Stakes, but has not declared any of them.

Frankel's main test now looks likely to come from Godolphin's four-year-old Farhh, third in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and second in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown last time.

Stablemate and pacemaker Bullet Train,and Richard Fahey's Gabrial, who stepped up from handicap company to finish fifth in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, are the only other runners.

Sir Henry is continuing to have cancer treatment and will not be able to attend Goodwood to watch his prize four-year-old.

"Although I am able to train my horses, I'm not quite fit to go racing yet, but I hope to be fully recovered in the near future," he said.

"Everything has gone as we could have wished with Frankel since the Queen Anne Stakes. We gave him an easy time immediately after Royal Ascot before bringing him back into fast work.

"He has pleased us with his work and is going to the Sussex Stakes in good shape. We are taking one race at a time with him and are hoping that he can extend his unbeaten record."

Ladies' Day on Thursday features the Goodwood Cup over two miles, won last year by Frankie Dettori on Opinion Poll, who was second to Dettori and Colour Vision in this year's Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

There are currently 43 horses entered for the Goodwood Mile on Friday, with John Gosden-trained four-year-old Trade Commissionerhighly regarded after completing successive wins over the distance in the Challenge Handicap at Sandown.

Hoof It, owned by golfer Lee Westwood and agent Chubby Chandler, would have been forced to carry a huge burden in the Stewards' Cup and now competes in Group races.

James Fanshawe's Hallelujah, third in the Summer Stakes at York last time, has been at the head of the market for some time and is still in contention for a start.

Also on the final day is the Group One Nassau Stakes, won for the last three years by Sir Henry's Midday, who has since been retired.

Timepiece is Sir Henry's offering this year, while Gosden has strong contenders in Izzi Top and The Fugue.

Goodwood organisers are confident that the Olympics will not have any impact on attendances at the picturesque West Sussex venue this week.

"We are expecting a full house, particularly on Wednesday, because of the great interest surrounding Frankel," Goodwood marketing executive Lucy Faith told BBC Sport.

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Calm Before the Storm - Picture of the Day

Head Coach Andre Villa-Boas of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during a practice session at Red Bull Arena on July 30, 2012 in Harrison, New Jersey.
(July 29, 2012 - Source: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America)

Daley Twitter Troll Arrested - Dorset Police

A 17-year-old was arrested at a guest house in Weymouth on Tuesday morning after malicious tweets were sent to Olympic diver Tom Daley, Dorset Police have confirmed.

Police intervened after a Twitter 'troll' accused Team GB diver Daley of letting down his late father by finishing outside the medals on Monday.

Daley and his partner, Pete Waterfield, finished fourth in the men's synchronised 10m platform diving final.

Shortly afterwards, Daley retweeted a message from user Rileyy69 which said: "You let your dad down i hope you know that."

Daley responded by tweeting: "After giving it my all... you get idiots sending me this..."

Daley's father Rob died last year from brain cancer.

After the insensitive tweet had provoked a furious reaction on the social networking site, Rileyy69 attempted to apologise.

He then tweeted: "@TomDaley1994 I'm sorry mate i just wanted you to win cause its the olympics I'm just annoyed we didn't win I'm sorry tom accept my apology."

He later added: "please i don't want to be hated I'm just sorry you didn't win i was rooting for you pal to do britain all proud just so upset."

Dorset Police subsequently confirmed they were investigating the incident and an arrest was made on Tuesday morning.

A police spokeswoman said: "A 17-year-old male was arrested by Dorset Police officers in the early hours this morning at a guesthouse in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications.

"He is currently helping police with their inquiries."

Deputy Mayor of the Olympic Village Duncan Goodhew, a gold and bronze medallist in swimming at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, described the behaviour of the Twitter troll as "appalling".

"It is appalling that people behave that way. Becky Adlington, in fact, suffered probably far worse abuse, as well, if you remember the kerfuffle some years ago," he told ITV's Daybreak.

"I suppose that social media in one sense is fantastic, but turned the wrong way round it is very, very personal and it destroys people's lives.

"So I think people should be much more careful about what they say."

OSM Supports #stopthinktweet

Saudi Arabia Jodoka Battles for Hijab

The father of a female Saudi Arabian judo competitor says his daughter will pull out of the Olympics if she is not allowed to wear her hijab during bouts.

Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, 16, is due to compete in the +78kg category on Friday.

A Saudi official said earlier this month that its female athletes would have to obey Islamic dress codes.

But International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said she would have to fight without the headscarf.

"The athlete from Saudi Arabia will fight in the spirit of judo and according to the principles of judo without a hijab," said Vizer last week.

The sport has banned the headscarf for safety reasons.

Shaherkani's father, Ali, told Saudi Arabia's al-Watan newspaper that his daughter will not compete in the Judo Games on 3 August if the committee insists that she removes her hijab.

Olympic and Saudi officials are in talks with judo chiefs in an attempt to find a solution but Shaherkani told the newspaper he had not heard back from the International Olympic Committee on the matter.

Shaherkani and 800m runner Sarah Attar are Saudi Arabia's two female competitors at London 2012.

There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in Saudi Arabia. 

Officials have found it difficult to find athletes who could meet the minimum qualifying standards.

Meilutyte Wins First Gold at 15

Teenager Ruta Meilutyte won Lithuania's first ever Olympic gold in the pool by beating American Rebecca Soni in the women's 100m breaststroke.

The 15-year-old, who goes to the same Plymouth school as Tom Daley,led from the start and beat the fast-finishing Soni by 0.08 seconds.

Japan's Satomi Suzuki earned bronze, while Australia's defending champion Leisel Jones finished fifth.

"I can't believe it," said a stunned Meilutyte. "It's too much for me."

Having set a new European record in the heats - a mark that beat her personal best by two seconds - Meilutyte swam even faster in the semi-finals on Sunday to qualify fastest for the final ahead of world champion and Beijing silver medallist Soni.

In the final, following a fault at the start, where the bleep went before the swimmers were told to take their marks, Meilutyte astonished both herself and the crowd to hold off her challengers and win in 1:05.47.

The gold was Lithuania's first medal of the London Olympics.

Meilutyte, who moved to Britain three years ago with her father, is trained by English coach Jon Rudd.

He said that a fast swim had been "brewing for a while".

"We didn't realistically know what she would do," said Rudd, who revealed that Meilutyte was a freestyler when she arrived in the United Kingdom.

"Her breaststroke was pretty tidy and we tidied it up even more.

"A big swim around the 1:05-1:06 mark was brewing for a while, it was just about putting the elements together on the day.

"She is a talented and vigilant worker. When you've got talent and work ethic you've got a great kid."

Meilutyte could add to her medal tally as she is competing in the women's 50m and 100m freestyle.

Plymouth College assistant headteacher Sarah Dunn said of her student's triumph: "We are almost in tears, it was such an achievement.

"We knew she had great potential when she arrived here three years ago. Not only is she a fantastic athlete, but she is also a great scholar.

"She has always demonstrated superb talent and the hunger and desire to succeed. We had every confidence in her.

"To achieve what she has at such a young age is incredible. She is a real credit and we are so proud of her."

O.J. Murdock 1987 - 2012

Hours after sending a gracious yet puzzling middle-of-the-night text message to a former college coach, police say Tennessee Titans receiver  died in an apparent suicide.

Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said officers found Murdock about 8:30 a.m. inside his car with what appeared to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds. The car was parked in front of Middleton High School, where Murdock made a name for himself as a dynamic receiver and state champion sprinter in track and field.

Al McCray, assistant head coach/receivers at Fort Hays State, said when he woke up at his Kansas home on Monday he found a message on his cell phone from the player, thanking him for everything he had done for Murdock and his family. The athlete concluded the text with an apology that baffled McCray, who said he had known the 25-year-old since Murdock was in middle school.

"I spoke to him a week ago, and he was so excited about getting ready to go (to training camp). He was real happy about being able to help his mother out," McCray recalled. "You always like to hear kids who talk about that. It brings a smile to your face to hear a young man talk about 'Hey, I'm glad I'm able to help my mother out.' "

McCray was an assistant coach at Middleton when Murdock was there and later helped the player resume his college career after he was kicked off the team at South Carolina, where he was part of Steve Spurrier's first recruiting class.

"The hardest part about this is I got a text at 3:30 in the morning, where he said: 'Coach, I want to thank you for everything you've done for me and my family. It's greatly appreciated,' " McCray said. "At the end, he goes: 'I apologise.' And I don't know what he's talking about. I woke up, and I'm thinking he's apologising because he texted me so early. ... I wish he had called instead."

Murdock, who signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent all of last season on injured reserve, was taken to Tampa General, where he died.

The speedy receiver did not report to training camp over the weekend because of what the Titans said at the time was a personal issue. He last was with the team in June for mini-camp.

"We were concerned initially when O.J. didn't report on the 27th. But we were able to make contact with him and he assured us everything was OK and he would be in here on Sunday. He didn't make it on Sunday," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said.

"He didn't give us a lot of information. He was injured and ... when he left here probably wasn't quite ready to go, so we were probably a little more relaxed on him than normal," Webster added. "If he had come in here, he probably wouldn't have been ready to practice right away."

McCray said when he last spoke to Murdock, the receiver didn't provide any indication that something might troubling him. Titans coach Mike Munchak said the team didn't detect any signs, either.

"We didn't have any (hints). It's a phone call you never want to get," Munchak said. "It's something that as a head coach, you never think you'll have to stand in front of your team and give them that kind of news. I think everyone was shocked by it. We weren't aware that there were any issues going on."

Murdock signed with South Carolina out of high school but played in only four games, making one catch, after redshirting his first season. He was arrested for shoplifting at a Florida department store during the 2006 season and suspended.

"All of us here are saddened to hear of O.J.'s passing," Spurrier said. "Our condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends."

Murdock transferred to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi and then to Fort Hays State, where he helped transform one of the nation's least productive Division II offenses into one of the more prolific. As a senior in 2010, he had 60 catches for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns.

That earned him an invitation to the NFL scouting combine. After going undrafted, he was signed by the Titans last summer but spent the entire 2011 season on injured reserve after hurting his right Achilles early in training camp.

Murdock had been out of football for two years when McCray talked him into doing the necessary academic work necessary to get back into school and, hopefully, rekindle his career.

"O.J. came here without a visit, without anything. After I got him eligible, he could have gone anywhere he wanted in terms of Division II. A bunch of the top-rated Division II programs were recruiting him, but he was a loyal kid," McCray said. "He comes here, we go from being ranked 150th in total offense to No. 8 in the nation. We averaged 33 points a game where the year prior we were only averaging 8."

Three former NFL players -- Junior Seau, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson -- each died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the past year and a half. Easterling and Duerson were found to have brain damage at the time of their deaths and their families are among those suing the league over the long-term effects of concussions. Brain tissue from Seau has been released by his family for study.

Murdock's name had not come up in the ongoing concussion debate, and Munchak said he had no knowledge of the player having a history of such injuries.

"There was nothing that I'm aware of at all with that," Munchak said.

McCray said Murdock's polite, humble disposition and infectious smile made him a big hit at Hays State, which was stunned by Monday's news.

"Our homecoming game his senior year, the fire marshal calls our athletic director to say: 'Listen, we can't allow any more people to come into this game, we're at capacity,' " McCray said. "Our A.D. was like. 'No, you're not. Let 'em in.' That's just the impact that kid had here."

"It's hard, it really is because he was such a good kid. He was lazy in the classroom in high school, and of course he messed up at South Carolina, but you're talking about a kid who was on his mom's couch for two years. ... He got the grades he needed and he came up here and he had one dream, one goal: 'I'm going to come out here and I'm going to play at a high level and I'll get to the National Football League.' And the kid did it. He did it."

Monday 30 July 2012

Magic Name Jacque Vaughn

Orlando announced the hiring of Jacque Vaughn, 37, as its next head coach on Saturday, bringing the latest 30-something member to a basketball operations department following the hiring of 30-year-old general manager Rob Hennigan last month.

He will be formally introduced at a news conference on Monday.

Vaughn becomes the 10th coach in team history and replaces Stan Van Gundy, who was fired on May 21 despite compiling a 259-135 regular-season record, franchise-best .657 winning percentage and a 31-28 playoff record.

"As we navigated through our coaching search, we quickly saw that Jacque's spirit and leadership strengths made him the clear choice," Hennigan said in a statement. "We are confident that his diligence, attention to detail and communication style will help establish the bedrock of our culture moving forward. His commitment and passion to building a sustainable program will help steer our organization for years to come."

Hennigan chose Vaughn from a finalists' pool that included Phoenix Suns development coach Lindsey Hunter and former Detroit Pistons head coach and current Philadelphia 76ers assistant Michael Curry.

A 12-year NBA player before retiring in 2009 with San Antonio, Vaughn's career included 80 games for the Magic in 2002-03. The former Kansas Jayhawks standout has never been an NBA head coach. But he has spent the past two seasons as an assistant at San Antonio, where he also won a championship as a player in 2007.

That is important because one of the qualities that both Hennigan and Magic CEO Alex Martins said the team was seeking in a successor to Van Gundy was a championship pedigree.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is one of the league's top coaches and has multiple NBA titles. Vaughn also has played under the likes of Boston coach Doc Rivers, Cleveland coach Byron Scott -- both who have titles as coaches or players -- and former Utah coach Jerry Sloan.

Even before Vaughn was announced, the potential choice was receiving some criticism after Vaughn moved to a front-runner position.

Former Magic player and current television analyst Shaquille O'Neal posted a scathing assessment of Vaughn likely succeeding Van Gundy, posting on Twitter: "Orlando magic is about to hire jock Vaughn over mike Malone or Brian shaw are u kidding me, wow, good luck winning wit Dat team Dwite Howard."

Malone, Golden State's lead assistant, and Shaw, Indiana's associate head coach, also both received preliminary interviews and like Vaughn are considered in NBA circles to be rising prospects among the assistant coaching ranks.

O'Neal has friendship ties to both having played with Shaw as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He also briefly played under Malone with he was an assistant with the Cavaliers.

That criticism aside, the biggest unknown is what -- if anything -- Vaughn's hire will do to quell or exacerbate Magic centre Dwight Howard's desire to leave town.

Howard reissued his trade demand to Hennigan when the pair met for the first time in Los Angeles last month, singling out the Brooklyn Nets as his desired landing spot.

After recent efforts by Orlando to make that happen fell through, along with possible trades to other teams, Howard has since told Hennigan in another meeting that he has no desire to return to Orlando next season for the final year of his contract.

Martins said following Van Gundy's firing that the team did not want to go through the same whirlwind of uncertainty that Howard's preseason trade demand put it through last season.

But Hennigan said earlier this month that he didn't rule out the possibility of Howard returning to the Magic next season.

Manchester United Choose Chevrolet

Manchester United have announced a new seven-year sponsorship deal with US car giant General Motors.

The deal announced will see Chevrolet, which is already the club's official car partner, will become only the club's fifth shirt sponsor in their history.

The value of the agreement, which will commence in 2014, remains undisclosed but is thought to be in excess of the current £20 million a year deal with Aon.

Manchester United's commercial director, Richard Arnold, told the club's official website: "This is a fantastic, long-term deal for the club. We have been partners with Chevrolet for only six weeks, but already they have produced some fantastic ideas that will benefit both the partnership and our 659 million followers around the world.

"They are a key partner on our current tour and I know they have enjoyed experiencing the buzz generated by our fanatical support and the sell-out crowds in South Africa, China, and Europe.

"It is a great thrill for those of us who work with partners all year round when an existing partner steps up to being one of our principal partners. This commitment to United and its fans will bring real benefits to everyone who cares about the club.''

Alan Batey, General Motors' North America vice-president, US sales and service, added: "We are extremely proud to connect our brand, Chevrolet, with Manchester United and its passionate supporters all around the world.

"Manchester United's statistics are impressive, but this relationship goes far beyond the numbers - this relationship is about connecting our brand with the deep-seated emotion that surrounds the team everywhere it goes.

"When you consider the core values of Chevrolet, our passionate customers around the world, and our rich 100-year history, the partnership with Manchester United is a perfect fit.

"And, to be only the fifth name on the iconic red jersey is a genuine honour. We very much look forward to the road ahead and the opportunities we have in partnering with such a legendary club.''

Venus and Serena Progress in London

Venus Williams began her bid for a record fourth gold medal in Olympic tennis Monday by beating Sara Errani of Italy, 6-3, 6-1.

It was an impressive showing from Williams, who is unseeded and drew a tough first-round foe. Errani has won four titles this year, was the runner-up at the French Open and is ranked a career-high No. 9.

But Williams was in fine form on the Wimbledon grass, where she has won five of her seven Grand Slam titles.

Despite being diagnosed last year with an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue, Williams began 2012 determined to make the Olympics for the fourth time.

She won the gold medal in singles at the 2000 Games and teamed with sister Serena to take the gold in doubles in 2000 and 2008.

Serena beat Urszula Radwanska of Poland, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round at Wimbledon on Monday.

Serena defeated Radwanska's sister, Agnieszka, in the Wimbledon final this year.

American Varvara Lepchenko eliminated Veronica Cepede Royg of Paraguay 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-2. Their match was tied after two sets when suspended Sunday because of rain.