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Hey now everyone..

I'm back in the comfortable captain's chair after a two-week hiatus, ready to guide all you fans who yen for more than just the standard regurgitation of baseball, basketball, and football in your sports life through the wide wide world of athletic prowess. We'll begin with something that does not lie in the traditional realm of sports. There is no competition amongst peoples, only between man, the elements and time: the semi-annual quest to surpass 8000 meters in the Himalaya...


The road to the top of the world...For over a century now modern mountaineering expeditions have set out to the rooftop of the world in hopes that every variable will come together to allow the team to reach the summit of these mountains. Only fourteen mountains in the world can claim to rise above that 8000-meter benchmark:


  1. Everest (Nepal/Tibet) - 8850 m
  2. K2 (Pakistan) - 8611 m
  3. Kangchenjunga (Nepal/India) - 8586 m
  4. Lhotse (Nepal/Tibet) - 8516 m
  5. Makalu (Nepal) - 8463 m
  6. Cho-Oyu (Nepal/Tibet) - 8201 m
  7. Dhaulagiri (Nepal) - 8167 m
  8. Manaslu (Nepal) - 8156 m
  9. Nanga Parbat (Pakistan) - 8125 m
  10. Annapurna (Nepal) - 8091 m
  11. Gasherbrum I (Pakistan/China) - 8068 m
  12. Broad Peak (Pakistan/China) - 8047 m
  13. Gasherbrum II (Pakistan/China) - 8035 m
  14. Shishapangma (Tibet/China) - 8013 m

Centered around two axes -- the corridor through Tibet and Nepal of which Everest is the pinnacle, and the Karakoram region dominated by K2 in Pakistan and China -- the Himalaya house all these peaks. Climbers have short windows of opportunity in which to get to these mountains, establish bases en route and attempt the summit. The voyage is hardly a picnic, either. The need to acclimatize to the rapid gains in altitude is offset by the need to expeditiously reach the goal before foul weather returns...


People get sick; people die on the mountains. For all the tours that people can take now to get to the top of these mountains, it is amazing to realize that only sixty years ago people had yet to reach the top of any one of these 8000-meter mountains. Only on 03 June 1950, when Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal stood atop Annapurna in Nepal, did man finally open the floodgates for the age of Himalayan conquest. Fourteen years after that first feat, all the 8000-meter peaks had been summited. It is only in the past several decades, however, that Everest and the other Himalayan giants have become the realm of guides for hire, mountain mercenaries who ferry people up the mountain for an extreme vacation of sorts. The glorification of these peaks has led many people to their demise. Far too many lack the respect for the mountains of a Tenzing Norgay or a Reinhold Messner; the mountains are treated as little more than an obstacle to be conquered...


We must remember that there are calculated risks in every athletic endeavor. Whether attempting high-altitude mountaineering, diving onto the ice to block a shot, or laying out for a cross-court groundstroke, athletes must constantly assess their situation. Highly attuned to their surroundings, elite athletes of all stripes have an innate ability to know what they are doing and why at all times...


Annika Sorenstam... ... and Justine Henin are retiring near the top of their respective professions...
This includes knowing when to get out of the game while the getting is still good. Two ladies who have had relative dominance in their respective sports called it quits this week within days of one another. Annika Sorenstam, the longtime number-one ranked woman in golf, announced Tuesday afternoon that she would retire from the LPGA Tour at the end of the 2008 season. With 72 career victories, 10 majors and over $22 million in prize money, the fifteen-year veteran is quitting on her terms and leaving behind the possibility of setting the all-time wins and majors marks while still in her prime. The 37-year-old Sorenstam, preparing for a new life as a married family woman, leaves the game an eight-time LPGA player of the year and perhaps the most dominant athlete ever to grace the LPGA Tour...


A day later, only a week and a half before the start of the French Open which she has won the past three consecutive years, Justine Henin announced her immediate retirement from tennis at the age of 25. Henin, a seven-time Grand Slam champion (four French Opens, two U.S. Opens and an Australian Open), leaves tennis at the top of the WTA rankings. While her game has fallen off at the beginning of this season (much like Federer's on the men's side), Henin leaves the game with something left in the tank...


This is the inevitable decision which an athlete must eventually make. No one can play at a high level forever; but for those athletes who work for the entirety of their young lives to reach the height of their profession, it is invariably difficult to let go of that which has consumed all your focus and passion. Just as I said with Brett Favre earlier this season, we should not second-guess the decision of these two women. An athlete's decision to hang it up comes only after much soul-searching, and if fate reveals that it is time then it is time...

Vande Velde celebrates the first American to wear pink in Italy since Hampsten in '88... The Giro d'Italia is rolling through Italy right now, without Italian sprint star Alessandro Petacchi. The dominant stage winner with the lethal finishing kick has been officially banned for a year... for using his asthma inhaler too much. You see, the active ingredient inside -- salbutamol -- has been deemed illicit under WADA, IOC and UCI rules. Personal-use exemptions are granted to those who have asthma... but there is a harsh limit on how much can be in the bloodstream at any given time. Petacchi was simply TOO short of breath, puffed a few too many times, and now he is on a forced sabbatical...


But the race rolls on. British sprint star Mark Cavendish already has a stage victory, and American Christian Vande Velde became the first American since Andy Hampsten won in Milan in 1988 to wear the maglio rosa (pink jersey, like the yellow jersey in the Tour de France but pink, like the TdF's yellow, because of the color of newsprint used by the original sponsor, La Gazzetta dello Sport) as the revolutionary new American squad on the scene, Slipstream-Chipotle, took the opening team time trial in their gaudy blue-and-orange argyle uniforms ahead of such powerhouses as Astana and CSC... There are two weeks left to the race, so we have a long way to go... stay tuned here for weekly updates all the way to Milan!


The departure of Justine Henin from the women's draw has Roland Garros looking even more open than it has in years. Both the men's and women's side could easily see a new champion crowned in the Parisien clay... stay tuned next week for a longer preview as we reevaluate the field... Henin's got me shaken up for now...


Pittsburgh is dominating Philly in the East... The NHL is getting into its home-stretch. Pittsburgh is up 3-0 in the Eastern Conference finals; Detroit fell in Dallas last night to tighten the series to 3-1 in the West. Should history hold true and the Penguins and Red Wings meet for the Cup, we should have one barn-burner of a series on our hands to decide the distribution of Lord Stanley's Chalice. It says here that Pittsburgh should be able to restore the Cup to the East; Detroit should be coming out of the West far more beat up than the Eastern Conference champs... look for a long and epic series between these two storied squads...


And the Champions League has wound down to the final, to be played in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow next week. For only the third time in history two clubs from the same nation will square off in the final. In 2000, it was Spain represented by Real Madrid and Valencia; in 2003 it was A.C. Milan and Juventus for Italy. Now we have two legendary squads from the birthplace of soccer competing for Europe's greatest prize. Players from both Chelsea and Manchester United are jazzed for this contest... many feel that their success cannot be legitimized until they win this ultimate club prize. Enjoy the contest... neither team is MY team, but it should be one hell of a match!


So there's plenty on tap around the world in the coming weeks to whet even the most voracious sports fanatic's appetite. Enjoy the NBA playoffs, certainly, and the baseball season as the weather heats up. But please don't forget that there's a wide wide world of sports out there to be witnessed; don't leave all the fun to everyone else! 


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