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Update December 2018

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern

Wilder and Fury step up in heavyweight title fight

In this Oct. 2, 2018 file photo Tyson Fury, left, and Deontay Wilder face off during a news conference in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Tim Dahlberg

Los Angeles (AP) - Just how well Deontay Wilder's heavyweight title defense Saturday night against Tyson Fury in Los Angeles will do at the box office is a question mark. For all the power in his right hand, Wilder is still trying to build his brand and Fury is largely an enigma in the U.S.

What it means for boxing's most prestigious division, though, is easy to quantify.

The winner gets a glittering championship belt, of course, that signifies he is the baddest man on the planet — at least in the parts of the planet that currently recognize Wilder as the reigning heavyweight champion. And that's still a big deal because even though the heavyweight division hasn't been good in recent times, it's brimming with talent right now.

But the real prize will likely come sometime next year, assuming common sense prevails as it often doesn't in boxing. That means a fight matching the Wilder-Fury winner with Anthony Joshua, the British puncher who currently holds the other parts of the title, in a pay-per-view fight that would do massive numbers.

The best fighting the best, like the heavyweights of another era used to do all the time. And no better way to start it off then with an intriguing showdown at Staples Center between two undefeated fighters who both have their eye on a bigger prize.

"The most important thing is that we all fight each other and give the boxing fans of our era something to talk about," Fury said. "It would be a crying shame to not fight each other and all get in the mix. Who's the best, we'll all find out when we all fight each other."

Wilder will be defending the WBC version of the title he holds against Fury in a fight no one was really talking about until it was made. That includes Wilder, who has campaigned hard for a unification fight with Joshua, even offering him a $50 million purse at one point to try to get it done.

But Joshua has his own timetable, and with the fan base of an entire country behind him in England, he has the luxury of picking and choosing just who he fights and when.

So, when he ignored Wilder, the American went looking elsewhere — and found a willing dance partner in Fury, who stakes a claim of his own to the heavyweight title after beating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

"I feel whoever wins this can call themselves the best heavyweight champion in the world," Wilder said. "Let's face it, we don't have to keep going over this over and over again about Anthony Joshua. They had their opportunity, they had their chance."

Indeed, there should be no reason to talk much about Joshua this week. Wilder and Fury deserve to be center stage, if for nothing else than because both are willing to fight each other.

Wilder is a legitimate heavyweight champion, a 6-foot-7 former Olympic medalist who hasn't lost in 40 fights and possesses freaky power in his right hand. He won't win any points for a boxing style that can be charitably described as awkward, but he has knocked out all but one of his opponents — including Luis Ortiz, the powerful former Cuban he flattened his last time out in March.

Fury, meanwhile, is even bigger at 6-foot-9, boxes like a middleweight, and has won all 27 of his fights. But he stepped away from the ring after beating Klitschko for the title and ballooned to nearly 400 pounds while binging on beer and cocaine. He said he was in a deep depression that has now lifted, but will be fighting for only the second time in his comeback.

Oddsmakers make Wilder the 9-5 favorite, but there are legitimate questions about both men that still have to be answered. By the time they're finished with 12 rounds or less the heavyweight picture should be in clearer focus and the winner should have a clear path to Joshua.

This is boxing, of course, so anything can happen. But it would be hard for Joshua to keep claiming he's the best if he doesn't fight the best.

In the meantime, boxing fans will have to be content seeing just two who might just be the best.

IOC President Bach lavishes praise on suspended Sheikh Ahmad

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a speech during the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) general assembly in Tokyo Thursday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Stephen Wade

Tokyo (AP) — Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, who has stepped away temporarily from the presidency of an Olympic umbrella group to fight a criminal court case in Switzerland, was praised by IOC President Thomas Bach on Thursday.

"We have said, first of all, that we respect the decision he took under his own will and we recognize that this decision, his decision, was taken in the interests of all of us," Bach told 1,400 delegates of the Association of National Olympic Committees.

The Kuwaiti sheikh last week also suspended himself from his 26-year membership in the International Olympic Committee in order to fight the corruption case.

He has said he's innocent and says the case is "politically motivated."

ANOC senior vice president Robin Mitchell will serve as the acting president. Mitchell said he had no idea how long that would be for.

Sheikh Ahmad is accused by Geneva public prosecutors of forgery in an alleged faked arbitration case involving four others.

"We hope we can see him back here very soon after his case is solved," Bach told delegates, who applauded warmly.

Many credit Sheikh Ahmad with swinging votes to get Bach elected in 2013.

Bach also lectured the delegates about the need for good governance: "Maybe you don't want to hear it anymore. But I will not get tired of repeating it with regard to good governance: What affects one of us affects all of us."

The IOC has been hit with embarrassing corruption cases. Sheikh Ahmad is the third IOC member recently to be suspended — or self-suspended. A fourth, honorary member Carlos Nuzman who headed the 2016 Olympics, is also suspended.

NBA making a 'long-term play' in Africa

In this Aug. 4, 2018 file photo, Team Africa's Joel Embiid throws balls to fans during the NBA Africa Game between Team Africa and Team World, at the Sun Arena in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Ken Maguire

Saly, Senegal (AP) — Timothy Ighoefe is an intimidating defender at 6-foot-11 and 245 pounds. Still, the Nigerian knows he must improve if his decision to play basketball instead of soccer is going to pay off and take him to the NBA.

The 18-year-old Ighoefe has committed to play for Patrick Ewing at Georgetown University next season, only three years after switching to basketball in his hometown of Lagos.

"I need to work on my speed, running down the floor baseline to baseline," Ighoefe said this week at the unveiling of a new training facility at the NBA's African academy in Senegal. "My left hand, I need to improve, to finish with my left hand."

In other words, there's potential but it's a work in progress — just like Africa itself for the NBA.

"It's a continent with over a billion people, with a fast-growing economy, fast-growing young urban population. That's a good recipe for the NBA long term," said NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, also in Senegal for the training facility opening.

The NBA has big plans for Africa. An office was established eight years ago in South Africa. There's an annual exhibition game featuring NBA stars.

Now, the NBA's top brass says Africa is ready for more. Tatum said they're creating a pan-African league that will involve existing professional clubs, and that NBA pre-season and regular-season games will be held on the continent "in the next couple of years."

Another step is the new training center, built on the campus of a soccer academy in a coastal resort town 45 miles south of the Senegalese capital Dakar. Saly, a former Portuguese trading post, is now a getaway spot for Dakar's upper class and is home to many French people.

The two parquet courts were imported from the United States. Simply being indoors and with air conditioning probably makes it the best basketball facility in Senegal. A fabric, tent-like covering is stitched together over steel trusses, and repurposed shipping containers facing the courts are used for weight training.

The academy is one of seven around the world, with three of them in China. It features fulltime schooling and training. It can accommodate 24 boys selected from English- and French-speaking African countries. The NBA holds camps for elite African girls, but there's no center for them yet.

"All you have to do here is just focus on basketball and school," Ighoefe said. "You don't have to be worried about anything else. In Lagos, it's different. There are a lot of distractions."

The teenage boys begin their days with a light workout at 5:30 a.m. Then it's breakfast, school, lunch, school, gym. They're coached by former NBA and NCAA players and have traveled to Australia, Europe and the United States for tournaments.

Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, said the NBA is building from the grassroots, like the Jr. NBA programs expanding across the continent.

"We are only scratching the surface," said Fall, a Senegal native who founded the nearby SEED Academy, which works closely with the NBA's African operation. "We are empowering young people through basketball and in the process elite talent is going come out and get into the NBA, and also feed other leagues across the world, and our future league on the continent."

This season began with 13 African-born players on NBA rosters.

Tatum said details of the pan-African league will be announced within months. It will involve co-operation from FIBA and existing professional leagues, he said.

"We're trying to find a way to do it quickly, to be able to work with some of those leagues, to work with our partner FIBA, to get something up and running sooner rather than later," Tatum said.

Africa lacks good infrastructure, but Tatum cited the new Dakar Arena, as well as Rwanda's plan for a new facility, as incentive for the NBA to bring games here. He called the Dakar Arena a "world-class facility" but wouldn't confirm the Senegalese sports minister's announcement moments earlier that it would host the NBA exhibition game next year.

South Africa hosted the first three NBA Africa exhibitions but West African countries like Senegal and Nigeria appear more eager to embrace basketball.

Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Africa. The likes of Liverpool and Barcelona boast fan clubs all over the continent, and the European start times make it easier to watch live.

Ighoefe catches highlights of his favorite player, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, on the mornings after games. He watches on YouTube and follows the Cameroonian star on Instagram.

African kids can play soccer with just a ball and any bit of space, even a street. But finding a basketball court, even just a cement half-court and a rim, is hard.

Ibrahima Ndiaye, director of Flying Star academy in Dakar, which has produced several NCAA Division 1 players, said the NBA can dramatically increase youth participation by building courts — a lot of them.

"That's what is needed here in Africa to develop basketball in all neighborhoods," Ndiaye said in a phone interview. "We need more and more usable infrastructure. It's the only way to increase the number of kids who practice."

China is a huge success for the NBA, so it's often compared to the league's initiatives in Africa.

"We've been in China for 30 years," Tatum said, adding some perspective. "We opened up our office here on the continent, in South Africa, only eight years ago."

Tatum said that figure of 13 African players on NBA starting rosters could double within a decade.

"For us," he said, "it's a long-term investment and long-term play."

Norwegian, US skiers share tips for speed

Norway's Kjetil Jansrud skis down the course during a Men's World Cup downhill skiing training run Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Beaver Creek, Colo. (AP Photo/Nathan Bilow)

Pat Graham

Beaver Creek, Colo. (AP) — The Norwegians reveled in teammate Kjetil Jansrud's super-G win last weekend at Lake Louise.

So did the Americans. Not to the same extent, obviously — "they win a lot," downhiller Jared Goldberg cracked — but Jansrud's speedy performance at least showed the U.S. men's squad they're on the right track.

The two countries have become partners in training the last few seasons. The Norwegians bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and another level of seriousness to the hill. The Americans add a top-level training facility, more coaches on the course to relay information and a different level of playfulness.

In the end, the two nations speak precisely the same language — speed.

"Having them around, it's awesome," said U.S. racer Travis Ganong, who finished 1.87 seconds behind the top time turned in by Otmar Striedinger of Austria during a World Cup downhill training session Wednesday. "Having the Norwegians on the hill elevates our level. When we're training with our group, we joke around and have a lot of fun. We're not always pushing that hard. It's nice to bring in the Norwegians to help us push hard. Hopefully, it helps them, too, to have this cooperation."

It definitely does. Especially early in the season, when the Norwegians gain access to the U.S. ski team's speed center at Copper Mountain, Colorado — a well-manicured 2-mile track where they can cruise up to 80 mph. Along with it, U.S. coaches who can relay information.

"When we wanted to work with someone, we wanted to work with the Americans," said Norwegian standout Aksel Lund Svindal, who was third in training at Beaver Creek. "It tells you something about the way they work — it's fairly similar to the way we work. It just fits better together than some other teams."

Even on training days, Svindal, Jansrud and the rest of the small but tight-knit Norwegian group treat everything like a podium spot might be on the line.

"We have high standards of what we bring to training as well as with energy," Jansrud said. "We go hard."

No exceptions. And break training protocol — you will get warned.

"That's probably why the Americans think we're a little (uptight), they see us calling each other out," said Svindal, who's recovering from a left thumb injury that forces him to tape the pole to his glove. "It's important to stick to the training program. If you don't, you lower the standards."

This is an intensity the Americans are taking to heart.

"The Norwegians take care of the tiny details very well. Being surrounded by that, you pick up on that," American Bryce Bennett said. "Not that their team is way better than ours or we're way worse, but it's a good team to be paired with."

The American downhiller squad did a very Norwegian-like thing this summer: A group of them got together for a bonding session in Malibu, California. They were put through a series of activities run by former Navy SEALs. One of the tasks was carrying logs over their heads and up a sand hill, then locking arms as they waded into the surf to get pummeled by waves. They did this over and over.

"They try to get us to feel uncomfortable and be able to push past that uncomfortable state," Goldberg said. "We got our butts kicked. But it was beneficial."

The collaboration with the Norwegians could help the U.S. unlock more speed. The Americans are searching for their first World Cup downhill victory since Ganong in January 2017.

Meanwhile, the Norwegians are notoriously fast on the hill in any race: Svindal and Jansrud have a combined 126 World Cup podium finishes and nine Olympic medals.

Keep up with them — along with Aleksander Aamodt Kilde — on training days and it's a safe bet that it could show up on race day.

That's the aim, anyway.

"I'm fast in training against those guys, but World Cups are a different beast. It takes time to catch up," Goldberg said. "But you can work on your own stuff and say, 'OK, this is how the best guy in the world would go over this terrain, I probably should consider that way, too.' It eventually will lock into your skill-set more."

One word of caution: Don't try to be like the Norwegians.

Learn, yes. Overhaul your style, no.

"Having the Norwegians around, it can be highly beneficial and can be also confusing to some guys," American Steven Nyman said. "We're skiing with Aksel. We're skiing with Kjetil. Their accomplishments are so supreme. They've done so much. To learn from them is super important. But don't change who you are."


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Wilder and Fury step up in heavyweight title fight

IOC President Bach lavishes praise on suspended Sheikh Ahmad

NBA making a 'long-term play' in Africa

Norwegian, US skiers share tips for speed