Insight: New Masters of the Universe? Banks see future in IT hires

The investment banking industry is heading into a digital revolution that could redraw not only its business model but also the traditional image of its staff.

Stuck with dwindling profits in an era of poor returns and heavy regulation, the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and HSBC are battling to hire the best software programmers, systems engineers and data analysts, to help them get ahead via new technology and cost-cutting.

 

With IT expertise now a must for the boardroom, banks' conservative workplaces are likely to undergo cultural change as they welcome ambitious, differently-minded people.

"Traditionally, banks have been a lot more narrow in their (hiring) focus. Now collectively they have realized the need to be more creative," said Jeffrey Wallis, managing partner at SunGard Consulting Services, specializing in financial firms.

Adopting new technology is an evident strategy for industries in economic distress and investment banks have already spent billions to overhaul systems and cut staffing costs - 60 to 75 percent of equities now trade electronically, according to industry estimates, and that proportion is expected to continue to grow. Tighter regulation post-financial crisis has also prompted banks to overhaul their risk management systems - Goldman Sachs says it can now track and account for 6 million positions each day.

But the latest wave of technology hires has come about because banks are aiming more specifically to grow revenues by developing tailor-made products and mobile applications based on clients' trading patterns. To do that, they need to attract the top quantitative analysts and software developers - which may mean allowing some of them to work in shorts and tee-shirts from Palo Alto, California, rather than in suit and tie from a skyscraper in London's Canary Wharf.

"In the 1980s there was an influx of technology people into financial services. There was a real wave of people and a new age way of thinking came in. That injection of new talent and thinking hasn't really been coming in for a while," said David Boehmer, managing partner of the Americas' financial services division for executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Spending on banking and securities IT is expected to top $471 billion this year, up 14 percent from 2010, and rise by a fifth again to hit $563 billion in 2017, Gartner estimates.

McKinsey consultants estimate banks have only cut operating costs by about eight percent since the financial crisis. Their need to overhaul IT systems has been underscored by regular evidence that those systems struggle with the complexity of modern-day trades. JP Morgan, which is close to concluding a four-year overhaul of its platforms, took a $6 billion hit last year from a scandal that was in part due to flawed valuation systems, while the May 2010 "flash crash" in U.S. stock markets took regulators five months to root out the cause.

IT AT THE TOP

Recent appointments suggest that outside technology specialists have gone straight to the top of the industry.

Barclays' new head of operations and technology, Shaygan Kheradpir - a former executive at telecoms firm Verizon - now sits on the bank's executive committee. Oliver Bussmann, formerly at German software firm SAP, is now UBS's new chief information officer and Greg Lavender joined Citi last year in Palo Alto as head of technology infrastructure, after senior roles at Cisco and Oracle.

Citigroup is also considering hiring a new director with technology expertise to help keep an eye on how management is doing at simplifying and standardizing the thousands of different IT systems it inherited from years of acquisitions. That process is expected to take at least two more years to complete, say people with knowledge of the plan, but it has the potential to add $750 million to annual profits starting in 2015 from improvements in consumer banking alone.

Goldman Sachs has added 6 percent more IT staff since 2009, while cutting elsewhere. That has left it with 8,000 technology employees, making its department bigger than many technology firms, and it works hard to lure professionals away from Silicon Valley with the message that its technology business is key.

"One of the things we strive to do is provide an awareness on campus of the activities that technologists do at the firm. It's not intuitive to think of a bank in that way," said Michael Desmarais, head of recruitment at Goldman.

NEW LOCATIONS, NEW PAY AWARDS

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As part of tempting IT expertise and graduate talent, banks are setting up in more attractive locations. Citi's IT hubs include San Francisco and Israel, JPMorgan has sites in Delaware and in Bournemouth on Britain's south coast, UBS is in Singapore and HSBC's technology centers include Curitiba in Brazil.

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Britain's Barclays last week opened a new technology hub in Dallas, Texas, to recruit IT experts from non-financial backgrounds. It aims to have 700 staff there by the end of next year to build and develop software and systems such as trading platforms for fixed income, and develop digital and mobile platforms for consumer banking.

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As part of the shift to more of a Silicon Valley culture, banks may also have to redraw their salary packages.

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New graduates can expect to start earning around 45,000 pounds in investment banking jobs in Britain, compared to around 29,000 pounds in IT and telecoms, according to High Fliers research.

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But top executives from the technology industry may be more interested in an equity stake than cash, said Boehmer - who gave executives at Davos in January a presentation entitled "Hiring an Oddball."

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That's a big cultural change in an industry where job satisfaction has long been closely tied to the annual bonus.

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Sungard's Wallis said if banks were on a path from zero to 100 to retool for the impact of technology, they are still only in the 20s.

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"We are seeing subtle changes, but we are very much at the beginning of the leap," Boehmer said.

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(Additional reporting by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York and Margaret Chadbourn in Washington; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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France, Spain take action against Google on privacy

France and Spain led a Europe-wide push on Thursday to get U.S. Internet giant Google to change its policies on collecting user data.

News that the U.S. National Security Agency under the Prism surveillance program secretly gathered user data from nine U.S. companies, including Google, to track people's movements and contacts makes the timing especially sensitive for Google.

France's data protection watchdog (CNIL) said Google had broken French law and gave it three months to change its privacy policies or risk a fine of up to 150,000 euros ($200,000).

 

Spain's Data Protection Agency (AEPD) told Google it would be fined between 40,000 euros and 300,000 euros for each of the five violations of the law, that it had failed to be clear about what it did with data, may be processing a "disproportionate" amount and holding onto it for an "undetermined or unjustified" period of time.

The CNIL, which has been leading Europe's inquiry since Google launched its consolidated privacy policy in March 2012, said Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands would be taking similar action against the world's No. 1 search engine.

Google could face fines totaling several million euros.

"By the end of July, all the authorities within the (EU data protection) task force will have taken coercive action against Google," said CNIL President Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin.

Last year, Google consolidated its 60 privacy policies into one and started combining data collected on individual users across its services, including YouTube, Gmail and social network Google+. It gave users no means to opt out.

National data protection regulators in Europe began a joint inquiry as a result. They gave Google until February to propose changes but it did not make any. Google had several meetings with the watchdogs and argued that combining its policies made it easier for users to understand.

The CNIL's move is seen by legal experts and policymakers as a test of Europe's ability to influence the behavior of international Internet companies.

Britain is still considering whether its law has been broken and will write to Google soon with its findings, the CNIL said.

And Google is due to answer allegations on the issue in a German court hearing late next week, a spokesman for the country's data protection regulator said.

Google said it would continue to work with the authorities in France and elsewhere.

"Our privacy policy respects European law and allows us to create simpler, more effective services. We have engaged fully with the authorities involved throughout this process, and we'll continue to do so going forward," a spokesman said by email.

Twitter lawyer appointed to senior White House technology role

The Obama administration has appointed Twitter lawyer Nicole Wong to a new senior advisory position to focus on internet and privacy policy, a White House official said on Thursday.

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Wong will work with federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and will join the White House as Obama focuses more attention and resources on fighting hackers.

Her appointment comes as the Obama administration grapples with issues that arose from the U.S. government's surveillance of internet and phone communications in its anti-terrorism effort.

 

Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology, said Wong is joining as deputy U.S. chief technology officer and will work with Park on Internet, privacy and technology issues.

"She has tremendous expertise in these domains and an unrivaled reputation for fairness, and we look forward to having her on our team," Weiss said.

Congress and the White House have been arguing about how best to address cyber security for more than a year.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed a new cyber security bill which will next be considered by the Senate. It is designed to help companies and the government share information on cyber threats, though concerns linger about the amount of protection it offers for private information.

Wong, who was legal director at Twitter, has testified before Congress about her concerns about internet censorship in countries around the world.

In 2010, when she was Google's vice-president and deputy general counsel, Wong told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the U.S. government should make internet freedom a key part of foreign policy.

At Google, Wong was nicknamed "the Decider," author and law professor Jeffrey Rosen has written, because part of her job was deciding whether to remove content from YouTube and links from Google that governments objected to.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Poodle Cat: Doesn't Bark or Growl

Poodle Cat
Poodle Cat
Poodle Cat, A Poodle Cat, the answer for the person who can’t decide between a cat and a dog? Is the Poodle Cat a mixture of cat and dog so you’re family doesn’t have to pick just one, a cat or a dog? No, but it sure looks that way. According to the Inquisitr on June 22, the Poodle Cat is a feline that has finally been given a breed of its own.The cat breed started in 1987 from one cat who was born with a dominant gene. The breed of the Poodle Cat is called, Selkirk Rex. It is a cat that has the curly hair like a poodle. Some of these cats in this breed have short hair and others have long hair.
According to Yahoo Shine, the story starts back in 1987 when a feral cat in Montana gave birth to a litter of five kittens, but one was the black sheep of the bunch because of her looks.
It was a female kitten who had thick curly hair, which is something that breeders had never seen before. Because she was so distinct from the rest, she caught the eye of Persian breeder Jeri Newman. Newman became the new owner of the kitten, naming her "Miss DePesto." He named the cat after the curly-haired character in the television show "Moonlighting."
That was 25 years ago and nine generations since the first curly furred cat, or Miss DePesto was discovered. Today researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna have confirmed that these Poodle Cat felines are a genetically distinct breed.
The interest in a Poodle Cat this week stems from a new study that explains exactly what constitutes a Poodle Cat or a Selkirk Rex among the other feline breeds. The published study on the Selkirk Rex from scientists in Vienna, Austria unlocked the mystery of how a Poodle Cat came to be.
The study, titled “Selkirk Rex: morphological and genetic characterization of a new cat breed,” was done by the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics’ Department for Biomedical Sciences at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Vienna, Austria. Here is their findings:
“Rexoid, curly hair mutations have been selected to develop new domestic cat breeds. The Selkirk Rex [or poodle cat] is the most recently established curly-coated cat breed originating from a spontaneous mutation that was discovered in the United States in 1987. Unlike the earlier and well-established Cornish and Devon Rex breeds with curly-coat mutations, the Selkirk Rex mutation is suggested as autosomal dominant and has a different curl phenotype.”

Facebook rolls out video for Instagram

Facebook Inc introduced video for its popular photo sharing application Instagram in an attempt to go to head-to-head with rival Twitter.

The world's No. 1 social network said on Thursday its more than 130 million Instagram users can now record and post 15 second videos on the platform.

 

The move takes aim at Twitter's Vine video platform that allows users to record and share six-second videos.

"There's definitely a one-upmanship going on," said Brian Blau, research director, at Gartner.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom were on hand to unveil the offering at Facebook's Menlo Park, California headquarters.

Among the features of Instagram video, which works with Apple's iOS and Google Android operating system, are a video stabilization technology and spate of custom design filters.

Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in April 2012 as a way to keep its users hooked on new features weeks before the social media network became a publicly traded company.

Instagram is part of Facebook's mobile strategy as it seeks to get more advertising revenue.

More than 60 million people in the United States regularly watched video on their phones last year, according to research firm eMarketer. Almost 75 million are expected to do so this year.

(Reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

Sprint raises Clearwire bid, wins key investor support

Sprint Nextel Corp raised its buyout offer for Clearwire Corp to $5 per share on Thursday and announced support from a key group of dissident shareholders, likely ending a bitter battle with rival suitor Dish Network Corp.

Sprint, currently Clearwire's majority shareholder, has been fighting publicly with Dish over Clearwire since January as both companies want Clearwire's vast trove of valuable wireless airwaves to help them compete in wireless services.

 

Clearwire put its support behind the latest offer, representing the second major blow in a matter of days against Dish Chairman and founder Charlie Ergen, who wants to expand his satellite TV company into the wireless market.

Earlier this week Ergen had to back out, at least for now, from a battle with Japan's SoftBank Corp to buy Sprint itself.

Dish declined comment on the new Clearwire offer.

Several analysts said they now expect Sprint to prevail.

"We believe Clearwire shareholders will approve the $5 offer from Sprint regardless of any new overtures from Dish," said BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk.

On top of the higher price, which gives Clearwire an enterprise value of more than $14 billion - or a roughly 14 percent premium over Dish's bid, Sprint also had Clearwire change its governance rules making it harder for a rival bidder.

The changes include a break-up fee of $115 million that Clearwire would have to pay if the latest deal fails.

Clearwire shares closed up 34 cents, or 7 percent, at $5.04 on Nasdaq. Sprint shares rose 7 cents, or 1 percent, to $7.07 on the New York Stock Exchange.

MONTHS OF PRESSURE, INTENSE NEGOTIATIONS

The improved offer was the result of months of pressure from Clearwire shareholders as well as two rival bids from Dish, which first offered $3.30 per share for Clearwire in January.

Clearwire had recommended last week that shareholders accept Dish's more recent $4.40 per share offer for their shares and vote against Sprint's May offer of $3.40 per share.

Sprint said it now has support from shareholders with 45 percent of Clearwire's minority shares, just shy of the more than 50 percent it needs to take over the company.

For example, it said it has commitments from a group of four activist shareholders that own about 9 percent of Clearwire's voting shares to support the deal.

Clearwire Chief Executive Erik Prusch said he was confident the deal can win over enough shareholders.

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"That's completely different to where we were a short time ago," said Prusch who said the offer ended several days of intense negotiations between Sprint and Clearwire. Clearwire's efforts were led by Dennis Hersch, the head of its special committee, and John Stanton, Clearwire's chairman.

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"The difference with this is that it comes with the validation of a group of our minority shareholders," Prusch said.

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The group of four shareholders - Mount Kellett Capital Management LP, Glenview Capital Management LLC, Chesapeake Partners Management Co, Inc and Highside Capital Management LP - had publicly complained about Sprint's offer priced and teamed up to negotiate for a higher price.

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The latest offer was the third time Sprint raised its bid since its first December offer to buy Clearwire's minority shares for $2.90 each.

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The latest Sprint offer came just days before Clearwire shareholders were expected to vote down its previous $3.40 per share offer.

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Clearwire postponed a June 24 shareholder vote until July 8 to give shareholders time to review the new offer.

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Shareholders had complained that Sprint's previous offer was too low even before Dish made its counterbid at the end of May. Analysts and investors told Reuters that Sprint would need to raise its bid or risk a contentious relationship with Dish as a minority shareholder.

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(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Richard Chang and Bernard Orr)

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Oracle's software sales disappoint, stock plummets

Oracle Corp missed expectations for software sales and subscriptions for the second straight quarter, sending its shares plunging as investors worried CEO Larry Ellison may have trouble getting the technology giant back on track.

On Thursday, Oracle executives forecast that new software sales and subscriptions will rise 0 percent to 8 percent this quarter and blamed weakness in the past quarter on disappointing sales in Asia and Latin America.

Oracle, which is trying to fend off Salesforce.com and other increasingly aggressive rivals focused on providing software over the cloud or Internet, plans to move its stock listing to the New York Stock Exchange in July from the Nasdaq, a major win for the older bourse.

Executives said the move was in shareholders' best interests, without elaborating. Oracle also said it would double its quarterly dividend to 12 cents a share.

"Organic growth is slowing and the company has a lot of pressures it has to deal with. They're late to the cloud and playing catch-up," said Mark Moerdler, an analyst at Bernstein. "Doubling the dividend - they're trying to deliver a message that their ability to deliver significantly more cash to investors is going to continue."

 

Overall, Oracle's revenue stood unchanged at $10.9 billion in the period, the company's fiscal fourth quarter, ended May 31. That missed the $11.122 billion analysts had expected on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

More closely watched revenue from new software sales and Internet-based software subscriptions rose 1 percent to $4 billion, short of an average forecast of about $4.2 billion, according to FBR Capital analyst Daniel Ives.

Shares of the software company fell more than 8 percent to $30.46 after hours, after closing down 2.6 percent at $33.21 on the Nasdaq.

"This is just really bad," said Kim Forrest, a senior analyst with Fort Pitt Capital Group. "I don't really trust after-hour trading to accurately reflect what the stock will do the next day. But it shows you how frustrated shareholders are right now."

Most analysts recommend buying shares of Oracle, according to StarMine Professional, with many expecting a pickup in performance as the global economy improves and corporate customers become more willing to spend on IT.

Others say the 36-year-old tech company's era of fast growth and lofty margins, when it could dictate prices because of its premier market position, may be waning.

Smaller, aggressive companies are offering competitive products at prices that often undercut Oracle, whose strategy is to integrate cloud software with its own hardware for greater efficiency.

BY THE NUMBERS

Investors scrutinize new software sales because they generate high-margin, long-term maintenance contracts and are an important indicator of future profit. The company had forecast a 1 percent to 11 percent rise in new software license and cloud subscription revenue for its fiscal fourth quarter.

Ellison blamed Oracle's performance on the poor global economic environment. "It was clearly an economic issue, not a product, competitive issue," he told analysts on a conference call.

Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz said deals Oracle missed in the fourth quarter did not go to competitors, but instead were put off or shrank from their original sizes. She previously blamed Oracle's rapidly expanding salesforce for a severe miss in software sales in the third quarter.

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Net profit for the fourth quarter rose 10 percent to $3.8 billion, or 80 cents per share. On an adjusted basis, Oracle earned 87 cents per share.

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Revenue from Oracle's hardware division, which it acquired through the $5.6 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems in 2010, fell 13 percent to $849 million.

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Oracle had forecast that hardware product revenue for the May quarter would fall between 12 percent and 22 percent.

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The division's revenue has fallen every quarter since Oracle closed the Sun deal, but Ellison said in December he expected hardware systems revenue to start growing in the May quarter.

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(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Phil Berlowitz)

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Apple warns of "chilling effect" as antitrust trial ends

Apple Inc, on trial for allegedly colluding to raise the price of e-books, said on Thursday an adverse ruling would have a "chilling effect" on how businesses investigate new markets.

If Apple was found guilty, it would "send shudders through the business community" by condemning the ordinary negotiations that companies undertake to enter new markets, the company's lawyer, Orin Snyder, said on the last day of the trial.

 

"We submit a ruling against Apple on this record sets a dangerous precedent," Snyder said.

The U.S. Justice Department accuses Apple of conspiring with U.S. publishers beginning in late 2009 to increase the price of e-books in an effort to undercut the pricing established by then-dominant Amazon.com Inc. The publishers have settled with the government.

Throughout closing arguments Thursday, Apple found itself fighting back against tough questioning by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote.

At one point on Thursday, Cote asked if it was correct that Apple "understood publishers were willing to work together to put pressure on Amazon."

Snyder responded there was no evidence Apple understood the publishers were allegedly conspiring together before it proposed creating an online bookstore for its coming iPad. Apple had no idea the publishing executives were calling each other and having dinners together.

"There is no such thing as a conspiracy by telepathy," Snyder said.

For three weeks, the government has sought to show the popular iPad maker conspired with five of the biggest publishers to raise prices for new and bestselling books from the $9.99 set by Amazon.com.

Amazon.com, which at the time controlled up to 90 percent of the e-book market, had been buying books at wholesale and then selling them at times below its costs as it promoted its Kindle reading device.

Apple, by contrast, entered into so-called agency agreements in which publishers rather than Apple set book prices of up to $12.99 and $14.99, in a move the government contends enabled publishers to push back against Amazon.com's pricing.

Apple in exchange got a 30 percent commission from the publishers, who included Pearson Plc's Penguin Group, News Corp's HarperCollins Publishers Inc, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster Inc, Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group Inc and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH's Macmillan.

After signing the deals, the government said publishers pushed Amazon.com into the agency model, allowing publishers to increase prices, which shot up 9 percent industrywide, Mark Ryan, a Justice Department lawyer, said.

"Only a united industry front could move Amazon off its $9.99 price," he said.

Cote, who has said before the trial began that she thought the government would be able to show direct evidence Apple engaged in the conspiracy, also interrupted Ryan as he made his closing argument.

At one point, she asked Ryan how he responded to Apple's "argument that it didn't raise prices as the e-books would have been unavailable at any price."

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Earlier Thursday, Snyder had argued that before Apple entered the market, publishers had begun withholding popular new titles from e-bookstores until the hardback version had been on sale for a number of weeks. Without Apple's entry, those titles would not have been available as e-books immediately, he said.

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Ryan, who had earlier shown statistics that publishers withheld titles just 37 times in 2009, said he rejected Apple's argument. It was unclear how the future would have played out, he said.

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"We don't know what course competition would have taken the industry on," Ryan said.

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The Justice Department is not seeking damages against Apple. In a slide presented Thursday, the Justice Department said it wanted Apple to be prohibited from the agency model for two years and a five-year prohibition against the use of price-parity contract clauses at the center of the case, among other remedies.

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Should the government prevail, a separate trial would be held on damage claims asserted by 33 state attorneys general whose case on liability was also being heard during the last few weeks.

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The case is United States v. Apple Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-02826.

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(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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PREVIEW-NBA-Miami, San Antonio prepare for ultimate test

One of the most turbulent championships in National Basketball Association (NBA) history will reach its climax on Thursday when the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs meet in the decisive seventh game of the Finals.

Basketball fans in the United States have been whipped into a frenzy of excitement by what has already been a classic series full of wild fluctuations and escalating drama.

The teams have raised their games to new heights, producing an extraordinary standard of play and athleticism which peaked with Miami's exhilarating overtime win on Tuesday that tied the series at 3-3.

With everything on the line for Game Seven, the stakes could not be higher with millions of people around the world expected to tune in for Thursday's grand finale.

"They're the best two words in team sports, 'Game Seven,'" said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.

 

"Our guys aren't looking for games that are less meaningful. We're looking for games that are more meaningful. And there's nothing bigger than a Game Seven."

As defending champions, Miami were overwhelming favorites to win the title. They were almost unstoppable during the regular season, winning a franchise-record 66 games, including a 27-game stretch that is the second longest in NBA history.

With LeBron James, the sport's best player and biggest star, at the peak of his powers alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat's 'Big Three' seemed a sure bet to win back-to-back championships.

When they are on their game, few teams can contain them, and the crowds in South Florida love it, whooping and hollering as they pile on the points against overmatched opponents.

But the Spurs, chasing their fifth championship since 1999, have answered the challenge with their own 'Big Three' of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

As former champions, the three veterans know what it takes to win and have used all their streetwise knowledge to rattle the top-seeded Heat.

Every game, every quarter, every minute, every shot and every rebound has been fought over, with players leaping and diving on the hardwood for any possession.

"That's what this series is about, it's the competition," said Spoelstra. "It's not just statistics. It's not all the other storylines. It's about the competition against an equal opponent."

SEESAW BATTLE

The first six games were a seesawing battle with the teams alternating wins and losses. If that pattern continues in Game Seven, San Antonio will be crowned champions but history favors Miami, who have the homecourt advantage.

Of the 17 previous NBA Finals that have gone seven games, the visiting team has won three times. The most recent was 35 years ago when the Washington Bullets upset the SuperSonics in Seattle.

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"I don't really care what it's been like for anybody else at any time," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich growled. "All I know is we have had a hell of a year, and we have an opportunity to win a championship tomorrow night. That's all that matters."

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The series was elevated to one of the all-time greats after Tuesday's breathless encounter, which has been described as one of the greatest games in NBA history after Miami pulled off a miracle comeback.

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Needing a win the keep the series alive, Miami trailed by 13 points late in the third quarter and by five with 28 seconds to play in regulation after they had already fought back to take the lead.

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Ray Allen, the sport's greatest three-point shooter, drained one from behind the arc with five seconds remaining to force overtime, where Miami went on to snatch a 103-100 victory.

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James scored a game-high 32 points but no one is under more pressure than him in Game Seven. He is not only playing for a second championship but his place in history.

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Despite being awarded the NBA's Most Valuable Player award four times, including this season, the 28-year-old continues to earn unflattering comparisons to Michael Jordan, who won five MVP awards and six championships with the Chicago Bulls.

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James is appearing in just his fourth Finals. He lost his first with Cleveland then his second after moving to Miami three years ago.

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He broke through for his first win last season but knows only too well he will bear the brunt of the blame should Miami fail to repeat.

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"It is what it is. I understand the moment for me," said James.

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"I'm going to be excited. I'm going to have some butterflies. I'll be nervous, everything. That's how I should be."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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LeBron dismisses critics in search of second title

LeBron James, one win away from a second consecutive NBA title, is refusing to let relentless critics shift him from his goal of earning a place as one of the game's greatest.

Despite a remarkable 12 months that has included a maiden NBA title with the Miami Heat, leading the U.S. to a second straight Olympic gold medal and winning a fourth league Most Valuable Player award, James still has his critics.

Two costly turnovers late in regulation of Tuesday's Game Six of the NBA Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs would surely have been grist to the mill for critics who often question if James has the necessary fortitude in the biggest moments.

Instead, James drained crucial baskets on either side of regulation as Miami rallied for an unlikely 103-100 overtime win that evened the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 3-3 with the decider set for Thursday in Miami.

 

Miami's All-Star forward finished the game with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

Veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner describes the constant scrutiny and judgment of the 28-year-old James as "relentless referenda" and it remains a perplexing element of the player's career that he generates so much doubting and even hostility.

Perhaps it is still a hangover from his decision to leave Cleveland as a free agent to join Miami rather than head to New York or another traditional market. Or maybe some still cannot forgive him for announcing his move on a live television show.

James, after trying so hard to prove his critics wrong in his first year in Miami and facing widespread mocking when the team lost to Dallas in the 2011 Finals, has long since learnt that he gains little by engaging with the critics.

"Yeah, it is what it is. That's OK. It won't stop me from loving the game, playing at a high level, doing it for my teammates, putting that uniform on," James said on Wednesday before offering an insight into how a man born in a rough part of Akron, Ohio, copes with the outside pressures.

"I mean, I'm blessed. I don't even know how I got here. I wasn't supposed to be in the NBA, if you go by statistics and things of me growing up where I grew up," said James.

"Every time I go into my locker room and see the 'James' on the back of an NBA jersey, I'm like wow. No criticism can deter me from playing this game because of that. I'm not supposed to be here. The fact that I'm doing what I'm doing and doing it for my teammates, it's all that matters."

But there is no escaping from the fact that his own legacy is inevitably linked with the Heat and a victory on Thursday would enter the team and him into the exclusive club of those to have won back-to-back championships.

"I thought about it for sure. It's human nature. I want to go down as one of the greatest. I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams. And we have an opportunity to do that," said James.

"There haven't been many people who have won back-to-back championships. It's so hard. It's the hardest thing. I said last year it was the hardest thing I've ever done, winning my first. Last year doesn't even come close to what we've gone through in this postseason and in these Finals."

What is not going to factor in to James's thinking is whether another title will settle the debate over the rights and wrongs of him and Chris Bosh joining Dwyane Wade to form Miami's 'Big Three' which upset some who felt he should have tried to win as a lone ranger.

"I mean, I need it because I want it, and I only came here ... to win championships," said James.

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"As far as validation of me being here, I don't really think so. That side doesn't really matter to me about what validates us coming together. The camaraderie and the friendship and the teammates and what we've done over the three years can never be replaced.

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"So for that side, no. But I want it. And I'm going to do I'm not going to cut no corners. I'm not going to cheat the game. I'm going to work for it. We're not entitled to win it. We have to work for it. So that's what I'm here for."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Silverstone podium still a step too far for Button

Jenson Button could not wait to get out of his mishandling McLaren after a miserable afternoon in Canada and now, less than two weeks later, he is impatient to step back in.

British fans preparing for their annual home Grand Prix pilgrimage to Silverstone next week should not get their hopes up, however.

Button, the 2009 world champion with Brawn GP, has never stood on the Formula One podium at his home circuit and does not expect to end the jinx this time either in what has been a shocking season for McLaren.

The 33-year-old - winner of last season's Brazilian season-ender - has not finished higher than fifth in seven races but even so he is still excited to be back on home soil.

 

"I love racing, I love competing and I love jumping in an F1 car," he told British reporters on a midweek visit to Silverstone.

"It was more the bouncing around at the last race," he added of his comments in Montreal about wanting to be out of the car.

"It was painful, rather than anything else. It was not the (race) position I was in, it was the constant (jolting) all the way down the straight.

"Here that shouldn't be as much of a problem, we've got things that can help that."

NO POINTS

Button and Mexican team mate Sergio Perez, who both started the year talking of fighting for wins and titles, failed to score in Canada, ending the team's 64-race run in the points with McLaren's first blank since 2009.

Force India, with a McLaren gearbox and the same Mercedes engine but a fraction of the budget, are fifth overall and 14 points clear of the multiple title winners who are sixth with a measly 37 points from seven races.

If Montreal was McLaren's worst race in years, Button expressed the hope that things would get better.

"It isn't just me trying to be positive but I think we will be more competitive here than the last couple of races, the type of high-speed circuit that it is," he said.

"We are developing the car at the factory which is great. But we're still a long way behind...we've got to make sure we maximize everything. When you do that and you get a fifth place, you're pretty happy about it.

"You still want to win...but when you think you've got everything out of it and you couldn't have done any more, it puts a smile on your face. I think that's important."

The hopes may be mainly focused on next year, when a new V6 engine comes into play, but the Briton has not entirely written off 2013 however painful it may be.

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"This has been a difficult year for us, but we still hope to be fighting at the end of the year for race wins," he said.

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"Definitely next year we will start the season looking to win the world championship. And that includes winning the British Grand Prix.

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"We did take a gamble maybe with the direction of the car, it hasn't worked for us this year. But we are still a great team and we will fight back and we will win races again."

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Button said he would do his best to entertain a loyal crowd whose hopes of a home winner rest mainly on his former team mate Lewis Hamilton, now at Mercedes.

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Recalling the excitement of boyhood visits to Silverstone, experiencing the sight and sound and smell of Formula One cars for the first time, Button hoped to give something back.

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"I think when we drive out onto the circuit on Friday, it doesn't matter where we finish the grand prix or where we think we're going to finish, the British fans are going to be excited about McLaren driving out onto the circuit," he said.

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"I'm a fan of motorsport just like anyone else. So I'm really looking forward to that moment and, hopefully, from then on we have a positive weekend."

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(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Gatlin says win over Bolt prelude to bigger things

Olympic bronze medalist Justin Gatlin is not willing to call his surprising 100 meters victory over world record holder Usain Bolt a fluke.

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The American sprinter prefers to think of last month's triumph as the opening act of journey that will bring him and Bolt together again on a much larger stage later this year, he said on Wednesday.

 

"I would not consider it a fluke," the 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist and London Games third-place finisher told a news conference ahead of Thursday's start of the U.S. championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I would consider it a prelude to something better and greater. I want to have faster, greater competitions against him."

The 31-year-old burst past Bolt in their Diamond League race in Rome last month and hung on for his first ever 100 meters victory over the Jamaican.

Some have called the rare loss a blip in Bolt's preparations for August's world championships in Moscow, a race soon to be forgotten.

Not Gatlin.

"I like racing against Usain, (Jamaican world champion) Yohan (Blake) and Tyson," he said. "It is an adrenaline rush."

It is also a major challenge, especially Bolt.

At 6 feet 5 inches, the lanky Jamaican can rapidly gobble up meters of space, producing times in the 100 and 200 meters many never thought possible.

"Some people probably think it is impossible to beat him when he is at his peak performance," Gatlin said. "You just have to make sure you make someone like him feel as uncomfortable as possible in a race strategy.

"He is usually clear of the field at 60 meters, so you have got to make sure that when he looks over he can see you at 60 meters and you are still going on with him."

Their next likely clash will be the world championships in Moscow, and Gatlin will attempt to set the stage for a potential rematch when he competes in the U.S. championships which double as the world trials.

Only the top three finishers in the cut-throat competition qualify for the worlds, with the 100 meters likely coming down to a showdown between 2004 Olympic gold medalist Gatlin and former world champion Tyson Gay, whom Gatlin edged out for an Olympic medal in London.

"When he is healthy, he is definitely one of the most dangerous sprinters that you can compete against," Gatlin said of Gay.

But it is Bolt who is the man with the target on his back.

"His races are bigger than life. His persona is bigger than life," Gatlin said.

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Six times an Olympic gold medalist, "he is only going to run in big championships very fast," said Gatlin, who takes pride in his win over Bolt but knows it was not an all-encompassing victory.

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"You have to continuously beat someone, especially in our field, to be able to feel like you have really beaten them," the American said. "A one-off in our field is considered a fluke."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Bruins' playoff run offers comfort to wounded city

For all appearances it was business as usual on a sparkling Wednesday afternoon in Boston where the hometown Bruins prepared to host the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Across town, Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox were getting ready to host the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park.

On Boylston Street, tourists and locals - many sporting Bruins jerseys and Red Sox ball caps - were wrapping up their day before spending the evening watching their team of choice.

It was just a little over two months ago on the same bustling street that two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people, including a young Bruins fan, leaving a city dazed and a nation stunned.

 

Although the scars remain, life is slowly returning to normal in Boston, the day-to-day hustle and bustle replacing fear and despair as a city reclaimed the streets left bloodied and empty following the killer blast.

Certainly, there have been plenty of unexpected achievements in the sporting world to distract rattled Bostonians from the madness of that mid-April day.

The Red Sox surprisingly perched atop the American League standings, NFL sensation Tim Tebow's recent arrival with the New England Patriots and the Bruins' drive for a second Stanley Cup in three seasons have all helped lift the dark cloud hanging over the city.

"I think we can help in probably a large way," Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters as his team prepared to play the Blackhawks in Game Four of the best-of-seven Finals. "Everybody is looking right now for something to cheer about, smile about.

"I guess it doesn't fix the things or the people that have been lost. That will never be fixed. At the same time you have to try to heal.

"As much as the city itself has been touched by that, so have we as a team. It really hit us hard."

While life around the team has returned to an athlete's regimented normality, memories of that day are never far from the surface inside the Bruins locker room.

RESILIENT SPIRIT

The Bruins were the first of the city's major league teams to return to work after the bombings and they took a leading role in a healing process that appears to have forged an even stronger bond with Boston sports fans.

The death of eight-year-old Martin Richard deeply saddened the Bruins organization, a Boston jersey with the young fan's name on it draped for a short while over statue of Hall of Famer Bobby Orr outside the TD Center.

Almost immediately after the bombings, Bruins players and staff gave first responders tickets to their first game back while Brad Marchand raffled off his private suite for the team's first playoff game and gave the proceeds to Richard's family.

During the Bruins playoff push the Boston bombing victims and those who jumped into the chaos to help offer aid have not been forgotten.

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Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the blast and helped identify the bombers, served as a Bruins banner captain in the opening round of the playoffs where he waved a team flag to a thundering ovation prior to the opening face off.

_1">

The Bruins have taken Beantown on thrilling post-season joy ride that has Boston within sight of their Stanley Cup goal.

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These are things the Bruins have given to Boston but the Bruins maintain that their fans have given them much more by allowing the team tap into the city's resilient spirit and use their response to the bombings as a source of inspiration.

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"We come to the rink every day and we love this city," said Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton. "If it helps then amazing.

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"We're a pretty tight, good group of guys. If that's helping, we're extremely happy it's given a little bit."

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While the Bruins, like the rest of Boston, will never forget the bombings they, like the city, are slowly starting to move.

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"I've known for a long time, that's all we talked about (the bombing) in the dressing room," said Julien. "Right now we got to focus on doing our job and trying to stay focused on that so that in the end you hope that you can make that happen.

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"Right now it's got to be about us before we can even think about that. If we think about ourselves, the job we need to do, hopefully the rest takes care of itself."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Serena Williams apologizes for rape case remark

Serena Williams has apologized for comments she made in a forthcoming interview in which she appeared to assign blame to the 16-year-old victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case for being drunk.

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The comments were reported in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine and stirred up U.S. media attention on Wednesday.

"What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened," the women's world number one said in a statement on her website.

"For someone to be raped, and at only 16, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved - that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl's family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article.

"What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful. I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.

 

"I have fought all of my career for women's equality, women's equal rights, respect in their fields - anything I could do to support women I have done.

"My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent 16-year-old child."

The victim accused two Ohio high school American football players of raping her while she was drunk at a party and testified that she remembered little of what happened in the early hours of August 12, 2012, when she says she was assaulted.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Yankees impressed with first look at LA's Puig

The New York Yankees had a first-hand look at Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday and came away mightily impressed.

"He hits the ball hard, I can tell you that. He's got a very good arm and he's aggressive," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after New York's 6-4 victory over the Dodgers in the afternoon portion of a day-night doubleheader.

 

"He's a good-looking young player."

The 22-year-old Puig, who burst on the scene since being called up by the Dodgers in the beginning of the month, had two hits, including a single to center that he stretched into a double, and nearly threw out Thomas Neal at first on a single to right.

Puig, who made his Major League Baseball debut on June 3, went 2-for-5 but saw his average dip seven points from his blistering .479 entering the game.

An impressive combination of size, power and speed who signed with the Dodgers for seven years and $42 million, the native of Cienfuegos hit four home runs in his first five big league games, including a grand slam and a blast measuring a majestic 443 feet.

It was a memorable day at Yankee Stadium for right-handed hitter Puig, who also saw some of his heroes first-hand.

"I am so happy to play with the Dodgers and to be here at Yankee Stadium, and to have the opportunity to play against a team that has some of the players I admire the most, (Robinson) Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, Mariano Rivera," he told reporters in Spanish.

Ichiro put on quite a show, going 3-for-4 with a solo home run and three runs batted in addition to a brilliant catch that saw him bang against the wall in right field to save some runs late in the game.

The Japanese outfielder was also struck by Puig's talents.

"Even though he was facing pitchers he's never faced before, he seemed to square the ball up on every at-bat, hitting the ball hard," Ichiro said.

"The base-running and also the defense, he's really aggressive. I think he has a huge impact on this game," Ichiro through an interpreter. "A very interesting player."

Girardi agreed.

"You see that he's an aggressive young player that has tools. I mean a lot of tools. He has speed, he has power. He has a good arm. You can recognize the tools right away.

"Obviously this is a game of adjustments, as people see you when you go around the league the first time. But there's an awful lot to like about this kid."

Puig went into the batters box against Rivera, MLB's all-time saves leader who came on in the ninth to close out the victory for his 25th save of the season.

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Girardi watched that confrontation with special interest.

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"I'm sure Puig has heard about Mo for a long, long time and he's probably had a desire to play in the major leagues for a long time and probably hoped that he'd see him one day," said Girardi.

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"It was a good match-up. (Mo got) behind him 2-0 and then Mo does what he does. He paints, makes good pitches and got him out," he added of the called third strike on Puig that ended the game.

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Hiroki Kuroda, who began his major league career with the Dodgers, picked up the win to improve to 7-5, while South Korean Ryu Hyun-jin took the loss, falling to 6-3.

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Puig gave the Yankees more to admire in the 6-0 Los Angeles victory in the night half of the twin bill.

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The Cuban went 2-for-4 with a home run and a stolen base after being hit by a pitch. That raised his average to .474 in the first Dodgers visit to the Bronx since their World Series-clinching victory in Game Six of the 1981 Fall Classic.

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(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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Hurdler Pearson to return from injury next week

World and Olympic champion Sally Pearson will compete in her first 100 meters hurdles event since winning gold at last year's London Games when she races in the Czech Republic next week, Athletics Australia said on Thursday.

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The 26-year-old will compete in Ostrava next Thursday before taking part in the hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League in Birmingham on June 30, it said on its website (www.athletics.com.au).

Pearson suffered a grade-one hamstring tear in a 4x100m relay at the Asian Grand Prix Athletic Championship in Sri Lanka last month after missing the domestic season with the same injury.

The Queenslander will defend her world championship title in Moscow in August.

 

Compatriot and 2009 world discus champion Dani Samuels will join Pearson in Birmingham for her first competition since March when she suffered a foot injury.

Samuels said she had learned from her failure to make the final eight in London.

"The expectation around the Olympic Games is something that really grounds you as an athlete and you can come away from it with a clear understanding of what has worked, what needs to change and what you can do to be as strong as possible when it counts," she said.

"The lesson for me was that I needed to bring some variety back into my program and I have started to do that."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi, editing by Peter Rutherford)

Shuffle leaves Blackhawks coach with winning hand

Coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his deck and came up with a winning hand as the Chicago Blackhawks' aces found their target in a wild 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday to level the Stanley Cup Final at two games each.

After a 2-0 defensive showcase in Game Three, the two teams turned on the offensive style in Game Four, combining for 11 goals, just one shy of the previous three contests combined.

Despite the offensive explosion and end-to-end action overtime was still needed for the third time in four games before Brent Seabrook unleashed a rocket from just inside the blueline that sailed past netminder Tuukka Rask and silenced the soldout crowd at the TD Garden.

The pulsating best-of-seven series now shifts to Chicago for Game Five on Saturday.

"I like shooting in that spot but to be honest, I was just trying to get it past the center man, their forward coming out and trying to block it," Seabrook told reporters.

"(Patrick) Kane made a great play putting it on the ice, (Bryan) Bickell tried putting it there, it bounced around a little bit, our forwards did a good job of getting in front and boxing out. It was just a great play."

In an effort to generate some scoring Quenneville shuffled his lines for the pivotal contest, the Chicago coach reuniting his top two forwards Jonathan Toews and Kane with Bickell and the unit produced instant magic.

Toews, who tied with Kane for the Chicago goal scoring lead during the regular season but had just one playoff goal, broke out of his post-season slump in the second period to put Chicago ahead 2-1.

Kane, who had not scored in the Final, followed Toews' lead when he jumped on a big rebound and lifted a backhand over a diving Rask.

The trio were also on the ice for the game winner, Kane and Bickell picking up assists on Seabrook's goal while Toews was parked on the goalmouth ready to scoop up any rebounds.

"I like that line," Quenneville told reporters. "Big picture getting reunited, they seem to have some chemistry. Scoring certainly helps.

"Everybody in that line brings something different to the party. Bicks off the rush can shoot. Kaner has possession. Johnny gets through.

"It's a nice combination."

And a winning one that left many wondering why Quenneville had waited so long to reunite the unit, especially after enjoying so much success against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final.

"You always get second guessed," said Quenneville. "There's reasons why. "At the same time, I think we didn't mind the way we played the first game, first part of the second game.

"Game Three we were disappointed with our offense so we went to the well."

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The Blackhawks needed every bit of offense they could muster against the relentless Bruins, who kept clawing back.

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Chicago's Michal Handzus opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal, Boston answered with a Rich Peverley powerplay tally in the first period.

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The second was a thrilling shootout as Toews, Kane and Marcus Kruger counted for Chicago, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron replying for the Bruins.

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Bergeron collected his second of the night two minutes into the third to tie the game a 4-4 but the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp converted a powerplay to put them back in front.

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Johnny Boychuk came to the Bruins rescue with a laser from the slot to force overtime but Boston would end the game having never held the lead.

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"I thought our guys battled hard enough to get us back in the game and create an overtime," said Boston coach Claude Julien. "I don't think we played our best game tonight.

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"It was certainly a tough outing for us tonight. They came out hard, played extremely well."

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(Editing by Patrick Johnston/Peter Rutherford)

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Davis power surge continues, homers twice in win over Tigers

Chris Davis continued his power surge by blasting a pair of home runs as the Baltimore Orioles bashed Detroit 13-3 on Wednesday.

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Davis launched a two-run blast in the fourth inning and another in the ninth to give him 26 homers on the season, the most in Major League Baseball.

He finished with five RBIs as Baltimore punished the Tigers' pitching and also got three runs driven in from Adam Jones.

The victory helped the Orioles (42-31) pull within 1 1/2 games of the American League East lead after first-placed Boston lost to Tampa Bay 6-2.

Detroit (39-31) lead the AL Central by 3.5 games

 

In New York, Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig blasted a home run to cap the Los Angeles Dodgers' 6-0 win over the Yankees and help them earn a split in their doubleheader.

After losing 6-4 in the opener between the teams, Los Angeles got six shutout innings from starter Chris Capuano and banged out 12 hits in the rematch.

Adrian Gonzalez had three hits and Hanley Ramirez added two RBIs before Puig delivered the final blow with a solo homer in the seventh.

The 22-year-old Puig has been on fire since making his debut earlier this month, and is now batting .474 with five home runs.

In Cincinnati, Jay Bruce saved the Reds from defeat with a game-tying homer in the ninth inning and they went on to beat Pittsburgh 2-1 in 13.

After Bruce homered off reliever Jason Grilli to send it to extra innings, Brandon Phillips delivered the game-winning single.

Derrick Robinson and Choo Shin-soo each singled before him, and Joey Votto drew an intentional walk to set up the winning hit.

Cincinnati's (44-29) win kept them 2.5 games behind St. Louis in the National League Central after the Cardinals (46-26) beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los AngelesEditing by Peter Rutherford)

Toews on target and Blackhawks back on track

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is what coaches like to call a "complete" ice hockey player.

Defensively responsible, hard working, a leader and a playmaker, Toews has been all these things but mostly he is a goal scorer.

 

On Wednesday he did what the Blackhawks expect him to do and scored a second period goal against the Boston Bruins in a 6-5 overtime win that leveled the Stanley Cup Final at 2-2.

Toews' was not the most important goal of the night but it could have been the most significant if it signals the long-awaited end to a dismal postseason scoring slump that was growing more-and-more worrying with each goal-less game.

When Chicago won their last Stanley Cup in 2010, Toews finished with seven goals and 29 points in 22 games and earned the Conn Smythe trophy as the postseason's most valuable player.

These playoffs, Toews, who tied for the team lead in goals scored during the regular season with 23, had counted just one goal, against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semi-finals, before Wednesday's Game Four.

"I think it makes a world of difference for you when you finally see one go in," Toews told reporters. "You work hard, eventually you're going to find a way.

"Tonight was one of those games, we treated it as a Game Seven. We weren't going to be denied and I felt that same way, too.

"It's time to put all those other games behind us, the games where we struggled to score, forget about it, just find a way to do what you do."

DANGEROUS LINE

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville defended his captain, pointing out at great length the many different ways that Toews had been contributing to the Chicago cause - logging heavy minutes, taking extra-care of his defensive responsibilities, winning faceoffs.

For his work without the puck, Toews last week was awarded the Frank Selke trophy that goes to the NHL forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

But with his team struggling to score against the Bruins, Quenneville needed his sniper to start finding the target again.

In an effort to jumpstart Toews, Quenneville reunited him with Chicago's other top forward, Patrick Kane, and along with Bryan Bickell the line produced some magic.

Kane also scored his first goal of the Final on Wednesday and the trio were also on the ice for Brent Seabrook's overtime winner, Kane and Bickell picking up assists while Toews was parked on the goalmouth ready to scoop up any rebounds.

Few in the TD Garden were happier to see Toews find the back of the net than Quenneville.

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"Johnny had the puck more today, I thought he was more friendly with it," said Quenneville. "That line was dangerous, be it off the rush or in the zone.

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"Obviously scoring has got to help him.

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"The excitement of that line, Kaner in possession, Bick around with the big body, they scored some different kind of goals.

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"But Johnny had a nice night."

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(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Murray out to crash Big Three's Wimbledon party

There will be an unfamiliar whiff of British success in the air at Wimbledon this year when Andy Murray, and thousands of patriotic fans, will try to stop the party-pooping antics of champions Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal.

Tennis's so called 'Big Three' have lorded over Wimbledon ever since Federer won the first of his record-equaling seven titles in 2003, slamming the door shut on any pretender who threatened to gatecrash their invitation-only, VIP party.

Eleven months ago, however, Murray demonstrated that peering in from the outside year after year was no longer an option as he smashed the gilded cage the trio had built around themselves by winning an Olympic gold on the hallowed turf.

 

Murray's euphoric triumph at the All England Club, albeit at the London Games, offered a glimmer of hope that an end might finally be in sight for Britain's interminable wait for a home-grown men's champion at Wimbledon.

That hope intensified tenfold when Murray hoisted the U.S. Open trophy weeks later with a heart-pumping, nerve-jangling, five-set win over Serbian Djokovic at Flushing Meadows.

That win means that for the first time in 77 years a reigning British male grand-slam champion will amble in to the manicured grounds in southwest London when the club throws open its immaculately-painted gates for the start of the 2013 championships on Monday.

The last time such an event occurred was when Fred Perry showed up in 1936 to complete his hat-trick of Wimbledon wins before turning professional.

Since Perry captured the last of his eight grand-slam titles at the 1936 U.S. Championships, 286 majors had come and gone without a British men's champion in sight.

LAUGHING STOCK

Winners emerged from Egypt to Ecuador, from Romania to Mexico, from Croatia to South Africa, from Hungary to Argentina; 22 different nations ruled over all and sundry.

The country that hosts the most famous tennis tournament in the world, however, had effectively become a laughing stock for failing to produce a male champion for more than three-quarters of a century.

"What is it? Like, 150,000 years?," Swiss Federer quipped on the eve of beating Murray at the 2010 Melbourne Park final.

Murray finally laid those jokes to rest last September and while he is now a bona fide member of what has turned into the 'Big Four' of tennis, experts sounded a word of caution to those expecting a glorious British finale.

"Every year that he doesn't win it, there is more and more pressure on Andy Murray, so it depends on his nerves," former Wimbledon champion Chris Evert said during an ESPN conference call.

The famous four have now won 32 of the last 33 grand slams - it would have been all 33 if Federer had not blown a two-sets-to-one lead against Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 U.S. Open final - and so far no-one has come close to ending that reign.

Evert's fellow American John McEnroe said that only the very brave would rule out the chances of world number one Djokovic, 17-times grand slam champion Federer and 2008 and 2010 winner Nadal.

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At 31, Federer's silky grasscourt craft can still leave younger rivals huffing and puffing, as the luckless Mischa Zverev discovered during a 6-0 6-0 demolition in Halle last week.

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Iron-man Djokovic, winner in 2011, relishes the challenge of leaving his opponents gasping while Nadal will be eager to show that last year's astonishing second-round humbling was just a blip in his glittering career.

_2">

"The three of them have been unbelievably dominant. They've been incredibly successful. If anything, it should be an incentive to the other guys to break in to the mix. If these guys are too good then more power to them," McEnroe said.

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"I would pick Djokovic (as number) one (for the title) and Murray two because he will be a little hungrier having not played the French (Open, through injury).

_4">

"Then Roger, because he's still got such a great game for grass but it's so tough to win it back-to-back, especially at his age. Then Rafa as he can't impose his will as easily as he can on claycourts, so I would put him a close fourth."

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McEnroe describes eight-times Roland Garros victor Nadal as the "ultimate nightmare on clay" but his presence at Wimbledon could also provide some sleepless nights for his main rivals.

_6">

The quartet have long become accustomed to meeting in the last four or in the final of tournaments but with Nadal seeded fifth this year, behind fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, a blockbuster clash could be in the offing as early as the quarter-finals.

_7">

Apart from the front runners, players such as Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Del Potro and Ferrer all possess the talent and the weapons that could have made them multiple grand-slam winners in any other era. In 2013, they have to be satisfied with being bit-part players in what McEnroe called "a golden era which we should enjoy for as long as we can".

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(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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Williams has mental edge over rest at Wimbledon

Serena Williams heads to Wimbledon to defend her title with seeds of doubt and defeatism already sown in the minds of her opponents.

The psychological scars of playing the younger Williams sister run deep in the women's game and, now that the American has dusted off the red clay from her shoes, predictions of an upset on southwest London's luscious lawns are few and far between.

 

Having bludgeoned her way to a 16th grand slam and second title at Roland Garros, Williams can now tighten her grip still further on the sport she has come to dominate by claiming a fourth major in five attempts.

It is little wonder then that Williams's rivals for the Wimbledon title can realistically be counted on one hand.

Her opponent in the final at Roland Garros, Maria Sharapova, and Belarussian world number two Victoria Azarenka are the leading candidates to throw a spanner in the works.

Confidence, however, is hardly overflowing.

Sharapova was circumspect to say the least on entering the French Open final having lost 12 consecutive matches to Williams.

"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me, obviously," the Russian said of a losing record stretching back to 2004.

Defeat in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January is the only smudge on a near-perfect year in which Williams has returned to the pinnacle of the rankings and re-conquered Paris, where the title had eluded her since 2002.

Back then she went on to complete the "Serena Slam", winning all four majors consecutively and few would bet against her repeating the trick.

She is on a 31-match winning streak with a 75-4 win-loss record in the past 12 months and has the added comfort of knowing that her game is ideally suited to the All England Club where her huge serve and heavy hits skid through with a little extra fizz.

Petra Kvitova, 2011 Wimbledon champion, is not the first to suggest that Serena's biggest opponent is frequently herself.

"I think that the players have to play 100 percent and to play really, really well. Serena sometimes doesn't have a great day but she's still able to beat the other players," she told Reuters.

World number five Sara Errani, who was on the receiving end of one of Williams's most emphatic maulings in the semi-finals in Paris, losing 6-0 6-1, neatly summed up the sense of foreboding.

"You have to have one of your best days and try to think she can have one bad day," she said.

INTIMIDATION FACTOR

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At 31, Williams is already the oldest woman to win a major since Martina Navratilova claimed a ninth Wimbledon singles title in 1990.

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She needs two more to draw level with both Navratilova and Chris Evert who sit above her with 18 major titles on the all-time women's list headed by Margaret Court with 24.

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While the ultra-competitive men's game holds few parallels with the Williams-dominated women's, the American needs one more grand slam to draw level with Roger Federer, often hailed as the greatest player to pick up a racket.

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"She's playing the best tennis of her career, mentally she's in the best place I've ever seen her," three-times men's champion John McEnroe said during a conference call organized by ESPN.

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"She is the best player that ever lived. She's a level above anyone - there's no doubt about it.

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"Serena is one of the greatest athletes in the history of our sport, male or female. She has such an intimidation factor it will be difficult for anyone to beat her."

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Older sister Venus, who won the last of her five Wimbledon titles in 2008, has pulled out this year with a back injury, and among the rest the title credentials are flimsy.

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Sharapova has reached only one Wimbledon final since winning it as 17-year-old in 2004 while Azarenka has fallen at the semi-final stage in the last two years and has enjoyed grand-slam success only in Australia.

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Last year's surprise finalist Agnieszka Radwanska is playing down her hopes of going one better.

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"There's always a bit of pressure when you are defending a final (appearance) but I'm just trying not to really think about it, just enjoying playing on grass, enjoying Wimbledon - it's my favorite grand slam."

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(Additional reporting and editing by Clare Fallon)

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Froome backed by balanced Team Sky on Tour de France

Chris Froome will be backed by a balanced Team Sky as the Briton challenges for a maiden Tour de France title, the British outfit said on Thursday.

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Froome, the overwhelming favorite to succeed team mate and compatriot Bradley Wiggins as Tour winner, will rely on Australian Richie Porte, who has proven this season that he could even be an overall contender should anything happen to his team leader.

 

Wiggins was ruled out of selection for health reasons last month.

"Richie's results this year have been fantastic," Team Sky coach Tim Kerrison told reporters earlier this week.

"He's a very very good stage racer and a strong GC (general classification) contender."

Froome, who is expected to have the upper hand in the time trials in the race which stars in Corsica on June 29, should be able to rely on a few big engines to set the tempo in the mountains.

His allies include team pursuit Olympic champions Peter Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas of Britain.

"Making the final selection of riders has been especially tough this year but we believe that we've found the right combination for the Tour de France," team principal Dave Brailsford said in a statement.

"The Tour de France has been the main goal for Chris this season and he goes into the race in great shape. With four stage-race wins this year Chris has not only grown as a rider but also importantly as a leader.

"Around him are eight quality riders who have each earned their place in the team. They will add the climbing ability and the engines to provide the perfect support for Chris, especially in the crucial mountain stages."

Team Sky: Chris Froome (Britain), Richie Porte (Australia), Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Norway), Peter Kennaugh (Britain), Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus), David Lopez (Spain), Kanstantin Siutsou (Belarus), Ian Stannard (Britain), Geraint Thomas (Britain)

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Justin Palmer)

Messi summoned by judge in tax fraud case

Argentina forward Lionel Messi and his father Jorge were ordered on Thursday to appear before a Barcelona court in September after Spanish prosecutors accused the pair of tax fraud.

Earlier in the day, Spanish media reported that an examining magistrate had brought official charges against the Messis but a writ showed the two had been summoned to give evidence.

The magistrate has accepted a complaint from the Catalonia tax crime prosecutor, who has accused Barcelona's World Player of the Year and his father of defrauding the Spanish tax office of more than 4 million euros ($5.4 million).

 

"The judge has accepted the complaint presented by the prosecutor against Lionel Messi and Jorge Horacio Messi for three alleged crimes against the tax authorities," a statement from the Barcelona court said.

"The acceptance of the case is the next step after a complaint is presented. The court can start to investigate and reach a conclusion as to whether a crime has been committed or not.

"The magistrate has called the accused to give evidence on September 17."

In the Spanish legal system, if the magistrate determines there is sufficient evidence to bring charges, he or she will do so and then proceed with a pre-trial investigation.

The complaint relates to the three tax periods of 2007, 2008 and 2009, the court said.

Two weeks ago, the prosecutor's office said income from the sale of Messi's image rights was effectively hidden from Spanish authorities via a complex web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The pair could face up to four years in jail if found guilty, according to Spanish law.

"We learned about the action begun by the Spanish prosecutor through the media," Rosario-born Messi, who has been resident in Barcelona since 2000 and gained Spanish citizenship in 2005, wrote in a statement on his official Facebook page at the time.

"It is something that surprises us because we have never committed any offence."

(Writing by Mark Elkington; Editing by Sonya Dowsett, Fiona Ortiz and Sonia Oxley)