Villeneuve back at Brickyard chasing Indy 500 magic

Much has changed in the motor racing world since Jacques Villeneuve pulled his car into Victory Lane 19 years ago and chugged on the traditional quart of milk that goes to the Indianapolis 500 winner.

Back at the Brickyard to run the 500 for the first time in nearly two decades, and where the youngest driver in Sunday's race was two months old when the Canadian won here in 1995, Villeneuve has had to familiarize himself with a new car, new rules and new faces.

Even Villeneuve appears different, evolved from the intense, humorless competitor that captured the Formula One drivers crown in 1997.

 
 
 

By his own admission, the Quebecer has mellowed, now more patient on and off the race track. But listen to Villeneuve for a moment and it is as if time has stood still.

While his delivery may be different, the 43-year-old remains as opinionated and outspoken as ever, still as fearless at speaking his mind as he is behind the wheel.

Since leaving Formula One in 2006, Villeneuve has been a racing nomad, getting his speed fix wherever he could find it; NASCAR and Nationwide stockcar and truck series, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, V8 Supercars in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia and World Rally Cross.

It was that need for speed that finally lured Villeneuve back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's great to be back at those speeds because there is nothing that compares to it," said a smiling Villeneuve. "It was almost too fast. The first 20 laps were a shock to the system.

"But you start driving around, you settle in and it feels as if 19 years ago was yesterday."

While a return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought old feelings rushing back, the performance has not been as quick to follow.

Villeneuve ran in just two Indy 500s, finishing second in his 1994 debut and first in 1995 before leaving for Formula One.

RAISING EYEBROWS

On Sunday he will start 27th, near the back of the 33-car field but remains confident that he can recapture some of that old Brickyard magic.

"The key is mind your own class="mandelbrot_refrag">business and then see where you are at the end," said Villeneuve. "You need a little bit of luck.

"It is a three-hour race and there is always that moment, 'what did I do,' that will happen in this race and I just hope I won't get caught out.

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"It is always a race that is won with your head and the older I get the more patient I get."

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For a driver who has accomplished so much, Villeneuve's decision to take on the 500 again has raised eyebrows.

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He knows better than most the ever-present dangers that lurk around the 2.5 mile oval, leaving some to wonder why risk it all to reach the top of a mountain he has already climbed.

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"I can't imagine," said Graham Rahal, who will start in the middle of Row Seven on Sunday. "I don't think I would ever do it especially when you're already a 500 winner, what's the perk?

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"Clearly Jacques is one of the most talented drivers that's been around in the last 30-40 years, you look at what he has accomplished both here, in Formula One.

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"He is a force to be reckoned with for sure. It's great to have him back but I can only imagine for him following in traffic these days has got to feel like a bit of a blur after 20 years."

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Since leaving F1, Villeneuve said he had been approached several times about the possibility of returning to IndyCar but was left unimpressed by the direction the series was headed and the cars and drivers, claiming many of the younger ones lacking respect for the dangers of the sport.

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But a new car which brought a new competitiveness to the sport and the record number of lead changes in last year's race helped catch the Canadian's attention and he was hooked.

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"It's rebuilding. Just look at the state of IndyCar compared to a few years ago, it's been going in a very positive way," said Villeneuve. "The image, the level of drivers and that made it exciting to come back.

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"A few years ago I didn't want to drive those cars ... now it has become super exciting again so I am here.

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"I started looking at it last year, just a little bit, because the races I was watching were fun to watch. There was part of me wishing I was part of it and that opened the door a little bit."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Bjorn storms clear after six straight birdies

An exhilarating run of six birdies in a row, two shy of the European Tour record, catapulted veteran Thomas Bjorn into a five-stroke lead after the BMW PGA Championship third round on Saturday.

After an overnight downpour delayed the start of play by three hours, it was raining birdies for the 43-year-old Dane as he left a world-class field trailing in his wake with a dynamic five-under-par 67 at the tour's flagship event.

Bjorn, who has been at the top of the leaderboard since firing a record 62 in the opening round, picked up strokes at the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th before adding another at 18 to rack up a 15-under total of 201 at Wentworth.

The performance was all the more laudable after he began his round with an ugly double-bogey six at the first caused by a hooked drive.

Luke Donald (68), the 2011 and 2012 champion, was in second place on 206, one ahead of Irishman Shane Lowry (73).

Former world number one Rory McIlroy (69), looking more assured with every passing day following his midweek break up with fiancee class="mandelbrot_refrag">Caroline Wozniacki, was tied for fourth spot on 208 with Dutchman Joost Luiten (67).

"The putts just started dropping and all of a sudden you get in that zone or that frame of mind where everything goes your way," Bjorn told reporters of his championship record sequence of six birdies in succession.

"It was one of those days where things roll your way. It was a remarkable run of holes on the back nine."

Bjorn has chalked up 19 birdies in 54 holes this week but he is certainly not taking the $942,414 first prize for granted.

"There are a couple of names on that leaderboard you should never count out of your mind," he said. "I've got to go out and play some good golf and try and be aggressive when I can and try and be smart when I don't need to be aggressive.

OPEN TOURNAMENT

"If I get a bad start tomorrow it's very much an open tournament so I've got to stay focused and determined. It's a dangerous lead, that's for sure."

Bjorn, three times a runner-up in majors without managing a breakthrough victory, will not be getting too pent up about the fact he is gunning for the biggest victory of his career in Sunday's final round.

"I view it as any other golf tournament," he said. "You want to be in these positions, work hard and get yourself in with a chance of winning and it doesn't really matter where it is.

"This is obviously a big event to the outside world but as a player you try and play it down."

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Former world number one Donald said he played "stress-free" golf on Saturday.

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"It probably wasn't that interesting to watch at home but when you play this course without making any mistakes, that's fun," said the Chicago-based Englishman.

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"I had some chances around the middle of my round, just didn't quite get the putts in and didn't hit my irons really close enough. To birdie the last two holes though was a big momentum for me."

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McIlroy, who missed the cut in three of his previous six starts in the tournament and has never won the event, said he was warming to Wentworth.

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"The way the golf course is at the minute, with it being soft, I think I can play it a little bit better," said the Northern Irishman.

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"I've had big leads and let them slip and come from behind and won. Eighteen holes of golf is still a long way to go but I'm going to need something very special, maybe something similar to what Thomas did the first day."

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(Editing by Martyn Herman and Michael Hann)

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Mann only woman on Indy 500 grid this year

After years of building up a presence at the Indianapolis 500 there will be a noticeable lack of girl power when the green flag drops at the Brickyard on Sunday.

At one time, the only females on starting grids were the glamorous models holding placards with drivers' names on them, but last year there were four women in last year's 33-car field at the Indianapolis 500.

But on Sunday when Pippa Mann takes the command to "start your engines," the Briton will be waving the female flag alone.

"It's actually a little strange, I'm used to seeing a few other women out here," said Mann, who will be lining up in her third Indy 500. "I don't notice it when I'm out in the car but I do when I look around the garage. It feels a little odd to be just me."

Women have been part of every Indy 500 discussion since 2005 when Danica Patrick burst onto the IndyCar scene claiming rookie of the year honors after she led the race and finished fourth.

But Patrick, once the darling of IndyCar and the series' class="mandelbrot_refrag">marketing dynamo, has taken her considerable sponsorship and high-profile to NASCAR.

Swiss Simona de Silvestro, who tried to fill the void when Patrick jumped ship, has also moved on testing for Sauber and is poised to join Formula One while Brazil's Ana Beatriz, Britain's Katherine Legge and Venezuelan Milka Dunno have fallen by the wayside given a lack of results and sponsorship.

It is that shortage of funding, not ability, that accounts for the drop-off in women drivers, according to Mann.

"It's tough for everyone to go out there and put together partnerships to run, it doesn't matter whether you are male, female, Russian, American, English," said Mann. "It doesn't matter where you are from, who you are or what gender you are.

"It is just a tough economic climate for all drivers.

"Personally I think it is a good thing that it is as hard for us as our male counterparts because when we get here we have truly earned it."

This year's 500 might have been the first since 1999 to run without at least one woman on the starting grid if Mann had not secured what she terms a partnership with the Susan G Komen cancer organization and Dale Coyne racing to drive the number 63 pink car to help raise awareness and money for breast cancer research and awareness.

Mann, who has spent her entire career avoiding female cliches like wearing pink, will be dressed from head-to-toe in the color on Sunday, including the repainting of her red and yellow helmet which she has fiercely protected for 10 years as part of her racing identity.

With no women currently racing full-time in IndyCar series, Formula One is seriously flirting with the idea of female drivers.

De Silvestro continues to test for Sauber while Susie Wolff could become the first woman driver in 22 years to take part in a Formula One Grand Prix weekend this season after Williams said the Scot would be on track for them in two free practice sessions later this year.

With the gender spotlight slowly shifting from IndyCar to F1, the 30-year-old Mann admitted to feeling a bit alone at the speedway this week but come Sunday she will be focusing on the boys.

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"I certainly miss seeing and having the other girls around but that acceptance hasn't changed between me and the other drivers just because they are not here," said Mann.

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"From a personal standpoint, as someone who views herself as a bit of an advocate for female drivers in general and who tries to help young female drivers, yes I am a little disappointed there is only me.

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"But from the standpoint does it affect me any other way no it doesn't.

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"All the guys I am racing out there they just view me as a driver when I have the crash helmet on."

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Real recover to beat Atletico and win 10th European cup

Real Madrid secured a 10th European Cup when they snatched a stoppage-time equalizer before extra-time goals by Gareth Bale, Marcelo and a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty gave them a 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday.

Atletico, who won the Spanish league title a week ago, looked set to complete a double after Diego Godin’s 36th-minute header, helped by a blunder from Real keeper Iker Casillas, put them in control of the first European final between teams from the same city.

Real attacked relentlessly in the second half at Lisbon's Stadium of Light but had to wait until the third minute of stoppage time for an equalizer when Sergio Ramos headed in powerfully from a corner.

Atletico looked a spent force in extra time and Real completed the comeback win when world record signing Bale headed them into the lead in the 110th minute before Marcelo slammed in a late third.

Ronaldo, the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal captain playing in his own capital city, scored the fourth from the penalty spot to clinch an astonishing turnaround and a double of Champions League and King's Cup after Real could only finish third in La Liga.

"Incredible, what can I say? It was our aim from the start of the season," said Real coach Carlo Ancelotti. "It was difficult but I think we deserved it in the end."

Ramos added: "I think we are all heroes, it is a team effort and we can all now celebrate together. We have lived through a lot together and then we had to wait until the final minute to equalize. Now Lisbon is our home."

"It is a reward for all the sacrifice and the fight we have shown over the years."

Atletico took the lead when their city rivals failed to clear a corner and they hooked the ball back into the box.

CASILLAS STRANDED

Casillas, who came rushing out of his goal, was left stranded in no man's land as Godin beat him to the ball and headed towards goal. The keeper rushed back and attempted to scoop the ball out but it had already crossed the line.

It was a notable double for Godin who headed the goal in last week's 1-1 draw at Barcelona that secured Atletico's first league title since 1996.

Real then applied the pressure and it finally paid off when Ramos headed the equalizer to force extra time.

The first period of that ended without another goal, but Real finally took control of the game in the last 15 minutes when Bale headed them in front in the 110th minute before Marcelo fired home the third and Ronaldo scored from the spot.

"It was a sad moment, tragic when they got the 1-1," said Atletico midfielder Gabi. "They had few chances but they did better in extra time. We were very close but they were very strong.

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Atletico defender Juanfran added: "We fought to the end but then Sergio caused problems with the goal. We will return. They won so they are the just winners but still we have won the league and got to the final of the Champions League."

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Ronaldo's goal was his 17th of the campaign, an all-time record for the competition, and meant Ancelotti became only the second man after Bob Paisley of Liverpool to win three European Cups as a coach after the Italian's triumphs with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007.

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(Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Mitch Phillips and Ken Ferris)

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Ancelotti trumps Simeone to secure Real's 10th title

Real Madrid overcame Atletico in the Champions League final because coach Carlo Ancelotti was able to adjust his tactics and go on the attack in time to rescue the game while his opposite number Diego Simeone had no cards left to play

Ancelotti fielded a cautious starting lineup at Lisbon's Stadium of Light, with Sami Khedira in a deep-lying central role despite having only recently returned from knee surgery, and Real were outplayed for long periods in the first half.

Atletico deservedly went ahead when Diego Godin outjumped a sluggish-looking Khedira and nodded the ball over a stranded Iker Casillas in the 36th minute and they looked comfortable with their lead well into the second period.

Ancelotti responded with around half an hour remaining by hauling off Khedira and left back Fabio Coentrao and replacing them with attacking midfielder Isco and zippy fullback Marcelo.

The tone of the match changed immediately, with Real pushing forward relentlessly and carving out a number of half-chances and Atletico forced deeper and deeper.

Although Atletico looked like they might hold on and secure their first continental triumph to add to this season's La Liga title, Sergio Ramos leaped to head a superb leveler in the third minute of added time.

The Atletico players were stunned, with several falling to the ground in disbelief, and their fans packed into one end of the stadium fell eerily silent as extra time loomed.

Ancelotti's Atletico counterpart Simeone had been forced to use the first of his three substitutes as early as the ninth minute when Diego Costa limped off and was replaced by Adrian.

Costa was a surprise inclusion in the starting lineup after picking up a hamstring injury last weekend and the sight of him leaving the pitch so early marked Simeone's first error in the night's tactical battle.

Simeone had used his two remaining substitutions by the end of regular time, with Filipe Luis limping off with what looked like cramp, and most of the Atletico players looked utterly spent as extra time began.

Real sensed victory was within their grasp and played with renewed energy, with Marcelo and the excellent Angel Di Maria attacking down the left with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale down the right.

Atletico, with no outlet up front, were hanging on, hoping for penalties and there was a sense of the inevitable when Bale, Real's record signing, made it 2-1 in the 110th minute with a back-post header.

Atletico were done and dusted and barely raised a challenge as Marcelo danced through and added a third before Ronaldo’s penalty with almost the last kick of the match after the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal forward was tripped.

CRUEL END

It was a triumph for Ancelotti, who in his debut season at Real becomes only the second man alongside Liverpool's Bob Paisley to win the European Cup three times.

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He has delivered the 10th continental crown the world's richest club by income have been chasing since their last title in 2002 and succeeded where the likes of Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini before him had failed.

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Real also won the King's Cup, beating Barcelona 2-1 in the final, and were on course for a rare treble before their La Liga faltered in the final weeks - Atletico triumphing in that battle.

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"It was difficult and we suffered tonight but I think we deserved it," Ancelotti said in an interview with Spanish television.

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"We believed that we could level the game and it went well for us after that," added the Italian, who won the European Cup with AC Milan twice as a player and twice as a coach and was calmness personified despite the increasingly tense nature of Saturday's encounter.

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For Atletico and Simeone, it was a cruel and deflating end to an astonishing season, when they won their first domestic league title since 1996 and emerged as genuine contenders among Europe's elite despite limited resources.

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It was also a case of history repeating itself as Atletico were within a minute of winning the 1974 European Cup final before Bayern Munich equalized and won the subsequent replay.

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"This match is not worth crying about, when the players have given everything they could on the pitch," Simeone told Spanish TV.

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"Now they need to rest, relax and take things calmly," added the former class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina captain.

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"I am very proud of my players, my staff, we have competed with one of the great clubs with humility."

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There was precious little humility on show at the death, however, as the hot-headed Argentine raced on to the pitch in a fury to confront Real defender Raphael Varane.

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Simeone, who also gave remonstrated with the referee on the pitch during extra-time, had to be restrained by the Atletico players and coaching staff before eventually being dragged clear to look on from afar as Real began their celebrations.

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(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

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Montgomerie leads Senior PGA Championship, Langer one back

Colin Montgomerie sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the final hole to earn a one-stroke lead over Bernhard Langer after the third round of the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor, Michigan on Saturday.

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After missing a five-foot par putt at the 17th hole, the Scot made amends at the last when his slick downhill putt broke perfectly into the middle of the cup for a three-under-par 68 at Harbor Shores.

On a day when overnight co-leader Tom Watson fell four shots from the lead with a 72, Montgomerie edged within sight of his first official victory in the United States.

"Any time you're one ahead of (Langer, you're) doing something right," Montgomerie told NBC TV after posting a seven-under 206 total with one round left.

After having complimented his great European rival, Montgomerie wasted no time tweaking the German, who is renowned for playing with glacial speed.

"It's tough in many ways because he's not the quickest," said Montgomerie, who will play with Langer for a fourth consecutive day in Sunday's final round.

"You try to play your own game but you are caught up in what he's doing and the clock and all the stuff that goes on there, so it's not easy to play with him but at the same time he's a great golfer and a lovely fellow. He's just a bit slow."

Montgomerie has 31 wins on the European Tour, but his only American victory came at the unofficial 1998 World Championship match play event, which the following year became a WGC event.

Langer is not the only player within striking distance of Montgomerie at the second major of the year on the over-50s Champions Tour.

Japan's Kiyoshi Murota (70) and Americans Bart Bryant (70)and Marco Dawson (64) are two shots behind while Watson is among a group of five who trail by four.

(Reporting By Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Kenyan women break 4x1500 meters relay world record

Kenya's women shattered their world record in the infrequently run 4x1500 meters relay when they clocked 16 minutes, 33.58 seconds at the inaugural IAAF World Relays on Saturday.

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The Hellen Obiri-anchored team crushed the previous record of 17:05.72 that a different Kenyan squad had set in Nairobi last month.

The United States also dipped under the former record as the Americans ran 16:55.23 with class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia placing third in 17:08.65.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Nassau, Bahamas; Editing by Ian Ransom)

Matsuyama in four-way tie for lead at Colonial

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama moved into a four-way share of the lead at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in Texas on Saturday, setting up what promises to be a wild final round with 36 players jammed within four strokes.

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Matsuyama carded a bogey-free six-under 64 to join Americans David Toms (65), Chad Campbell (68) and Chris Stroud (69) at seven-under 203.

American Kevin Chappell shot 63, the low round of the week, to join a group of six one stroke behind, while newly-crowned world number one Adam Scott (66) is among another group of seven only two strokes back.

However, so many players are in striking distance that the only thing that can be stated with confidence is that the winner will have to go low on Sunday.

Chappell had visions of shooting the magical 59 when he holed a bunker shot for eagle at the par-five 11th to go eight-under on the day.

He needed to pick up three more shots to break 60, but a bogey at the 14th hole brought him back to reality. Still, he had no complaints.

"I had to make a five-footer (on Friday) to make the cut and to then shoot seven-under, I couldn't ask for more," Chappell told PGATour.com.

"I used up a lot of luck today. I had two chip-ins and made some long putts. A 59 would have been nice but I lost the feel with the putter on the back nine."

World number 26 Matsuyama has been quiet the past couple of months due partly to a finger and wrist injury but he is now healthy again it was only time before he would regain form.

"Gradually, week by week my game has gotten better," said the 22-year-old. "I feel like I can compete now.

"I'm going to have to shoot lower than that tomorrow, but I'm going to do my best."

Toms, the 2011 champion, enjoyed a good day on one of his favorite courses.

"I didn’t get off to a very good start on Thursday but I've come back with two solid rounds to give myself a chance," said the 13-time PGA Tour winner.

"I like the course. I knocked a couple really close in the middle of my round and just played solid from there on in."

Halfway leader Brice Garnett shot a dismal 74 to fall into a tie for 25th but nonetheless ended the day only four strokes off the pace.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Jamaicans shatter 4x200 meters relay world record

Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake led Jamaica to a world record in the men's 4x200 meters relay when they clocked one minute 18.63 seconds at the IAAF World Relays on Saturday.

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The sizzling time clipped 0.05 seconds off the mark the Carl Lewis-anchored U.S. team set in 1994.

St. Kitts and Nevis finished a surprising second in 1:20.51 while class="mandelbrot_refrag">France took third in a European record 1:20.66 after the U.S. team were disqualified.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Nassau, Bahamas; Editing by Ian Ransom)

Serena to meet French friend in Paris opener

World number one class="mandelbrot_refrag">Serena Williams begins her French Open title on Sunday against local favorite Alize Lim, a training mate she uses to hang around with off the courts.

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American Williams, who is bidding for an 18th grand slam singles title to move alongside Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, is third on Court Philippe Chatrier in what is likely to be a chilly, and possibly rainy day in Paris.

"We were talking about it before the draw was made. It's ironic, I guess. It is what it is," the 32-year-old, a huge favorite after winning the Rome title last week, told reporters after discovering her first opponent.

Before her on center court is Swiss crowd favorite class="mandelbrot_refrag">Roger Federer, who takes on unheralded Slovakian Lukas Lacko as he looks to add to his record 17 grand slam titles having not won a major since Wimbledon 2012.

Closing proceedings will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, probably France's best hope for a men's champion, against compatriot Edouard Roger Vasselin.

"I expect a lot from me, especially here," Tsonga said.

"I know it's always a lot of pressure, but I think now I have enough experience. I played a few times Roland Garros. I know how it is."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman)

Carter and Quick drive Kings to 2-1 series lead

The Los Angeles Kings rode a strong second period from center Jeff Carter and goaltender Jonathan Quick on Saturday to a 4-3 Game Three victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, taking a 2-1 series lead in the NHL's Western Conference Final.

After falling behind 2-1 in the opening period at the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Staples Center, Carter scored the game-tying goal and then produced the assist for Tyler Toffoli’s go-ahead score, his third point of the game after assisting on the Kings' opening goal to Slava Voynov.

The two goals came from just four shots in the period, with Quick proving a rock at the other end to turn the game the home team's way.

Quick let through a double to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in the opening period, but was outstanding in the second, making 10 saves despite facing nearly six minutes of Blackhawk power plays.

Drew Doughty then provided an important insurance goal midway through the final period before Patrick Sharp added a Chicago consolation with just four seconds remaining.

“It was obviously a big game,” Carter, who claimed a hat-trick in Game Two, said.

“I think we kind of rode the momentum from the last game in Chicago and our guys did a good job.

“We have a lot of character, guys who have played in a lot of big class="mandelbrot_refrag">games and know how to win.

“We play a strong defensive game and I think that is where a lot of our offense comes from. We lock it down and if for some reason we give up a chance, Quick is always there to bail us out.”

Following a disastrous finish in Game Two's 6-2 loss, Toews did his best to ensure his side rebounded by opening the scoring with a short-handed goal.

After the Kings tied the game just 50 seconds later through Voynov, he wrested the advantage back by tucking a rebound away at 13:19, sending the Blackhawks to the first break 2-1 up.

However, after some choice words from coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings upped the ante on the Chicago skipper, keeping him silent the rest of the way.

“He’s obviously a great player and a great leader for their team and there are just times where he takes over class="mandelbrot_refrag">games,” Doughty said.

“And we knew after the first period where he got those two goals he was trying to put it on himself to take over the game so it was definitely a focus in between periods to step up our game on him, try to get physical with him and take his space away and I thought everyone did a good job on him from there on out.

“Chicago is a good team, they’re not going to go away easy and we are only up 2-1. We have a lot of work left to do but we’re looking forward to it and can’t wait for Game Four.”

The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks gave up a lead for the second straight game.

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“We played well but we didn’t get the result we wanted tonight,” Toews said.

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“There is no time for getting discouraged and frustrated. We know we can keep pushing it to that next level and that is what it is going to take against these guys.

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“Clearly they want it badly and are playing really hard. For us it’s just a matter of continuing the effort that we started with in the first period.”

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The teams play Game Four of the best-of-seven series in Los Angeles on Monday.

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(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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Heat recover to take 2-1 lead over Pacers in East final

The Miami Heat took a 2-1 lead over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals after coming back from 15 points down in the second quarter to win 99-87 on Saturday.

Miami's habit of making a slow start was particularly acute - they trailed 17-4 in the first quarter and were 37-22 behind midway through the second as the Pacers made them pay for some loose turnovers.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra shuffled his pack however and Miami came out strong in the third quarter though and took the lead for the first time on the night with a LeBron James dunk putting them 52-51 up with 7:36 left in the quarter.

The game turned decisively in Miami's direction when Wade made a superb steal and set up a three-pointer from Ray Allen and put the Heat eight points ahead.

Allen (16 points) had three other three-pointers in the final quarter for the Heat while James made 26 points and Dwyane Wade 23.

While James and Wade top-scored, James was quick to praise the contribution of some of Miami's less heralded players.

Norris Cole brought energy and aggression to defense and was able to provide some penetration on offense while Rashard Lewis provided some valuable work to frustrate the Pacers' offense.

"Those guys off the bench they did it for us, they’ve got the game ball for sure," said James, who was annoyed with the team's first quarter.

"We started the game with mental turnovers and mental breakdowns.

"We don’t want to keep digging holes, we hate the way we played. We have to start the game like we are down 15.

It was Allen's brilliance from the corner, where he provided a reminder of why he is the league's all-time three-point scorer, that proved to be the difference at the end.

"You can ask anybody in that locker room, there are so many years of pain that he caused us (playing for Boston) and it is great to have him on our side," said Spoelstra.

"It is not just the made baskets. It is the spacing, the movements and he gives you another layout to the offense."

The win tied the second largest playoff comeback in the Heat's history - equaling their performance against the Boston Celtics in the 2012 finals.

But Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said there was no question of the defeat harming his team's confidence.

"We are very early into the series. They took care of their class="mandelbrot_refrag">business on home court now we have to come out and get Game Four," he said.

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Game Four of the best of seven series will take place in Miami on Monday.

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(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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Beaten Atletico face tough task to stay at top

It took Atletico Madrid 40 years to reach a second European Cup final and it might be a similarly long wait for a third appearance with wealthy clubs set to poach the La Liga champions' key assets.

A week after Diego Godin headed the goal against Barcelona that won them the La Liga title for the first time since 1996, the Uruguayan nodded in a corner against Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League in Lisbon.

They looked set for a miraculous league and European double before Sergio Ramos equalized in the 93rd minute to force extra time and deflate Atletico, who collapsed to a 4-1 loss after the extra 30 minutes.

The effects of a limited squad finally catching up with them against a blockbuster Real lineup, clearly fresher as the game wore on.

The loss resembled their sole previous final appearance when they were denied victory in the 1974 European Cup final against Bayern Munich by a late equalizer before losing the replay 4-0.

Despite their remarkable successes this season, they look ahead with an uncertain future with financial limitations making it a tough task to keep hold of their star names.

The combative Diego Costa, who has been their talisman in attack this season with 36 goals, has been strongly linked with a move to Chelsea, while promising goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could join him at Stamford Bridge if an agreement to either extend his loan deal or sign him outright cannot be reached.

Clubs have also cast admiring glances at wingers Arda Turan and Koke, who is still only 22, and while Atletico were able to cope with the loss of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao last season, they are unlikely to be able to withstand any more purging.

On top of that, Simeone's squad is full of players aged around 30 - with youthful potential looking limited.

That despite Atletico boasting one of the strongest youth academies in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Spain that has produced the likes of international striker Fernando Torres and goalkeeper David De Gea, but holding on to the talent has been a problem.

Now, though, there is only sympathy in the Spanish press for Atletico, who lost the final in the cruelest of ways, and Simeone in particular.

He pushed his players as much as he could but boiled over in the final stages when he confronted Real defender Raphael Varane on the pitch.

"Simeone experienced for the first time in his short career as a coach the bitter side of a final," read Spanish daily Sport.

Having wiped away the tears of disappointment, a defiant Simeone was convinced that Atletico can come back stronger.

"I said to the players, the game today didn’t deserve tears because when you give your all you have to have your head held high," the class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina told reporters.

"We were beaten having done our best. This means that we will grow from this. It puts us in a position to continue competing and the opposition know what they are up against."

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(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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Radwanska rolls into second round in Paris

Polish third seed Agnieszka Radwanska capitalized on Chinese Zhang Shuai's meltdown and advanced into the second round of the French Open with a 6-3 6-0 win on Sunday.

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As clouds rapidly gathered over Court Philippe Chatrier on a chilly morning, the first seven class="mandelbrot_refrag">games went against serve before Radwanska bagged the remaining eight games.

She ended her hapless opponent's ordeal on the first match point with a fine volley to set up a meeting with Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic or French wildcard Mathilde Johansson.

"It's important that I settled in two sets and spent only one hour on court," Radwanska told a courtside interviewer.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Federer breezes into Roland Garros second round

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Roger Federer barely broke sweat as he eased into the second round of the French Open with a 6-2 6-4 6-2 win against unheralded Slovakian Lukas Lacko on Sunday.

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The fourth seed, chasing a second Roland Garros trophy and a record-extending 18th grand slam title, produced some fine attacking tennis in an 84-minute master class.

Swiss Federer, who claimed his last grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2012, won a lot of quick points thanks to thumping backhands and whipping forehands on court Philippe Chatrier.

He will next face Portuguese Gastao Elias or Argentine Diego Sebastian Schwartzman.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Frenchman Stal plays on at Wentworth despite mother's death

Gary Stal has had to push personal tragedy aside to play in the BMW PGA Championship after his father made an emotional trip to Wentworth to inform the Frenchman his mother had died of cancer.

The little-known Stal is only featuring at the European Tour's flagship event on the outskirts of London as a late reserve after fellow countryman Victor Dubuisson pulled out with a damaged shoulder at the start of the week.

"I played in honor of my father today," the 22-year-old told reporters on Saturday after signing for a three-under-par 69 in the third round to chalk up a five-under total of 211, 10 strokes adrift of runaway leader Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.

 
 
 

"Tomorrow I will fight for my mother. I will be very aggressive in my play."

Stal, who won the French amateur championship by an eight-shot margin three years ago, secured his 2014 European Tour card at Qualifying School.

He may be making his debut at the BMW PGA Championship but he said his golfing ambitions were always the same.

"Of course I want to win, I will not say otherwise," added Stal. "Each week I'm here to try but we know with golf that's not easy."

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Former European No 1 Karlsson proud to reach 500 up

Former European number one Robert Karlsson failed to mark his 500th Tour appearance with a standout display this week but the Swede could still look back with pride at a career packed with success.

The North Carolina-based professional readily admits he is toiling with his game at the moment and takes encouragement from the form being shown by contemporaries like Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and Dane Thomas Bjorn, 43.

"I've seen a lot of things traveling around the world in my career, seen a lot of ups and downs," Karlsson told Reuters in an interview after a poor closing 78 left him way down the field on six-over 294 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

"But if someone had told me after my first five events that I'd play in 500 of these things and win 11 times, play in the Ryder Cup a couple of times and also win the World Cup alongside Henrik Stenson I'd have been very happy.

"I haven't done well enough to play in the Ryder Cup the last couple of times and the most important thing for me is to start playing well again," said the 44-year-old Karlsson.

"Look at Bjorn and Jimenez. They are still doing well."

Former world number six Karlsson finished top of the European money-list in 2008 and decided to uproot his family three years later to live in the United States.

His wife and two young children have settled well on the other side of the Atlantic but his golf has unraveled to such an extent that he has lost his U.S. PGA Tour playing privileges.

"It's tricky flying back and forth between both tours," said Karlsson. "Last year I played mainly in the States but most of the good golf I've played in my career has been over here.

"This feels like home too and this year I'm mainly playing over here again - I don't have a playing status in America so I have no choice.

"It was something of a landmark decision by us to move to Charlotte," added the world number 229. "We'll see what happens going forward but the family are very happy where they are."

Karlsson has been fighting a hook off the tee in recent times and said this week's cold and rain had not helped his Wentworth campaign.

"I've been struggling with my game for the last few weeks," explained the 6-foot-5 (1.96-metre) Swede. "I've been hitting it left off the tee all the time and around this golf course you can't do that.

GOOD SCHEDULE

"The other problem for me right now is that it's hard to get a good schedule. You need to get into tournaments when you're not playing great.

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"From the Trophee Hassan in Morocco in early March to the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte at the start of this month I didn't play at all."

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Karlsson, who featured in the Ryder Cup team in 2006 and 2008 and won the World Cup with Stenson in 2008, said he had no regrets about moving to the States but acknowledged it was far tougher to succeed on the U.S. PGA Tour.

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"In America the fields are a bit deeper and you see more high-ranking players missing the cut from week to week," he added.

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"It's definitely easier to miss the cut over there. We saw world number one Adam Scott almost missing the cut at this week's Texas tournament but now he's two strokes off the lead with one round to go.

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"It's more bunched up and you need to play better over there. I'm trying to get a few more events in America but it's not easy to get invites," said Karlsson.

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"It would be great to get more chances especially as I played well there early this season. I've got a lot of points and money already so I've got a reasonable chance of getting my card back if I can just play a bit more."

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(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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World Cup a minefield for Brazil's Rousseff in election year

The script was simple enough: host the soccer World Cup, win it for a record sixth time and ride a wave of national euphoria to another four years in power.

Yet Brazil's ruling Workers' Party may find it's not that easy.

Recent history shows little correlation between being crowned world soccer champions and winning elections, despite endless speculation to the contrary among Brazilians of all political stripes.

At best, President Dilma Rousseff could get a temporary bump from a victory for the heavily-fancied home team in July but it would likely wear off in a few weeks, leaving more than two months for reality to set back in before election day on October 5.

At worst, a disastrous early exit from the tournament could add to frustrations with the way class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil is run and fuel a growing desire for change.

With no home team to root for, more Brazilians might feel tempted to join anti-World Cup street protests, creating a potentially volatile situation for Rousseff to manage.

Indeed, what was supposed to be a moment of national pride has instead become a political minefield for a president whose popularity is already waning.

A string of violent protests last year during a smaller soccer tournament here drew hundreds of thousands onto the streets and dramatically raised the political stakes at the World Cup, which starts on June 12 in Sao Paulo.

One of Rousseff's main challengers, Eduardo Campos, recently told Reuters that the Cup could have some effect on opinion polls right after it ends, "but other concerns will soon appear on the radar."

Political science seems to back that up. Sporting victories 10 days before an election can win an additional 1 to 2 percent of the vote for an incumbent, but class="mandelbrot_refrag">games played more than two weeks prior have little effect, a study in 2010 by Stanford Graduate School of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Business researchers found.

That, for the most part, has been the case in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Brazil.

Since 1994, the World Cup has coincided every four years with general elections in Brazil.

That year, Brazil won the tournament just as an economic stabilization plan, which included the launch of a new currency, the real, was being rolled out.

The man who conceived the plan, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, later said the upbeat national mood following the victory may have helped the currency succeed - which, in turn, led to Cardoso's election to the presidency later that year.

After that, though, the correlation falls apart.

In 1998, Cardoso was re-elected even though Brazil lost in the World Cup final to class="mandelbrot_refrag">France. Four years later, Brazil beat class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany to become champions for a fifth time, yet opposition leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva beat Cardoso's candidate at the polls.

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Lula was easily re-elected in 2006, when Brazil was knocked out in the quarter-finals by class="mandelbrot_refrag">France. And Rousseff cruised to victory in 2010 with Lula's blessing, just a few months after the Netherlands eliminated Brazil in South Africa.

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HOME FIELD RISKS

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The big difference this time is that the World Cup is being held at home and there is far more at stake than the performance of Brazilian soccer stars like Neymar.

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And a lot can go wrong off the pitch.Deficient transport could stop teams and fans getting to class="mandelbrot_refrag">games on time. Stadiums built in a hurry could be faulty. Wireless communications could jam or floodlights could cut out in the middle of play.

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Worse, games could be disrupted by street protests by Brazilians who say the government should have built hospitals, schools and rapid transit systems instead of costly soccer stadiums that some host cities do not even need.

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With billions watching on TV around the globe, any mishap would embarrass Brazilians who hoped the World Cup would cap Brazil's emergence as a player on the global stage. And they could take it out on the president.

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"Whatever happens, whether it's a blackout during a game, traffic jams, clogged airports or an accident involving poorly built infrastructure, she will be blamed directly," said Thiago de Aragão, a partner at Arko Advice consultancy in Brasilia.

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"President Rousseff must be wishing Brazil did not have to host the World Cup in an election year," he said.

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To be sure, many predict Brazil will win the World Cup on home soil, and Rousseff is still favored to get re-elected. But her numbers are dropping in opinion polls, which also show that a majority of Brazilians now oppose hosting the Cup.

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Early defeat is the biggest danger for Rousseff, said Senator Romero Jucá of the PMDB party, who sees an inverse correlation between Brazil's performance and the protests: the better Brazil does the smaller the demonstrations will be.

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"She had better hope Neymar plays well and Brazil wins."

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(Editing by Kieran Murray)

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McIlroy ends tumultuous week by winning Wentworth showpiece

Former world number one Rory McIlroy ended a tumultuous week by firing a six-under-par 66 in the final round to score a fairytale victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday.

The Northern Irishman, who broke up with tennis-playing fiancee class="mandelbrot_refrag">Caroline Wozniacki a few days ago, finished with a 14-under total of 274 after a remarkable day of ebbing and flowing at the European Tour's flagship event.

Ireland's Shane Lowry carded a 68 to take second place on 275 while Dane Thomas Bjorn, who went into the last round holding a five-stroke lead, ballooned to a 75 and had to be content with a share of third spot alongside twice former winner Luke Donald (70).

On a topsy-turvy day of glorious sunshine during which the swirling winds and tricky pin positions caused the lead to constantly change hands, it was McIlroy who held his nerve the best.

A succession of long putts were holed by the leading players and Donald twice chipped in over the closing stages but the 25-year-old McIlroy ultimately took the tournament by the scruff of the neck with four birdies in the last nine holes.

The victory was McIlroy's sixth on the European Tour and his first on the mainland. He had previously triumphed twice in Dubai, twice in the United States and once in Hong Kong.

The world number 10 ended his campaign in stylish class="mandelbrot_refrag">fashion, birdying the par-five 17th and 18th and he threw his ball high into the grandstands after converting a four-foot putt on the final green.

"To win here at Wentworth, at the flagship event, I couldn't have asked for anything more," said McIlroy at the presentation ceremony after pocketing the first prize of 644,411 pounds ($1.09 million).

"I played well this week and I knew coming here I was playing well because I've had a few top-10s in the States.

"I struggled a bit on Friday," said the 25-year-old in reference to his second-round 71, "but I played great over the weekend."

Twice former major winner McIlroy has never looked upon Wentworth as a happy hunting ground.

MISSED CUTS

The 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 U.S. PGA champion missed the cut three times in his previous six starts and had a best finish of fifth in 2009.

McIlroy began the last day seven shots adrift of Bjorn but went on to equal the biggest final-round comeback in the 60-year history of the BMW PGA Championship.

"I was a little fortunate today because some of the guys ahead of me made some mistakes and I took advantage," he said.

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"My caddie set me a target of 15-under to get to. I didn't quite get there but 14-under was enough and I'm happy with that.

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"I really wanted to win before the second major of the season," said McIlroy of next month's U.S. Open, "and I couldn't have asked for a better way to prepare."

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Lowry was three strokes clear of the field after 12 holes but the 13th proved unlucky for the Irishman as he racked up a double-bogey six.

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He then gained some consolation by sinking a monster putt at the 18th.

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"I feel very unlucky," said Lowry. "I felt I hit some great shots coming in ... but to hole the putt on the last and to finish second on my own is really nice.

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"Rory is definitely one of the best golfers I've ever played with and I've been lucky enough to play a lot of golf with him. He's had his struggles over the last couple of years and I'm delighted for him."

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Donald chipped in from the off the green at the 13th and 16th but he and playing partner Bjorn were undone on the front nine where they both slumped to costly double-bogey sevens at the sixth.

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World number three Henrik Stenson, who could go top of the rankings depending on incumbent Adam Scott's performance at the Colonial Invitational in Texas later on Sunday, shot a closing 70 to finish tied seventh on 280.

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($1 = 0.5938 British Pounds)

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(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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American Hunter-Reay wins Indianapolis 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay became the first American in eight years to win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday and denied hard-charging Brazilian Helio Castroneves a record-equaling fourth victory at the Brickyard.

Billed as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," the Indy 500 lived up to the hype with a heart-stopping finish as Hunter-Reay beat Castroneves to the checkered by less than a car length to become the first American winner since Sam Hornish in 2006.

"I've been watching this race since I was in diapers sitting on the floor ... I'm thrilled," said Hunter-Reay after chugging from the traditional quart of cold milk in Victory Lane. "This is American history this race, an American tradition."

Staged on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, the Indy 500 may indeed be a uniquely American event but it had taken on an international flair with only two homegrown drivers reaching Victory Lane since 1998.

Hunter-Reay, who started the race well back on the 33-car grid, did not look to be the American driver to end that drought as the race got off to a blistering pace going a record 149 laps without a yellow.

But the 2012 IndyCar champion methodically worked his way through the pack and when a heavy crash by Townsend Bell sprayed debris across the track to bring out the red flag with 10 laps to run the 33-year-old was suddenly in position to take the win.

When the race was restarted with a seething crowd of 250,000 on its feet, Hunter-Reay and Castroneves staged a dramatic two-car duel by swapping the lead over the final six laps.

Stalking Castroneves, Hunter-Reay made the decisive move entering the final lap surging to the front then won a drag race with the Brazilian down the home stretch before punching his fist into the air as he crossed the famous yard of bricks.

It marked the first time in five years the race had finished under green, the previous four all ending under caution.

RECORD PACE

Hunter-Reay's Andretti Autosport team mate, Marco Andretti, trying to become the first member of the Andretti clan to reach Victory Lane since his grandfather Mario Andretti in 1969, finished third.

Adding to a spectacular day for Andretti Autosport was Colombian Carlos Munoz, who followed his team mate home in fourth, just ahead of compatriot Juan Pablo Montoya, who was racing his first 500 since winning 14 years ago.

Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion making his Indy debut, finished sixth but had little time to savor a brilliant result as he immediately got onto a private jet and headed to Charlotte where he will race NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in a bid to complete a rare Memorial Day double.

Only four drivers have attempted the treacherous high-speed endurance test with Tony Stewart in 2001 the only one to complete the 1,100 mile Memorial Day double.

Gates to the Brickyard opened before sunrise and spectators hauling coolers and wagons packed with beer and barbecues slowly filled the grandstands that ring the 2.5 mile oval for an afternoon of high-octane drama.

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Local favorite Ed Carpenter, starting from pole for the second consecutive year, led the field into the first turn but it was Canadian James Hinchcliffe powering into the lead. The first half of the race was one of the most uneventful as drivers set a record pace reaching the midway mark of the 200 laps without a single caution and only one retirement.

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With the laps counting down it appeared for a moment the 500 might get to finish without caution until Charlie Kimball spun into the wall on lap 149 bringing out the first yellow.

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The incident ended a remarkable run of error-free racing shattering the previous record of 66 laps without a caution.

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The finish of the race, however, was far different as the favorites made their moves, Carpenter, Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon all crashing out of the race.

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Dixon, the 2008 winner, spun into the wall to end his day while Carpenter and Hinchcliffe came together with 24 laps to run wrecking both cars before Townsend Bell slammed into barrier setting the stage for the dramatic finish.

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(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Russia loses $275 million satellite in latest rocket failure

A Russian rocket carrying a $275 million telecommunications satellite failed and burned up shortly after launch on Friday, the latest in a series of setbacks for Russia's once-pioneering space industry.

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It was the second failure for Russia's workhorse Proton-M rocket in less than a year, and the second time that it had failed to deliver a European satellite intended to provide advanced telecoms and Internet access to remote parts of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, after the last one crashed shortly after launch in 2011.

Friday's unmanned mission went awry when the engine on the third stage of the Proton-M booster rocket failed, Oleg Ostapenko, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, told Russian news agencies. He said the precise cause was unknown.

The failure occurred at an altitude of 160 km (100 miles), about nine minutes after the early-morning lift-off from the Russian-leased Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan.

The state-run RIA quoted Ostapenko as saying that the rocket and all debris had burned up in the atmosphere: "We can say with certainty that nothing reached Earth."

However, Russian media said some debris may have fallen into the Pacific or been scattered over Siberia and Russia's Far East. No casualties or damage were reported on the ground.

The lost class="mandelbrot_refrag">Express AM4R satellite, worth more than 200 million euros ($275 million), was described by its maker Astrium, a unit of the European aerospace group Airbus AIR.PA, as one of the most powerful satellites built in Europe.

Its loss delays a number of commercial projects by three to four years.

"It's a heavy blow, of course. And the thing is that our workhorse rocket - our most powerful and the most-used rocket - has such a bad record," Ivan Moiseyev, head of the Russian-based Institute of Space Policy think tank, told Kommersant-FM radio.

He said the rocket had a 7 percent failure rate, and its unreliability was making it harder for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia to compete in the multibillion-dollar global satellite launch industry, giving a boost to its European rival Arianespace and the American newcomer SpaceX. (Full Story)

"It's a very unsuccessful picture on the whole and, if you compare it with our main competitors, with Europe, their last accident was 12 years ago," Moiseyev said.

Last July, three navigation satellites worth about $200 million were lost when the Proton-M rocket crashed near the launch pad shortly after take-off.

That accident strained relations between Kazakhstan and Russia and led Kazakhstan to temporarily ban Proton launches from Baikonur.

State-run Rossiya-24 television said all launches had been suspended from Kazakhstan after Friday's failure.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, editing by Jason Bush and Timolthy Heritage)

Polar explorers' telegraph station back in service in high Arctic

Visitors to the high class="mandelbrot_refrag">Arctic can now walk in the footsteps of great polar explorers like Roald Amundsen and send messages from the telegraph station that was first to receive news of the North Pole's conquest nearly 90 years ago.

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class="mandelbrot_refrag">Norway has renovated Amundsen's telegraph station at Ny-Aalesund, the world's northernmost permanent settlement on the remote Svalbard archipelago, and tourists, arriving mostly on cruise ships, will from next week be able to use it to send electronic messages around the world.

Amundsen, the first to reach the South Pole in 1911, had his sights on the North Pole but settled for class="mandelbrot_refrag">Antarctica when American Robert Peary beat him to the top of the world.

When credible doubts later emerged about Peary's feat Amundsen took up the quest again. In 1926, along with Italian airship designer Umberto Nobile, he sailed over the North Pole in a zeppelin, becoming the first to officially reach the pole.

"This station was their only connection," says Dag Blakkisrud, who heads the telecom firm Telenor’s heritage programme, which paid for the refurbishment.

"Amundsen sent several messages to Ny-Aalesund from the journey and a few years later when he got lost in a plane searching for Nobile, who was himself lost out in the ice. The station also received two telegraphic messages from him, which was the last we ever heard from Amundsen," Blakkisrud said.

Those would be the last messages ever received from Amundsen, whose remains or his airplane have never been found.

The town transformed into a mining colony after the expeditions but was abandoned after a 1962 accident killed 21 workers. It now functions as a research station.

"We brought back all the original equipment left when the town was abandoned 50 years ago. The telegraph will be the only way for tourists to send a message home as there is no mobile phone reception here," said Aasne Dolve Meyer, an adviser at Kings Bay AS, which runs the town.

Kings Bay expects around 30,000 visitors to Ny-Aalesund this year.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Scientists unearth unique long-necked dinosaur in Argentina

It's not exactly small at 30 feet long (9 meters), but you might want to call this newly identified dinosaur the littlest giant.

Scientists in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina on Wednesday announced the discovery of the fossilized remains of a unique member of the famous long-necked, plant-munching dinosaurs known as sauropods, the largest land creatures in Earth's history.

The dinosaur, named Leinkupal laticauda, may be the smallest of the sauropod family called diplodocids, typified by the well-known Diplodocus, which lived in North America, they said.

It also is the first of them found in South America. It lived about 140 million years ago, millions of years after scientists had previously thought diplodocids had disappeared, according to Argentine paleontologist Pablo Gallina, one of the researchers.

"Finding Leinkupal was incredibly exciting since we never though it possible. A diplodocid in South America is as strange as finding a T. rex in Patagonia," added another of the scientists, Argentine paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía, referring to the North American dinosaur predator Tyrannosaurus rex.

Apesteguía called Leinkupal "a very small guy in a lineage of giants."

"We don't know the weight but considering that many of its bones were very delicate and light and most of its body was formed by neck and tail, the weight could not be impressive, actually no more than an elephant," Apesteguía said.

Sauropods, one of the most successful dinosaur groups, were recognizable for their long necks and tails, huge bodies and pillar-like legs.

Some sauropods like Argentinosaurus, which also lived in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Argentina but 50 million years later, weighed up to 90 tons and measured more than 100 feet (30 meters) long. The last sauropods lived until the very end of the age of dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago.

Diplodocids lived in North America, Europe and Africa during the Jurassic period, the middle of the three acts of the age of dinosaurs, Gallina said. Until now, they were thought to have gone extinct by the end of the Jurassic, about 145 million years ago.

But Leinkupal shows that this family lived on at least into the earliest stages of the Cretaceous period.

Diplodocids were more slender than some other families of sauropods. Their back legs were longer than their front legs, and they boasted extremely long necks and whip-like tails that they may have used to fend off predators.

At the time, North America was completely isolated from South America, and the Atlantic Ocean was beginning to open and separate South America from Africa.

Leinkupal lived in a semiarid environment south of a large desert, the researchers said. Its incomplete remains were found in Patagonia - a region renowned for its dinosaur finds - in 2010 and 2012 in Argentina's Neuquen province, they added.

Its genus name, Leinkupal, means "vanishing family" in the region's indigenous Mapuche language - signifying the disappearance of this family of dinosaurs. Its species name, laticauda, means "wide tail" in Latin.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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U.S. allows limited exceptions to ivory ban for instruments, art

The U.S. government on Thursday took steps to allow limited exceptions to its broad prohibition on the commercial trade in elephant ivory, exempting certain older musical instruments with ivory components as well as ivory in museum and art exhibitions.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement the "common-sense adjustments" were made after the agency listened to "very real concerns" lodged since the near-total elephant ivory ban announced in February.

The ban was designed to combat wildlife trafficking that threatens African elephants and other species with extinction.

Ashe signed an order that allows musicians to transport internationally certain musical instruments containing African elephant ivory. The order also allows for the import of certain museum and art specimens not intended for sale.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the owners of such items had to prove they were legally acquired before the date in 1976, when African elephants were protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and that they had not been bought or sold since the new U.S. ban went into effect in February.

The exceptions relate to musical instruments like pianos with ivory keys, string instruments with bows made with ivory pieces and bagpipes with ivory fittings, the agency said.

The agency said it had heard from musicians and major orchestras that the rules had became a problem for professional musicians with very old instruments, making it hard for them to travel outside the United States on tour and come back with their instruments. It noted that old instruments with old ivory would not impact the global demand for ivory.

"We have one goal: to shut down the illegal trade in ivory that is fueling the poaching crisis facing African elephants today. By implementing a near complete ban on trade in elephant ivory, we are effectively closing loopholes and eliminating the cover provided by legal commercial trade that traffickers have exploited for years," Ashe said.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Tom Brown)

U.S. health agency to erase sex bias in biomedical studies

The U.S. government's class="mandelbrot_refrag">medical research agency is taking steps to erase sex bias in pivotal biomedical studies that pave the way for human clinical trials, saying scientists too often favor male over female laboratory animals and cells.

A new requirement announced on Wednesday by the National Institutes of Health for researchers applying for NIH funding is likely to have a big influence because the agency is one of the world's top financial backers of biomedical studies, spending about $30 billion annually.

Beginning October 1, researchers seeking NIH grants must report their plans for balancing male and female cells and animals in preclinical studies, with only "rigorously defined exceptions." The NIH also plans to train grant recipients and its own staff on designing studies without sex bias.

"Our goal is to transform how science is done," wrote NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and Dr. Janine Clayton, director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health, in the scientific journal Nature.

The current over-reliance on male lab animals like mice and rats and male cells in lab dishes in such research obscures important sex differences that could guide future studies involving human subjects and can lead to flawed findings, the NIH said.

The agency said inadequate inclusion of female cells and animals and inadequate analysis of data by sex may contribute to a "troubling rise" in findings by researchers that other researchers are then unable to verify in separate studies.

Twenty-one years ago, the NIH began requiring inclusion of women in NIH-funded research using human subjects. Previously, some studies being used to determine whether or not a new medicine or treatment worked simply excluded women.

Before new medicines or treatments can be tried on human subjects, they are tested on animals or cells in a lab. These preclinical studies can lead to human clinical trials or can doom approaches that do not seem to work.

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'BLIND SPOT'

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"I really think this is a blind spot. I don't know that there's intentional bias here. But there's certainly a reliance on male-only animal models, which have become the convention in some fields," Clayton said in a telephone interview.

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Clayton said the sex imbalance stems in part from an obsolete notion that the female hormonal cycle would cause too much variability in lab animals and disrupt a study's results.

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She pointed to examples of treatments working differently in men and women, including how well aspirin therapy protects against heart attack and how well nicotine patches and gum help smokers quit.

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Scientists who have studied sex imbalance in this research welcomed the NIH move.

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"Males get treated as the default experimental subject. If you try to publish a study using only females, you typically have to justify your reasoning - but few people blink at male-only studies," said Annaliese Beery, a neuroscientist at Smith College in Massachusetts.

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Beery said it is surprising how many biochemical differences there are between males and females, even at the level of gene expression in cells.

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University of California, Berkeley behavioral neuroscientist Irving Zucker said, "There are multiple studies in both animals and humans with clear evidence that one cannot generalize results from males to females. To give women the same benefits as males from biological research requires a large increase in the study of females."

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Tropical cyclones packing more punch further from the equator

People in heavily populated Pacific and Indian Ocean coastal regions beyond the tropics should take heed, U.S. scientists said on Wednesday, because tropical cyclones increasingly are packing their biggest punch farther from the equator.

Over the past 30 years, the location where these powerful storms reach their maximum intensity has shifted away from the equator and toward the poles in both the northern and southern hemispheres at a rate of about 35 miles (56 km) per decade, they said. That amounts to half a degree of latitude per decade.

The trend may be linked to factors that have contributed to global climate change including human activities like the burning of fossils fuels, the researchers said.

The scientists documented the greatest migration in tropical cyclones in the northern and southern Pacific and south Indian Oceans. This march away from the equator was not seen in the Atlantic, although class="mandelbrot_refrag">hurricanes have registered increases in average intensity due to factors that may be counteracting the poleward trend seen elsewhere, the researchers said.

The storms that menace coastal regions with damaging winds and flooding are known as class="mandelbrot_refrag">hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, typhoons in the western Pacific and tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean and Southern Hemisphere.

The movement of maximum intensity means regions further north and south of the equator that have not dealt with many of these storms may now be in the crosshairs.

"We found that the tropics are becoming less hospitable to tropical cyclones and the higher latitudes are becoming less hostile," said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist with the National Climatic Data Center of the U.S. government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who led the study appearing in the journal Nature.

"So places in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan and class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea could find themselves at greater risk," Kossin said in a telephone interview. "Places in the southern Philippines might experience reduced risk."

As these storms creep into higher latitudes, some regions closer to the equator may experience reduced risk of being battered by them, the researchers said. On the other hand, these regions in the tropics that rely on rainfall spawned by these storms for fresh water resources may experience water shortages as the storms migrate away from them, they added.

Gabriel Vecchi, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, said the researchers could not say with certainty whether increases in greenhouse gases or stratospheric ozone depletion have caused the poleward movement. But Vecchi said the latitude of maximum intensity has moved toward the poles at roughly the same rate as an expansion of the Earth's tropics over the same period, and other studies have attributed the tropics' expansion to human activities.

The scientists tracked the trend using satellite and other data spanning from 1982 to 2012 collected by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. While the study documented the trend over a period of three decades using the data, it may very well have begun well before, Kossin said.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Tom Brown)

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope given new mission

NASA plans to revive its planet-hunting Kepler space telescope for a new mission after a positioning system problem sidelined the observatory last year, officials said on Friday.

The telescope was launched in 2009 to search for Earth-sized planets suitably positioned around their parent stars for liquid water, a condition believed necessary for life.

Kepler scientists are still analyzing data to find a true Earth analog but already have added 962 confirmations and 3,845 candidates to the list of 1,713 planets discovered beyond the solar system.

Kepler’s steady gaze was broken last year when it lost the second of four positioning wheels. Three are needed for precision pointing.

"Good news from NASA HQ," Kepler deputy project manager Charlie Sobeck wrote in a status report posted on the Kepler website. "The two-wheel operation mode of the Kepler spacecraft ... has been approved."

The first observations of the new campaign, called K2, are scheduled to begin on May 30.Kepler worked by monitoring about 150,000 target stars for slight but regular changes in brightness, a possible sign of a planet passing by, or transiting, relative to the telescope’s line of sight.

An Earth-sized planet moving around its host star as close as Earth circles the sun would transit once every 365 days. Scientists want to see at least three transits to be sure any telltale light dips are caused by a passing and not a stellar flare or other phenomenon. Engineers developed a plan to use pressure from sunlight to balance the telescope, though it no longer will be stable enough to catch the faint signs of small, transiting planets.

NASA approved a two-year follow-on mission encompassing all types of stars, rather than just stars like the sun. The observations also will include star clusters, supernova and objects beyond the Milky Way.

Kepler currently costs NASA about $18 million a year. The telescope flies in an orbit about 40 million miles (64 million km) from Earth.

(Editing by Grant McCool)

SpaceX Dragon splashes down to Earth from space station

A Dragon cargo ship owned by California-based Space Exploration Technologies ended a 28-day stay at the International Space Station on Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific Ocean.

Space Station commander Steven Swanson used a robotic crane to release the Dragon capsule, built and operated by the company more commonly known as SpaceX, at 9:26 a.m. ET (1326 GMT) as the two vehicles soared in orbit 266 miles (428 km) above Earth.

"Thanks to everybody who worked this Dragon mission. It went very well," Swanson radioed to flight directors at NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston after Dragon left the station's orbit.

About five and a half hours later, the capsule made a parachute descent into the Pacific, splashing down about 300 miles (482 km) west of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

“Splashdown is confirmed! Welcome home, Dragon,” SpaceX posted on Twitter.

The capsule returned with more than 3,500 pounds (1,586 kg) of science samples for analysis on Earth, along with equipment no longer needed aboard the space station and spacesuit components in need of refurbishment.

A recovery ship will retrieve the capsule and bring it to a port near Los Angeles.

Dragon arrived at the space station on April 20, with a delivery of food, supplies and science experiments for the crew, a pair of legs for the experimental humanoid robot aboard and a new high-definition video camera.

The mission marked the third of 12 under SpaceX's $1.6 billion contract with NASA for space station cargo runs.

The company also is vying against class="mandelbrot_refrag">Boeing and privately-owned Sierra Nevada Corp., for a related NASA project to develop space taxis to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Simao)

Tel Aviv, Tsinghua universities set up $300 mln research center

Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University of Beijing will inaugurate on Tuesday a $300 million joint center for innovative research and education to be funded by government and private enterprise.

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The XIN center, meaning new in Chinese, will seek to develop solutions for pressing problems in areas such as water, energy, the environment and medicine. It will also focus on fields enjoying growth in both countries, such as nanotechnology.

The center will operate concurrently at both universities and bring together top scientists and students from both campuses. Almost a third of the $300 million has been raised, Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter told a news conference on Monday.

Tsinghua President Jining Chen said that while his university has collaborations with many academic institutions around the world, "in terms of class="mandelbrot_refrag">innovation this (in Israel) is the leading one".

XIN ventures will be backed, among other sources, by a $16 million fund being set up Israeli investment group Infinity. Investors in the fund will include Chinese industries and alumni of Tsinghua University.

While the XIN center will focus on research and prototypes, Infinity's fund will help in the commercialization stage.

"The center will need support from entities who are experienced in the commercialization of class="mandelbrot_refrag">intellectual property and dealing with cross-border enterprises," Infinity managing partner Amir Gal-Or told Reuters.

(Reporting by Tova Cohen)

What do you want in a spouse? Genetic similarity may help

He leaves the toilet seat up, prefers old Japanese monster movies to romantic comedies and fancies mixed martial arts over ballet. So what do you have in common with your husband?

More than you may think.

People tend to choose spouses who have similar DNA, according to scientists who reported on Monday the results of a study exploring the genetic resemblance of married couples.

The researchers examined the genetic blueprints of 825 U.S. married couples and found a significant preference for a spouse with DNA similarities across the entire human genome.

 
 
 

The study compared this affinity for husbands or wives with similar DNA makeup to the well-established and strong tendency of people to marry mates with similar educational levels. The researchers found that the preference for a genetically similar spouse was about a third as strong as the preference for a spouse with comparable education.

The 1,650 people studied in the research were non-Hispanic, white men and women born between the 1930s and 1950s who were taking part in a broader U.S. government-funded study involving health and retirement.

"We do know in some sense that people prefer genetically similar spouses because we know that people tend to date and marry within their own racial and ethnic groups. We worked really hard in this study to not just replicate that fact," said researcher Benjamin Domingue of the University of Colorado's Institute of Behavioral Science, who led the study.

"We eliminated racial variability and tried to control for ethnic variability. And we still find a preference for genetically similar individuals," Domingue added.

The researchers measured genetic similarity by comparing 1.7 million individual DNA building blocks, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, in the study participants. They compared the genetic makeup of the married couples to other randomly chosen people of the opposite sex in the same pool of study participants.

Domingue said the actual mechanism for a person being drawn to another person's genetic similarities is probably complicated and multifaceted - "just a whole host of things," he noted.

The researchers noted that people usually pick spouses with similar backgrounds and characteristics in addition to education, including race, religion, age, income and body type. Genetic similarity can be added to the list, they said.

"For example, people clearly care about height in picking partners. To the extent that tall people marry other tall people, that is going to result in genetic similarity among spouses. But it is difficult to know whether height or genes is driving this decision," Domingue said.

The researchers said it would be interesting to see the results of similar studies involving other populations including additional races, interracial spouses and gay couples.

(Reporting by Will Dunham, editing by G Crosse)

Lockheed-Boeing venture says rocket launch costs lower than claimed by rival

A joint venture of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Lockheed Martin Corp and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Boeing Co on Monday said its rocket launch costs were far lower than claimed by its rival, privately-held Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which is suing the U.S. government for shutting it out of the lucrative rocket launch class="mandelbrot_refrag">business.

United Launch Alliance President Michael Gass told reporters at a space conference in Colorado that his company was providing rocket launches to the U.S. Air Force and other customers for an average cost of $225 million per launch, far less than the $460 million amount cited by SpaceX.

He said the price of each lighter-weight rocket launch was around $164 million in a 36-unit block buy that is being challenged by SpaceX. He also said ULA could provide additional lighter-weight launches for under $100 million, about the same price that SpaceX says its rocket launches will cost.

Overall, he said, the 36-launch contract had saved the U.S. government about $4 billion.

SpaceX last month sued the Air Force to protest the award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract to ULA for 36 rocket launches, saying the deal blocked companies like SpaceX from competing for national security launches.

The Air Force says it will allow SpaceX to compete for a small number of rocket launch orders once its Falcon 9 rocket is certified to launch military satellites into space.

Gass said there were "a lot of rumors and innuendo" about the cost of his company's rocket launch services, but the $460 million cost estimate was inaccurate and actually included some funding being used to certify the new SpaceX rocket.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets already fly cargo ships to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth. The Falcon 9 also launches commercial communications satellites into high-altitude orbits.

Air Force officials have said they are working with SpaceX to ensure that their rockets are safe enough to risk flying U.S. military and intelligence satellites that are worth more than $1 billion each.

SpaceX wants the Air Force to reverse the sole-source award of 36 boosters to ULA and open the procurement to commercial competition.

The Air Force initially said 14 additional contracts would be open to competition, although it has since delayed half those contracts beyond 2019.

The SpaceX lawsuit comes amid growing concern about ULA's use of Russian-made RD-180 engines for its Atlas rockets at a time when class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia is facing sanctions for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Gass said Moscow had not informed the company, or its Russian supplier, about any plans to halt shipments of the RD-180 engines, but said ULA was moving to accelerate production of its Delta rockets, which do not use the Russian engines.

He gave no details on the likely cost of that move.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Matt Driskill)

Global spending on space grew 4 percent in 2013 to $314 billion: report

Worldwide spending on satellites, launches and support services increased to $314 billion in 2013, up 4 percent from 2012, even though the U.S. government reduced its own space spending, an industry association reported this week.

Commercial space activity, including rocket launches to fly cargo to the International Space Station, fueled most of the growth, the report by the U.S. Space Foundation said.

“Fifty-seven years after the launch of the first satellite, the space industry is rapidly evolving,” said the foundation's annual Space Report, released on Monday.

“It is clear that space technology continues to become more accessible each year to a wider variety of end-users in an increasing number of countries,” it said. “The outlook for the space sector is very bright in the years to come.”

Globally, commercial revenues and government spending on space projects totaled $314 billion -- $12 billion than the $302 billion spent in 2012, the report showed.

Commercial space products and services, such as communication services via satellite and space-based navigation, increased 7 percent in 2013 over the previous year.

In all, governments spent 1.7 percent less in 2013 than they did in 2012, but there were notable exceptions. Canada, class="mandelbrot_refrag">India, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea and the United Kingdom, for example, each hiked space spending by 25 percent or more.

Despite the increased revenue, U.S. employment in the space industry continued its six-year decline, the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed.

In 2012, there were 234,173 people employed in the industry, down from 242,724 in 2011.

Meanwhile, Japanese and European industry space employment grew by 11 percent and 1.5 percent respectively in 2012.

On the civilian government side, NASA's 18,068-member workforce was essentially unchanged for the 2014 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Analysts noted a slight uptick in the number of launches worldwide, with 81 launches in 2013 -- three more than in 2012. The five-year average is 79 launches per year.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia continued to dominate the world launch market, with 36 flights in 2013. The United States, after falling behind class="mandelbrot_refrag">China for the past two years, came in a distant second with 19 launches in 2013.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">China had 15 launches in 2013 and Europe conducted seven, the report said.

In total, those 81 rockets delivered almost two-thirds more satellites into orbit in 2013 than in the previous year.

“This was largely due to a significant uptick in the number of satellites with masses below 200 pounds (91 kg)," the Space Foundation said in a press release.

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“These micro-satellites constituted more than half of the 197 satellites launched in 2013,” the foundation said.

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“Many of the micro-satellites were short-lived technology demonstrations, but there is a considerable degree of interest in future possibilities for constellations,” it added.

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(Reporting by Irene Klotz, Editing by David Gregorio)

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