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Sports in brief

By JOHN SCHWARB and Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2001

Popular U.S. women's bobsled team splits

U.S. women's bobsled pilot Jean Racine replaced longtime partner Jen Davidson just before the Olympic trials and will race with first-year brakewoman Gea Johnson.

Racine and Davidson have competed together for three years. They were two-time overall world champions and won more than 20 World Cup medals. They have struggled this year, finishing 11th in one Cup race. Women's bobsledding is making its first Olympic appearance February in Salt Lake City.

Racine said she considers her former partner her best friend. Davidson said she was "devastated" and considers the friendship over.

"I was caught completely off-guard," she said of the split Thursday. "That's not the way I consider friends treat each other."

"The Olympics are a month and a half away, and this is probably like one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Racine said. "Jen's my best friend."

Davidson said Racine strung her along, hurting her chances of being picked up by another pilot. Racine won silver in the 2001-02 World Cup Nov. 18 in Konigsee, Germany, when she replaced Davidson with brakeman Bethany Hart.

Racine said as driver, she is in charge of her team. She turned to Johnson after they had the best push-time starts in training Thursday, topping the German teams tied for first.

Matt Roy, executive director of the U.S. bobsled and skeleton federation, said brakeman-driver combinations have been under discussion all season, especially since Johnson made a big impression on coaches and athletes in August.

"There's been talk about her since," he said. "This has been literally evolving in front of us."

Racine said the coaches had been angling all year to see what Johnson could do in Racine's sled.

"The coach is not a decisionmaker in this process," Roy said. "It's the athlete's choice."

MORE WINTER SPORTS: Germany won the women's biathlon World Cup relay in Pokljuka, Slovenia. ... Italy's Kristian Ghedina won a World Cup downhill in 2 minutes, 1.47 seconds in Val Gardena, Italy. ... Canadian Stephane Rochon won a World Cup moguls event in Steamboat Springs, Colo. American Travis Mayer was second and Jeremy Bloom third. Norway's Kari Traa won the women's. ... Apolo Ohno dominated the men's time trials and 500-meter races as the U.S. speed-skating team opened its Olympic short-track trials at the Utah Olympic Oval. Caroline Hallisey led the women. ... Michelle Kwan trailed Russian Irina Slutskya after the first round of Ontario's Grand Prix final. American Sarah Hughes was fourth. In men's competition, Russians Yevgeny Pluscheneko and Alexei Yagudin held the top spots, followed by Americans Tim Goebel and Todd Eldredge. Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier led pairs and France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerfet led ice dancing.

GOLF: Tampa Bay Classic director Gerald Goodman and TECO Energy Foundation regional manager Ken Lippincott presented $209,973 to 67 charities that participated in the first Birdies for Charity program. Donors pledged a certain amount of money for each birdie made, but with the tournament's cancellation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a figure of 1,000 birdies was set. More than 90 percent of donors followed through with their pledges. "It was not everything we would have had with the successful completion of our tournament," Goodman said. "However, we are very happy to have been able to make the contributions we did." ... Vijay Singh shot 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over tournament host Tiger Woods at the Williams World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Jesper Parnevik had the best round of the day, 7-under 65 that put him at 138.

SWIMMING: Germany's Thomas Rupprath set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly in Antwerp, Belgium, at the European short-course championships. Rupprath finished in 50.26 seconds, 0.18 seconds better than the mark held by Sweden's Lars Frolander. It was Rupprath's third world record in two days. He twice helped Germany break the 200 medley relay record Thursday.

AUTOS: The British Grand Prix will retain its Formula One status next season after organizers promised to improve the track's access, the sport's governing body said. The FIA threatened to drop the race because of traffic congestion.

COLLEGES: Unbeaten Long Beach State beat Arizona 30-27, 30-25, 30-20 Thursday night, advancing to today's women's volleyball final against Stanford, which beat defending champion Nebraska 31-29, 30-28, 30-21. ... Lois Webb, Florida Southern athletic director and former volleyball coach, received the American Volleyball Coaches Association's Founder's Award. ... Host North Carolina beat Stanford 3-2 in the fourth overtime in the Division I men's soccer semifinals.

HORSES: Skip a Grade won the $46,000 allowance for 3 years and older at New York's Aqueduct. ... Stormy Jack won the $62,540 feature at Hollywood Park.

SOCCER: In Hull, England, Leeds United's Lee Bowyer was cleared of all charges in the beating of a student and teammate Jonathan Woodgate was convicted of fighting and will serve 100 hours of community service.

BLAKE FUNERAL: Peter Blake, the 53-year-old yachtsman murdered on the Amazon Dec. 5, was eulogized in England by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

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