Sports Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Thome cleared to return

Told he could start hitting, Jim Thome headed from Philadelphia straight to spring training Monday.

Thome broke the right middle finger on his throwing hand during fielding drills on March 5. He initially was concerned he might need pins inserted into the finger, which would have sidelined him for up to two months.

The slugger will wear a special splint on his finger for two weeks and his activity will be limited. He could return to the Phillies' lineup later this week, and expects to play in the season opener against Pittsburgh on April 5.

At Winter Haven, Fla., Ugueth Urbina took a physical for the Cleveland Indians, who last week learned closer Bob Wickman would miss the first half of the season because of a sprained elbow.

''We are not at the stage where we are discussing terms, nor are we anywhere close to it,'' Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said.

The 30-year-old Urbina was 3-4 with a 2.81 ERA last season and converted 32 of 38 save opportunities for Texas and Florida. He saved four games for Florida during the postseason.

In Lakeland, Fla., the New York Yankees said right-hander Jon Lieber, who will start the season on the disabled list with an injured right groin, might not be ready to pitch until May. The Yankees will need a fifth starter only a couple of times in April.

Weir has problems in worlds debut

DORTMUND, Germany Welcome to the big time, Johnny Weir.

At a time when others were having a late breakfast, Weir was competing in his first World Figure Skating Championships. Complaining about getting up too early to train, then skating a few hours later, the U.S. champion finished seventh in his qualifying group Monday.

''I've never competed this early before, except maybe in small competitions when I was younger,'' Weir said.

Weir said he got up at 5:15 a.m., and had practice at 6:35. He then slept an hour or so, but was on the ice competing well before noon.

Things didn't go well in practice, either.

''My body is just not used to doing triples that early,'' Weir said.

He failed to show the spark that highlighted his performance at the American championships two months ago and will be far behind entering the short program Tuesday.

Even his glittery costume seemed bland.

Weir skated in a one-piece suit that was baby blue on top, black on the bottom and adorned with sparkles, which he wore to win in Atlanta. It seemed much brighter in Georgia than in Germany.

Although doubling his last jump, Weir did manage seven triple jumps in his program to ''Dr. Zhivago.''

''That's seven triples in my first long program at worlds,'' Weir said. ''I think that's good.''

But not good enough.

He didn't include a quad he talked about having for worlds; he and his coach, Priscilla Hill, decided against it.

''I'm just not feeling 100 percent today, so I decided I would try to go through with no quad today,'' Weir said.

Hill agreed. ''He's certainly tired from not being used to the schedule, but some of the tiredness goes in to nerves. He had to fight out there today.''

He had marks ranging from 5.0 to 5.6. At nationals, all his marks were 5.7 or above, with one 6.0.

Weir even was placed below junior world champion Andrei Griazev of Russia.

The other American in the group, Matt Savoie, came in 10th.

Canadian Emanuel Sandhu, the Grand Prix finals winner, won the group ahead of European champion Brian Joubert of France.

Both own wins over two-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, who won the other group, in which three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss was fifth.

Sandhu, Joubert and Plushenko all had quadruple jumps, with Plushenko landing a quad-triple, while Sandhu did a quad double.

Sandhu opened with his good combination, then fell on a triple axel.

''After the fall on the triple axel at the beginning I pulled myself together. Now I am in first position and am very happy with that,'' Sandhu said.

Joubert says he is ready to do better.

''I planned to do just one quad today,'' Joubert said. ''I just wanted to be in the top three in qualifying. One quad was the minimum though. And if you want a medal, you need two.

''I wanted to save strength and I didn't want to give everything. I held back a little.''

Plushenko's marks were impressive: all 5.8s and 5.9s for his routine to honor St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary. He used the same program last year and won worlds.

''This was a good performance and everything is going to plan,'' Plushenko said.

Bothered by a knee injury that will require surgery this summer, Plushenko said he's put his European loss behind him.

''This is sport and things like that happen in life. Falls happen, mistakes happen,'' Plushenko said.

That's what happened to Weiss, a two-time world bronze medalist. Weiss messed up his final jump, a triple flip.

''If I landed the triple flip, I'd be in a lot better position,'' Weiss said. ''It's normally a jump I usually hit in the program, so I'm a little shocked and disappointed.''

He also slightly two-footed his opening quad jump, but the mistake on the triple flip was blatant.

A big mistake plagued two-time defending pairs champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo in the short program.

Zhao fell badly on a side-by-side triple jump and slid in the opposite direction from his partner after she landed her jump. It took them more than a few seconds to return to skating together and it showed in the marks.

They came in fourth and need a lot of help in the free program Wednesday to retain their title.

Russians Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, runners-up the last two years, were first with a soft routine to music by Rachmaninov. They scored a 6.0, but no one knows if it meant anything under the interim judging system in use here, where only random marks count.

Another Russian pair, former world champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, finished second. Qing Ping and Tong Jian, normally the second-best Chinese, were third.

The only way Shen and Zhao, world champions in 2002 and 2003 and the Olympic bronze medalists, can win is if they capture the free skate Wednesday, and Totmianina and Marinin finish third or lower.

Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr., were ninth. Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash were 14th.



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