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Dramatic Performances and Steroids Headline 2007 Sports in US


The 2007 sports year was filled with amazing accomplishments and triumphs. But years of illegal drug use in several sports came to the forefront this year, tarnishing results from amateur athletes to Olympic gold medalists. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on a turbulent year on and off the field.

For years, U.S. track star Marion Jones had denied using steroids to enhance her performance in Olympic competition. But in 2007, Jones admitted she had indeed used banned substances, and she was forced to give back the five medals she had won at the 2000 Sydney Games.

"And so it is with a great amount of shame, that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust," said Marion Jones.

The International Olympic Committee has erased her accomplishments from the record books as Marion Jones was added to the list of athletes connected to the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or BALCO. The company in San Francisco, California is at the center of a global steroids scandal that has touched many different sports.

As the year ended, U.S. Major League Baseball was grappling with the release of more than 90 names implicated in a report on the use of banned drugs released by former U.S. senator George Mitchell.

"For more than a decade, there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball in violation of federal law and baseball policy," said George Mitchell.

One of the players named was Barry Bonds. The San Francisco Giants slugger has long been suspected of using steroids. Bonds has denied the accusations. But he is currently facing federal charges of perjury for lying to a grand jury about his involvement with steroids.

The legal problems for Bonds comes at a time when he should be enjoying the most hallowed record in baseball, the career home run mark. Bonds passed Hank Aaron this season, and finished the year with 762 home runs over 21 seasons.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my entire career," said Barry Bonds. "It is a different feeling than any of the other ones. I really am lost for words at this moment. I think when I have time to really sit back and grasp some of this I will be able to say a lot more a little bit later. But I am still in a daze myself right now with this whole thing."

Whether Bonds will ultimately keep the record will be decided in the future. But to be always known as 2007 World Series champions are the Boston Red Sox, winning the title for the second time in four years. Boston swept the Colorado Rockies in four straight games in the so-called Fall Classic.

Falling from grace in 2007 was American cyclist Floyd Landis, who was formally stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title. Landis is making a final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, denying he used synthetic testosterone. He is the first cyclist in the 104-year history of the Tour de France to lose his title because of drug use.

While the use of banned substances stole headlines, some athletes remained comfortably at the top of their craft. American Tiger Woods played a very selective golf schedule during the year. But when he did play, he usually won. Woods easily remained the top player in the world with seven victories in 16 tournaments, including 12 top-10 finishes. His 13th major title was won at the PGA Championship, and he placed second at both the Masters and U.S. Open.

"Well, it turned into a great year," said Tiger Woods. "I felt like I have played well most of the year. Anytime that you win a major championship in the year, it is always going to be a great year. And this certainly is."

Sharing the spotlight as major tournament winners were American Zach Johnson at the Masters, Angel Cabrera of Argentina at the U.S. Open, and Padraig Harrington of Ireland at the British Open. While Tiger dominated among the men, Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa remained the top ranked woman for the second straight year. Also, the United States won the Presidents Cup team title over the International team (19 ½ to 14 ½).

On the tennis courts, Roger Federer of Switzerland maintained a similar dominance. The number-one ranked men's player calmly collected eight more singles titles, including three majors - the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He also won the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, China.

"It was a nice victory, especially proving it to myself and the world that I can do it over and over again," said Roger Federer. "It has been a great season for me. And finishing off the best players in the world, also [Rafael] Nadal and all these guys at the Masters Cup. It was a great experience for me."

Speaking of Rafael Nadal, the young Spaniard again denied Federer a French Open championship, the only Grand Slam title the Swiss great has not won.

In team tennis, the United States ended a 12-year Davis Cup championship drought. Andy Roddick watched the last U.S. Davis Cup win from the stands as a 10-year-old in 1995. This year he was on the court.

"To be here and to bring the [Davis] Cup back to the [United] States is just an amazing feeling," said Andy Roddick. "But more importantly just to share the journey with these guys [his teammates]. And it has just been so much fun. And it has just been a blast, and an honor to be a part of that."

Among the women, the Williams sisters each picked up a Grand Slam title after returning from injuries. Younger sister Serena topped the field at the Australian Open.

"I mean, this one is right up there with the top," said Serena Williams. "Even I did not expect to come in and win it all, [but] I never expected to lose. But you just always stay so positive. And you always go in and you always think 'I am going to win, I am going to win.' But when it happens, I do not really think the tournament is over. I feel like there is always another match to be played, or there is something else. It is an awesome feeling."

Older sister Venus made a surprising run at Wimbledon.

"This win, it is so much different from the others," said Venus. "Because the other ones I felt like I was playing in championship form from minute one. And here I really had to focus on my game and overcome a lot of challenges. All in all, it is wonderful."

Justine Henin of Belgium won the other two Grand Slams in 2007 - the French and U.S. Opens - to finish the season ranked number one.

Australia was dominant in cricket, winning the one-day World Cup and Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean. That tournament was marred, however, by the death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. After a lengthy investigation, natural causes were ruled the cause of Woolmer's death.

A valiant run for life ended in horse racing, as Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro succumbed to complications from a broken leg he suffered at the Preakness, in Baltimore. The horse survived complicated surgery to repair shattered bones. But even the skills of veterinarian Dean Richardson could not stop other life threatening conditions from killing Barbaro.

"Sometimes when things are that tenuous, if one thing that starts to go, you have got a lot of other parts that start to go on you as well," said Dean Richardson. "And that is essentially what happened."

All parts of the U.S. track and field team appeared very healthy at the 11th World Track and Field championships in Osaka, Japan. The United States topped the medal standings with 26, including 14 gold, four silver and eight bronze.

Alyson Felix clocked just 21.81 seconds to win the women's 200-meter race. Her margin of victory was an astonishing 0:53 over 100-meter world champion Veronica Campbell of Jamaica. Only in 1948 was a larger margin recorded. Felix went on to be a part of the winning 4X100 meter relay team.

"I came into this worlds without running any relays before," said Alyson Felix. "And just to come out with two victories and two fast times. And I have always admired these women. And to be a part of it was great."

While it had been accomplished twice at the Olympics, 32-year-old, Kenyan-born American Bernard Legat became the first athlete in world championship history to win the 1,500 and 5.000-meter races at the same competition.

"All I had to do was run a smart race, [and] follow the pace," said Bernard Legat. "If people were going to try to take out the last two kilometers, I was ready to follow, [and] not to let the gap develop. And if you saw the race, I just maintained that gap. I did not really want the gap to develop. So it was a fantastic race today, not too fast. I really enjoyed it."

On another track, Scottish-born Dario Franchitti won the famous Indianapolis 500 race. Kimi Räikkönen of Finland sped to the Formula One drivers title in a season that featured separate spying scandals involving the McLaren and Renault teams.

Spying also surfaced in the U.S. National Football League, where the New England Patriots were accused of illegally making videos of an opposing team. The Patriots reacted by making a run at the first undefeated regular season in 35 years. But not on the field this season was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who was convicted on dogfighting charges. Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, says the fallen star is accepting his 28-month jail sentence.

"In life we all make mistakes," said Billy Martin. "We'll treat Michael Vick, somebody who has fallen so far and so hard and so fast, as being punished for his mistake. And he is accepting that punishment."

Tragedy struck the NFL when Washington Redskins defensive star Sean Taylor was gunned down in his Miami home while he was recovering from a knee injury. Taylor had been selected last season to the Pro Bowl for his exceptional play, and he has been given the posthumous honor as a Pro Bowl starter this year.

Hoping to repeat as Super Bowl champions are the Indianapolis Colts. Coach Tony Dungy was thrilled for his team after a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in February.

"Our guys just hung tough and played so hard," said Tony Dungy. "And I just can not tell you how proud I am of our group, our organization and our city right now."

Other U.S. professional team champions in 2007 included the San Antonio Spurs in the National Basketball Association, and the Anaheim Ducks in the National Hockey League. The University of Florida enjoyed holding simultaneous men's football and basketball titles for the first time in the history of U.S. college sports.

The Houston Dynamo beat the New England Revolution, 2-1, to win the U.S. Major League Soccer title for the second straight year. It was New England's third straight appearance in the final. AC Milan of Italy beat Liverpool of England by the same 2-1 score to win the European Champions League. In the UEFA Cup final, Sevilla beat Espanyol, 3-1 on penalties, after drawing 2-2. Brazilian stars Kaka and Marta were named the 2007 men's and women's world players of the year.

And in perhaps a preview of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Germany retained the Women's World Cup football title with a 1-0 victory over Brazil. The United States placed third.

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