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Sports briefs, Oct. 24, 2012

By Dave Barber, BDN Staff

Jeff Blatnick, 1984 gold medal wrestler, dies

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Jeff Blatnick, who overcame cancer to win a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Summer Olympics, has died in New York state at age 55.

Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y., said Wednesday that he died there of heart failure.

Blatnick was a high school state champion in suburban Albany in the mid-1970s and won national titles at Springfield College in Massachusetts.

He qualified for the U.S. Olympic team and was a member of the 1980 squad that didn’t compete because the U.S. boycotted that year’s games in Moscow.

In 1982, he was found to have Hodgkin lymphoma. He was treated and went into remission in time to win gold in Los Angeles in 1984.

He went on to a career as a sports commentator and motivational speaker.

Mississippi jury rules in favor of helmet maker

JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi jury has decided that helmet manufacturer Riddell is not responsible for the injury of a George County High School football player in 2006.

Court documents say that the plantiff, who was a minor at the time of the incident, suffered a stroke following a school-sponsored ninth-grade football practice. The lawsuit claimed the helmet pushed on his neck, which damaged an artery and caused the stroke.

The unanimous verdict in the Southern District of Mississippi came last week after a five-day trial.

Attorney Thomas Merrigan, who represents Riddell, said in a statement that “we are pleased that the jury recognized the rigorous approach that Riddell brings to the research, development, testing and certification of our protective sports equipment.”

Riddell is one of the helmet providers for the NFL.

Qualifying offer for free agents set at $13.3M

SAN FRANCISCO — Major League Baseball and the players’ association have determined that qualifying offers for eligible free agents will be $13.3 million.

A team has until 5 p.m. Eastern time on the fifth day following the World Series to make a qualifying offer and a player has until 5 p.m. EST on the seventh day after the World Series to accept it.

If a player rejects a qualifying offer and signs a major league contract with another club before the June amateur draft, his former club would receive a draft pick as compensation at the end of the first round. The club signing that player loses its first-round pick in the following amateur draft, unless that pick is among the top 10, in which case the club signing that player loses its next-highest pick.

Baseball’s new labor contract sets the price at the average of the 125 highest contracts by average annual value.

Under the labor contract that began this season, this replaces the previous system of Type A and Type B free agents, which had been in existence since the 1981 strike settlement.

Players oppose Tagliabue hearing appeals

New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed motions Wednesday to have former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue removed from hearing the appeals of the four players suspended in the Saints bounties case.

The players’ union planned to file similar papers later in the day in U.S. District Court in New Orleans asking Tagliabue to recuse himself because of a conflict of interest.

Vilma also asked for a neutral arbitrator to be appointed by the court.

Commissioner Roger Goodell recused himself from hearing this set of appeals and appointed his predecessor last week. But the players and their union contend Tagliabue should be disqualified because of his employment by a law firm which has handled bounty-related matters for the league and represented Goodell in Vilma’s defamation lawsuit against him.

The hearings are scheduled for next Tuesday.

The players association has concerns about “ethical and legal” issues involving Tagliabue hearing appeals by Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent DE Anthony Hargrove.

Serena Williams beats Li Na at WTA Championships

ISTANBUL — Serena Williams proved Wednesday at the WTA Championships that even when her serve is malfunctioning, she can still beat a top player.

Williams beat 2011 French Open champion Li Na of China 7-6 (1), 6-3 for her second win in round-robin matches to close in on the semifinals at the tournament for the top eight players in the world.

In another Red Group encounter, top-ranked Victoria Azarenka saved two match points before rallying past Angelique Kleber of Germany 6-7 (11), 7-6 (2), 6-4 in her first match at the event.

Williams had six double-faults and won only 51 percent of points on her first serve. But Li also struggled on serve — there were eight breaks in the first set and three more in the second.

“My serve just didn’t go in. Every time I got my first serve in, I was surprised,” Williams said. “But knowing I was able to still, for me, zero serve compared to how I normally serve — I think it’s something good I can take out of the match.”

She has won 28 of her past 29 matches and captured Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic titles this year. The highest ranking she can achieve at the end of the year is No. 2 because of injuries and missed tournaments.

At one point, Williams got so frustrated at dropping serve that she uncharacteristically smashed her racket.

“No, I don’t break rackets in matches. Although I didn’t hit it hard,” she said. “Maybe I don’t know my own strength.”

The first set was full of missed opportunities. The eighth-ranked Li took a 4-1 lead before Williams won the next four games. Serving for the set, the American again dropped serve. Li was unable to hold, though, and Williams had another chance to serve out the set — only to lose it at love.

Williams took control of the match in the second set by saving a breakpoint — in a game that lasted nine minutes — to hold and lead 4-1.

The American wasted two match points to break Li, but closed it out on her own serve when the Chinese player sent a forehand long.

Both Azarenka and Kleber smashed rackets in the second, highly entertaining match.

Kleber is making her debut in the event after winning two titles and climbing to No. 5 this year after finishing 2011 at No. 32. She was down a break in the second set, but led 5-4 after prevailing in a game that went to nine deuces and lasted 13 1/2 minutes.

Azarenka then saved two match points before capturing the second tiebreaker. The Belarusian closed it out on Kerber’s serve, hitting a forehand winner on her first match point.

Azarenka needs one more round-robin win to secure the No. 1 ranking for the year.

Earlier, defending champion Petra Kvitova withdrew from the tournament because of a viral illness and was replaced by Samantha Stosur.

The event splits players into two groups, with the top two in each advancing.

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