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Sports briefs

World Cup skiing

WORLD CUP COMING: The world's top skiers are headed for Park City for American's Opening World Cup. Races will begin Thursday.

The schedule is men's giant slalom on Thursday, women's giant slalom on Friday, men's slalom on Saturday and women's slalom on Sunday. First races will begin at 10 a.m. each day.

Reserve tickets for Thursday and Friday are $15 and include bleacher seating and lunch. Reserve tickets for Saturday and Sunday are $35 and include gourmet lunch, ski race memorabilia and bleacher seating. Reserve tickets are limited. General admission tickets are $5.

For ticket and race information call 435-647-5485.

Media

MARV AND DAVE: Wake the dog, phone the neighbors: Marv Albert is finally fair game for David Letterman's jokes.

Letterman, who steered clear of ribbing Albert during his trial and tribulations involving sex and biting and wearing women's underwear, is quiet no more.

Albert appeared on "Late Show ..." Wednesday and conceded that he went through a "curious" period in his life. Letterman quipped: "When I get curious, I turn on the Discovery Channel. Maybe you should do the same thing."

To Albert's admission that he met a transvestite, Letterman said: "I've known you for 16 years. Never once did you say to me, 'Dave, guess who I met last night?"'

Prodded gently by Letterman, the former NBC sportscaster stuck to his basic story: His former girlfriend, Vanessa Perhach, was trying to extort money from him when she brought charges that he bit her on the back and forced her to perform oral sex. Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery and was spared jail time.

Albert, who has been a frequent "Late Show" guest to air sports bloopers, took the barbs with an occasional smile. Letterman said it was cathartic.

Football

DA STARS? Walter Payton and Michael Jordan are among a group hoping to buy the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Sun-Times reported today.

Payton, the NFL's career rushing leader, has made no secret of his desire to be the first black owner in the league. And the Sun-Times cites unidentified sources saying he has won financial backing from several potential investors, including Jordan.

As recently as a month ago, team president Michael McCaskey said the Bears were not for sale. But he has been frustrated with his failure to garner support for a new publicly financed stadium. And the team has been abysmal this year, posting a 1-9 record so far.

Financial World magazine recently estimated the value of the franchise at $204 million.

WHITE BLASTS NIKE: Green Bay Packers defensive star Reggie White has joined the ranks of Nike Inc. critics, blasting the company's labor practices in a published interview.

White, one of the best-known defensive linemen in the NFL, told The Oregonian in an interview this week in Green Bay, Wis., that blacks, key consumers of Nike products, could benefit hugely from the manufacturing jobs the Beaverton company now farms out overseas.

"The reason they have these sweatshops is for cheap labor," White said. "They'd rather hire the cheap labor than hire the kid in the neighborhood who is buying their shoes."

PHILANTHROPIST KELLY: Jim Kelly, former Buffalo Bills quarterback, was named Philanthropist of the Decade on Thursday by a local charity, the Western New York United Against Drug & Alcohol Abuse, and promptly suggested that athletes lend their names to a good cause.

"When you see the smiles it puts on kids' faces, you know it's all worthwhile," said Kelly, an NBC commentator.

Kelly has raised more than $1 million for disabled children with his Kelly for Kids Foundation. His 1-year-old son suffers from Krabbe's disease, a deadly disorder that attacks the brain.

Boxing

TYSON IN CHAMP'S FUTURE? Evander Holyfield backed away a bit Thursday from his plan to retire after a heavyweight title unification fight with Lennox Lewis, and left open the possibility of a third fight with Mike Tyson.

Holyfield refused to commit himself to retirement following a possible fight in late April or early May against Lewis, although he said, "In my mind I think it will be over."

Holyfield, who had previously said he had no interest in fighting Tyson again, conceded that a fight could take place if he is still fighting and if Tyson is reinstated by Nevada boxing officials.

DE LA HOYA, MANAGER SPLIT: Welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya has split with trainer Emanuel Steward, just two fights after hiring him to bring some punch back to his attack.

De La Hoya said Thursday that he would train under Roberto Alcazar, who guided his career as an amateur and for a while after turning pro.

Alcazar himself had been demoted by De La Hoya before being brought back as a co-trainer for his last fight against Hector "Macho" Camacho.

De La Hoya is scheduled to defend his WBC welterweight title against Wilfredo Rivera Dec. 6 in Atlantic City.

Hockey

KEENAN'S BACK: Mike Keenan, who has clashed with his employers all across the NHL, was hired as coach of the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday in a move that reunites him with Mark Messier.

He replaces Tom Renney, who was fired after the Canucks opened their season with the worst start in franchise history.

Keenan, who will now coach his fifth NHL team, is returning after being fired by the St. Louis Blues 11 months ago. He will be behind the bench Friday night when the Canucks play the Mighty Ducks at Anaheim.

Track and field

MILBURN DEATH RULED ACCIDENT: The death of Rodney Milburn, a U.S. gold medal winner in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1972 Olympics, was ruled an accident Thursday.

Milburn, 47, was found dead Tuesday in a rail car full of a hot chemical solution at the paper plant where he worked. It happened at the Georgia Pacific plant near Baton Rouge.

"At this time, his death is being ruled as an accident," said Lt. Sonny Jarreau of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Department. "Unless new information comes forward, the investigation is over."

Preliminary autopsy results showed that Milburn had severe burns over his entire body, and that will likely be listed as the cause of death, said Chuck Smith of the parish coroner's office.

The autopsy showed no signs that Milburn had a heart attack or a stroke, which might have caused him to fall into the rail car, Smith said.

Milburn had been assigned to unload a rail car containing liquid sodium chlorate, a chemical used in the bleaching process of paper making. He was found at the bottom of the rail car by a supervisor who went looking for him when he failed to answer a page.

Tennis

SAMPRAS REACHES SEMIFINALS: Pete Sampras reached the semifinals of the ATP Tour World Championship, beating Patrick Rafter 6-4, 6-1 today to knock the U.S. Open champion out of the season-ending tournament.

Sampras, Rafter and Carlos Moya all finished Red Group play at 2-1, with Moyer advancing along with Sampras based on a higher won-lost sets and games average than Rafter.

In the semifinals, Sampras will face the winner of a White Group between Michael Chang and Jonas Bjorkman. Moya will face Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the White Group champion.