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Belmont ratings will be high, but horse racing won’t come back to mainstream

There may not be a more exciting sentence in all of sports than, “And down the stretch they come!” The excitement of the closing portion of a horse race rivals just about anything else in the world of athletic competition, especially for those who happen to have a few dollars (or more) on one of the participants. For most people, that action is experienced just three times a year, during the races – Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes – that comprise the Triple Crown.

Horse racing, for all of the thrills produced by a horse’s trying to win the three Big Ones, is a fringe pursuit. And even if American Pharaoh prevails June 6 at Belmont to become the first horse to win the three Triple Crown competitions since Affirmed did it in 1978, there will be no substantial surge in interest for the sport, no matter what anybody else tries to tell you.

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15 years after first win, Montoya captures second Indianapolis 500

indy500SNB-thumb INDIANAPOLIS — The last time Juan Pablo Montoya crossed the yard of bricks in first place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was just 24 years old, at the beginning of his career.

He was a rookie here in 2000, but he quickly showed the world who he was and how well he could drive. He led for a rookie-record 167 out of 200 laps in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and won by a commanding margin of 7.184 seconds.

“That was an easy race,” he remembered Sunday afternoon.

Fifteen years later, Montoya’s resourceful, dramatic journey took him from the rear of the field to the fourth-closest victory in the 99th running of the race, just 0.1046 seconds ahead of Will Power.

“Oh my God,” Montoya said. “This was a lotta work today.”

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Victory lane milk tradition goes back to 1933

indy500SNB-thumb INDIANAPOLIS — As Juan Pablo Montoya’s Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet roared into the winner’s circle, people pushed and shoved, hoping to catch a glimpse of the winner.

The Borg-Warner trophy gleamed in the sunshine. Bagpipers serenaded the crowd in unison. And in the midst of it all, Montoya, just after winning his second Indianapolis 500, lifted a glass bottle with his right hand and took a big swig of ice-cold whole milk.

Why milk?

One word: Tradition.

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Joe Christensen: College athletes feel love, hate, on Twitter

Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune described the role of social media, specifically Twitter, in the relationship between athletes and fans. Twitter allows athletes to promote their teams and universities, and communicate with fans, but it also makes them more accessible to feedback. In today’s social media landscape, athletes are praised by fans on Twitter, but they also receive harsh criticisms that can sometimes include death threats.

Athletes have long been trained to ignore newspaper coverage and talk radio, to avoid criticism and block out the noise after the games end. But the proliferation of Twitter and the social media platform’s 302 million users allows vitriol to hit people in a place that’s hard to avoid, especially for this phone-clutching generation of college athletes.

“It’s very natural for 20-year-old kids, first thing after the game, to go check Twitter,” said the Gophers’ Richard Pitino, one of three Big Ten men’s basketball coaches to ban his team from Twitter last season. “That’s just part of being a student athlete in today’s world. Everybody can say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t bother me.’ That’s nonsense. If it didn’t bother you, you wouldn’t read it.”

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Jack Harvey wins Indy Lights Freedom 100

indy500SNB-thumb INDIANAPOLIS — Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has grown to become much more than the final practice session for the Indianapolis 500. Since 2003, Carb Day has played host to the Indy Lights Freedom 100 support race.

The race saw a thrilling battle between Jack Harvey and pole winner Ethan Ringel. Harvey, who won the first of two Indy Lights races prior to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, led for the final 10 laps after swapping the lead with Ringel six times. Harvey finished with an average speed of 179.886 miles per hour.

The race finished under caution after Calin Racing’s Ed Jones crashed in turn four with just three laps remaining. Jones’ teammate Max Chilton was unable to start the race leading to a disappointing end result for the Carlin team.

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Another year down, still much to learn

One of the great things about Villanova University is that senior citizens get to audit classes for free. During my time there, I have had four such “experienced” students, and each one has added value to the proceedings, in part because they get my arcane references to the 1970s.

On the last day of this past semester, the veteran in my Sports Journalism class (I also taught Multimedia Journalism) made quite an impression on his classmates by explaining to them — in only five minutes – how the magic of compound interest and regular contributions to a 401(k) plan will make them rich. As he kept saying, “It gets better,” the dollar signs in the students’ eyes became larger and larger.

Let’s hope a few of the young men and women heed his advice and contribute the maximum to their retirement funds from the time they start working. While they learned a great lesson about planning for the future, their professor ended his school year with some more ideas about how to reach students and maximize their classroom experience -– and their futures. Here are a few things I hope to carry on into the fall and beyond.

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Bodenheimer Q&A: Culture of innovation, risk-taking, passion for sports

It seems to be an unofficial mandate. Every story about George Bodenheimer has to begin with the fact that he started in the mailroom at ESPN. The mailroom reference is used so often, it almost feels as if it is his middle name.

George Mailroom Bodenheimer.

Bodenheimer himself even referred to his humble beginnings in the title of his new autobiography: “Every Town is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN from the Mailroom to the Boardroom.”

From 1998-2011, Bodenheimer oversaw an unprecedented period of growth, change and innovation in ESPN’s history.

“He is the guy who built ESPN from the great idea it was into the most significant, most influential multi-platform company in the world,” said his successor as president, John Skipper.

I recently had a chance to talk to Bodenheimer. Here’s my Q/A:

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