Even by his lofty standards, Lance Armstrong's return to the top of the mountain in 2004 was special.

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Honors


Armstrong is AP’s top male athlete — again: Even by his lofty standards, Lance Armstrong’s return to the top of the mountain in 2004 was special.


The question facing Armstrong and his legion of fans is whether he will return to challenge the Pyrenees and the French Alps again in 2005. Already recognized as one of the most inspiring athletes of his generation, Armstrong took his cycling legacy a step further when he won a record-setting sixth consecutive Tour de France in July.


And for his accomplishment, Armstrong was honored yesterday as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the third straight year.


Armstrong joined basketball superstar Michael Jordan (1991-93) as the only athletes selected by sportswriters and broadcasters three straight times since the honor was first awarded in 1931.


“For me it was a special year,” Armstrong said. “It’s always nice to win the Tour, but this year was special simply because I broke the record and made history.”


Cancer survivor Armstrong received 51 first-place votes and 312 total points. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was second with 17 first-place votes and 156 points. Mariners outfielder Ichiro was seventh with three first-place votes and 29 points.


Armstrong has yet to commit to going for a seventh Tour de France title next year. He promises to race again in the Tour before he retires, but won’t say if it will be next year or 2006.


There also could be a repeat winner today when AP releases the voting for its top female athlete of the year, as golfer Annika Sorenstam of Sweden took the honor in 2003.


Soccer


Indoor team vows to apologize for alleged racial slurs: The general manager of the Baltimore Blast vowed to apologize personally to a player for the Philadelphia KiXX who said two Blast fans directed racial insults at him during a Major Indoor Soccer League game on Sunday.


Kevin Healey also promised to try to find the fans involved in allegedly taunting KiXX forward Shawn Boney during the Blast’s 7-4 victory over Philadelphia. In the fourth period, Boney said he was racially insulted by two women behind the goal. Boney, who is black, reported the incident to his coach and to Blast officials.


Boney, who is from Trinidad, reportedly left quickly for the team bus after the game. Healey said, “Unfortunately, by the time I heard about the reported incident, the Philadelphia team and the fans had already left.”


Skiing


Stenmark gets a scare: Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who won two gold medals at the 1980 Winter Olympics, was sunbathing on a beach in Thailand when he saw an immense wave roaring to shore. He ran for his life.


“The water from the first wave disappeared, but then it came back with terrifying speed,” Stenmark told Swedish media.


Stenmark, 48, was with friends in Khok Kloi, about 30 miles from Phuket, a popular tourist spot. He and girlfriend Christina Sylvan were not injured. Stenmark was among a number of sports figures on vacation in Southern Asia when earthquake-driven tidal waves swept the region.


Horse racing


Alphabet Kisses triumphs: Alphabet Kisses beat favored Bending Strings by a length to win the Grade I La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.


California-bred Alphabet Kisses, trained by Marty Jones and ridden by Mike Smith, ran 7 furlongs in 1 minute, 21-1/5 seconds. She paid $42.20 to win in the $250,000 race.


Hockey


U.S. triumphs: The United States beat Switzerland 6-4 to improve to 2-0 in the World Junior Hockey Championship in Grand Forks, N.D.


Both teams scored four goals in the third period. Drew Stafford, Tim Hensick, Robbie Schremp and Patrick O’Sullivan scored in the third for the U.S. team.


The U.S. team beat Russia 5-4 Saturday in its first game.


Canada, Russia and Slovakia also posted wins yesterday.


Seattle Times news services