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America’s Cup begins with 2 races Saturday

There is nothing like the first leg of the first race of the America’s Cup, when teams get an idea of whose boat is fastest and who might have missed badly after spending $100 million or more.

And there has never been an America’s Cup like this. It is being sailed on breathtaking San Francisco Bay in foiling 72-foot catamarans that can hit 50 mph.

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Defending champion Oracle Team USA is starting with a two-point deficit after getting punished in the biggest cheating scandal in the regatta’s 162-year history.

It is an American tycoon, software billionaire Larry Ellison, against the gutty Kiwis of Emirates Team New Zealand, who carry the hopes of their small, sailing-mad island nation.

Race 1 is scheduled to start at 1:15 p.m. PDT Saturday, with Race 2 to follow about an hour later. Two more races are scheduled for Sunday.

For Team New Zealand, it is still best-of-17, meaning it needs to win nine races to earn the America’s Cup. Because of its penalty, Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the trophy.

Auto racing

Gordon leads qualifiers

Jeff Gordon will try to race his way into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series playoffs from the pole position.

The four-time Cup champion turned a track-record qualifying lap of 130.599 mph at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia on Friday night to win his 73rd career pole position, and his first this season, at NASCAR’s top level.

Kurt Busch qualified in second at 130.334 for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

The top 10 in Cup points after the race earn automatic berths in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. There are two wild-card berths.

Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw has clinched at least a wild-card spot.

Busch is 10th in points and Gordon is 11th, six points behind. In all, 10 drivers are competing for five available Chase berths.

Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., is ninth in points and will start ninth in the race. There are multiple scenarios, but Biffle can guarantee himself of a Chase berth by finishing ninth or better in the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski won the Virginia 529 College Savings 250, which was the 1,000th race in the history of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

College football

SEC rivals to square off

The South Carolina-Georgia game is back in its familiar spot — leading off the Southeastern Conference schedule — and the stakes are high Saturday in Athens, Ga.

No. 6 South Carolina has a chance to establish itself as a legitimate national-championship contender. Meanwhile, the 11th-ranked Bulldogs cannot afford another loss if they want to have a realistic shot at climbing to No. 1.

Georgia was ranked fifth before losing 38-35 at then-No. 8 Clemson last Saturday.

For the first time in series history, South Carolina has won three in a row over Georgia — including a 35-7 romp last October.


Smith is suspended

New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith has been suspended without pay for five regular-season games by the league for violating its anti-drug program. He averaged 18.1 points last season.

Thunder cuts Liggins

The Oklahoma City Thunder waived guard DeAndre Liggins, 24, after he was charged with seven felony counts in a domestic-violence case last weekend.


• The NHL Vancouver Canucks will retire Hall of Famer Pavel Bure’s No. 10 when they host Toronto on Nov. 2.

Other Vancouver retired numbers are Stan Smyl’s No. 12, Trevor Linden’s No. 16 and Markus Naslund’s No. 19.

• Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt closed out his track season with a victory in the 100 meters, finishing in 9.80 seconds in the Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels, Belgium.

Meanwhile, backup doping tests came back positive for former 100-meter world record-holder Asafa Powell, teammate Sherone Simpson and three other Jamaican athletes.

• In golf, Dick Mast took the first-round lead in the 50-and-older Champions Tour’s Montreal Championship, shooting a 3-under-par 69 in Sainte-Julie, Quebec.

Kenny Perry was second at 70.

Kirk Triplett (77), a graduate of Pullman High School, was tied for 66th and Rick Fehr (78) of Seattle was tied for 70th.

• French cyclist Warren Barquil of the Argos-Shimano team won the 13th stage of the Spanish Vuelta and Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the Astana team kept the overall lead in the 21-stage event.

• The Phoenix Mercury beat visiting San Antonio 83-80 to secure a berth in the WNBA Western Conference playoffs. The top four teams in each conference make the playoffs. Minnesota, Los Angeles and the Storm previously clinched playoff berths, though the Storm is 1½ games behind the third-place Mercury in the standings.

• WNBA All-Star point guard Lindsay Whalen, 31, of the Minnesota Lynx signed a three-year contract extension.

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