Weve officially started the run to the finals and its clear some top eight sides are struggling.The Hawks inflicted back-to-back SCG losses on Sydney after prevailing in a thrilling Thursday night contest. The Swans could have snatched top spot with a win, but now after dropping out of the top four, they sit fifth on percentage.On the other side of the country Geelong had to fight until the very end to hold off a Fremantle side desperate for a win. Patrick Dangerfield continued his march towards a maiden Brownlow Medal after racking up 31 disposals and booting four goals.North Melbournes mid-season dip in form has gone from bad to worse after being stunned by the Power?The Kangaroos have now lost six of their last seven matches after starting the season 9-0. If their shaky form continues, a top eight finish is no certainty.Speaking of shaky, the West Coast Eagles were far from convincing against a wasteful Carlton side on Sunday. If the contest had run five minutes longer, the Blues may well have run over the top of them, but as it was they crucially secured the four points.However, in Scott Thompsons big milestone, Adelaide swept their way to eight straight wins with their victory over Collingwood and now occupy second spot on the ladder behind Hawthorn.HEROESShaun Burgoynes final term:?What can you say about Burgoyne that hasnt already been said? The 300-plus gamer inspired his team to victory after being thrust into the midfield in the final quarter against the Swans. Burgoyne was dominant in the last, racking up 11 disposals and kicking two crucial goals to steer the Hawks to a terrific top-of-the table clash win. For so much of his career he has been able to play the Mr-fix-it role at the most desperate of times and Thursday night was no exception. Cyril Riolis long bomb from outside 50 on his birthday also deserves a mention, and capped off a memorable night for Hawthorn. The reigning premiers now have a four-point cushion at the top of the table; could a fourth straight flag be on the cards?Koby Stevens: Influential in the middle and dangerous when forward, Stevens is emerging as yet another valuable member of the Western Bulldogs squad after arguably his career-best match against the Suns on Saturday. The former Eagle had 34 disposals, eight clearances and kicked back-to-back goals for the Dogs in the opening quarter of the 48-point win. In a game that was overshadowed by the return of prized forward Tom Boyd, it was the smaller forwards and midfielders that got the job done with Clay Smith, Marcus Bontempelli and Mitch Wallis also prominent in front of goals. After a wretched run with injuries lets hope Stevens can string more than a handful of games together as the Dogs look to do some damage in September.Jackson Trengove: Since Matthew Lobbe went down with a knee injury, Trengove has stepped up enormously in whats been a mid-season revival for the Power. Up against the games most dominant ruckman Todd Goldstein on Saturday, many would have excused Trengove for being unable to contain him, but the defender-turned-ruckman was outstanding, particularly in the first term when Port Adelaide motored to a five-goal lead. Trengove finished the day with 22 disposals (10 more than Goldstein) and six tackles. Is the shorter, more versatile ruckman the way of the future?VILLAINSMelbournes record at Etihad Stadium: Theres only one word that springs to mind when describing Melbournes recent record at Etihad Stadium: dreadful. The Demons have lost 24 of their past 25 games at Docklands and again on Sunday were well beaten by the Saints. If that wasnt humiliating enough, Sundays loss stretched the Dees losing streak against St Kilda to 14 straight matches. It was a day to forget for Melbourne -- who had been playing good football heading into the clash -- after Jesse Hogan was reported for striking Jarryn Geary in a marking contest.Tom Hawkins: Hes such an important player for the Cats and at his best could prove the difference between a mediocre Geelong and one thats a serious premiership threat. However, just one disposal in the first half against Freo is simply inexcusable. Full credit to Zac Dawson who played a terrific game on the Geelong star forward, but Hawkins was guilty of a plethora of forgettable moments, most notably spilled marks and poor positioning. Despite improving in the second half, Hawkins still failed to have any impact on the contest. He looked relieved to finish up with one goal, but against a bottom four side thats simply not good enough. If Geelongs indifferent form is to be eradicated, they need the big man firing -- especially with two tough challenges against Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs in the next fortnight.50m penalties:?To the letter of the law, I believe both 50m penalties against Swans duo Kieren Jack and Ben McGlynn against Hawthorn were there. However, in a tight, low-scoring contest, decisions like that have the ability to drastically change momentum, as we all witnessed at the SCG on Thursday night and against Kade Simpson versus the Eagles on Sunday. The Jack decision was of particular concern as he was clearly in the protected zone and should be afforded the opportunity to exit the area without being pinged and costing his side a goal. It is worth noting that Jack was also on the boundary side of the Hawk in possession, Jono ORourke, in these types of instances we need to take a more lenient approach as it is not stopping the ball from moving quickly through the corridor. Utah Jazz Gear . 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The Real Madrid forward has scored 66 goals in 2013, but the last three may be the boost he needs to upstage Messi after FIFA unexpectedly extended the voting period for the Ballon dOr to Nov. Emmanuel Mudiay Jersey . 1 position. The Mustangs (6-0), who beat Queens 50-31 last weekend, earned 17 first-place votes and 287 points in voting by the Football Reporters of Canada. Western was last ranked first in the country in October 2011. The recent womens Olympic marathon trials finish in Los Angeles was both frustrating and inspiring for me. The event was nationally broadcast live for the first time, so we could witness the front of the pack gutting out the last four miles -- including Amy Cragg desperately pulling along her fading friend and teammate, Shalane Flanagan, grabbing water for her, slowing her own pace and encouraging Flanagan with words we couldnt hear. Even after shed left Flanagan, Cragg continued looking back to encourage her. Like many watching, I was inspired by Craggs selflessness and sportsmanship.Cragg won the race and Flanagan finished third, ensuring both will compete in the 2016 Rio Games. The finish-line shot of Cragg catching Flanagan in her arms as her legs collapsed brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how many women have helped me through races and workouts and how many have caught me at the finish line. But I also couldnt help wondering, Would a man work so hard to pull along a teammate?I could hear my fathers frustrated voice in my head, speaking to me after a high school cross country race in which Id admitted to feeling guilty for beating a friend. Why?! hed exclaimed, baffled. Dont wait. Its your race. Dont think twice next time. Just pass her.Athletic marketers might argue women-only races have increased in popularity because they offer an empowering environment. But I think competing against women can create more stress -- especially when youre competing against women you consider friends. Ive found through both racing and coaching others that women feel (or are made to feel) guilty after leaving a female friend behind in a race. On multiple occasions Ive stood with friends on starting lines negotiating whether or not to run separately.For years as a running and triathlon coach, competitive athlete and linguist, I have struggled with a perceived conflict over how competitive drive and female friendship can safely coexist. I was struck when a friend and former Division I runner recalled her college coach saying to her, Some days I think all I have to do is to get you girls to hate each other and then youll run faster. While, sadly, this may be half true, surely there are healthier ways to develop a successful team. That, combined with my feelings about the marathon trials, made me want to better understand the dynamics of female friends in competition.My friend, my competitorWomen are taught from a young age to help, cooperate with and be empathetic of others. When I was 4 years old, I learned that being bossy was wrong. Then, 10 years later, I was expected to be a boss on the field, taking control and beating my female friends on the track. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her keynote speech at the 2006 WNBA Celebrating Inspiration event, said, There is a special place in hell for women who dont help other women. But how do you help someone if you are trying to beat her?I think women have to be confident in their own?failures and?successes in order for friendships to exist outside of?competition, says Erica Allar, 30, a pro cyclist from North Carolina. They have to understand that failures and successes in?competition do not define individuals as a person or define a friendship.I didnt understand this as a high school runner. Whether my friends liked me or not heavily influenced my performance -- not the reverse. On more than one occasion I hesitated passing a teammate in a race, fearful that girl might hold it against me, which would create a rift in our friendship at school.When I began running cross country my freshman year, I consistently ran with one sophomore girl during the 5k and then outkicked her at the end of each race. During one race, sensing my desire to pick up the pace, she instructed me, Not yet, Amanda. Dont go yet. I hesitated for a moment, then I heard my fathers voice insisting, What are you waiting for?! I ran ahead. Later, I heard shed passed out on the course and had to be driven by ambulance to the hospital. I felt horribly guilty. Over the next two years competing with her, I never beat her again. And I never tried.Fearing this response to competition could seep into other areas of my life, my father sent me to a sports psychologist. He helped me address the negative self-talk that was destroying me before I toed the line.When I began coaching cross country and track at DePauw University, my father gave me a book hed read when I was in high school, Games Girls Play: Understanding Young Female Athletes in Competition. The book describes a study of 115 professional tennis players, in which females were reported to be more affected than males by self-confidence and fan behavior.Road and mountain runner Melody Fairchild, a two-time Olympic trials qualifier and eight-time national champion, sees that in the performance of young women on the high school cross country teams and camps she coaches.Their identity is so tightly wrapped up in how others see them that they let that get in the way of performing their best, says Fairchild, 42, who was the first high school girl in the U.dddddddddddd.S. to break 10 minutes for two miles. My running was a pure expression of living with heart. And Im still wildly curious to figure out that magic key to help these young, altruistic women find a way to feel comfortable giving the best of themselves.A delicate balanceThe difficulty in balancing friendship and performance is something Sara Kadlec, 31, can attest to in her own training. If I feel better than expected at a workout I had planned to do with a friend, I wouldnt think of leaving her or running ahead. Id stay within the controlled pace we had planned to run. But when Ive discussed this with men, they think this is absolutely absurd. Its a workout, theyll say, youre supposed to go hard.Holding back is not something one would associate with Kadlec:?Shes a new mother, physicians assistant in neurosurgery, national podium-placing ski mountaineer and sub-three-hour marathoner. And yet, its something she might do in a workout to preserve harmony with a friend.When developing intimacy and maintaining a level playing field are traits young girls learn early, how do adult women separate competition from friendship? For me, it was about learning how to separate myself as a competitor from myself as a friend -- a skill that took me years to master.I wish at 15 years old I could have compartmentalized my relationships with competitors like pro mountain biker and college professor Becky Edmiston, who says in a race she encounters three groups of people: Women I dont know and I want to beat, women I know (whose friendship I value) and I want to beat, and women that rub me the wrong way and I want to beat.Edmiston says she trains with and encourages her friends. If I find myself passing a friend I might tell them to come with me. But Im not waiting around for them.Pam Landry, a sports psychologist and coach at The Athletes Edge in New Haven, Connecticut, finds herself working with many female athletes who struggle to balance friendship and competition. She says complications can arise when feeling guilty is associated with caring -- an association many women have been taught to make. The underlying implication behind this logic is that in order to be a good person or friend, Landry says, you must show you care by feeling guilty and then prove it by conforming to the perceived needs of those around you.Landry asks her athletes to rewrite the script in their head by asking themselves, What am I afraid of when I run faster or improve more than my friends? Disapproval from others or myself? Fear of failure or success?Another way to remain objective during competition is to tell yourself, No judgment, just execution. Landry says. Once this cue becomes an automatic pre-competitive response it helps the athlete to avoid letting feelings of friendship for their fellow competitors override their competitive drive.The goal is to teach the athlete that being the better performer does not make you the lesser person. It simply means that youre actively pursuing excellence.What Ive learnedCommunicating your goals before a race can help maintain a friendship, says coach and researcher Joanna Zeiger, who finished fourth in the triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I ran the 2013 L.A. Marathon with [close friend and training partner] Colleen De Reuck. At Mile 17, I knew I was fading. Rather than let her wonder if she should wait or go, I told her I was struggling and that I would see her at the finish line.Ive adopted that policy of communication in my own friendships with fellow athletes as Ive grown. Recently, at the start of a long run with a group of friends, a very talented and competitive woman in her 30s said, Im feeling slow today. Dont wait up for me. I could tell she wasnt feeling 100 percent, but her silent treatment when she returned from the run, after trailing us the whole way, made it clear she had expected us to, indeed, wait up for her. I didnt feel guilty this time. I reminded her of what shed said and she accepted some responsibility. After eight years of training together, this was an overdue step in the right direction for our friendship and success as athletes.Healthy friendships and competition can coexist in the presence of confidence, honesty and direct communication. These are the traits that made for such a compelling finish to the marathon trials, and theyre what will make me root for Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg even harder at the Rio Olympics.Amanda McCracken is a Boulder-based writer, runner, and coach. She is grateful for all of her female friendships that have grown out of the fields of competition. Follow her on Twitter at?@writermccracken. ' ' '