Lithuanian climber Vladas Vitkauskas and hot-air balloon pilot Vytautas Samarinas have successfully reached an altitude of over 8,848 meters, setting a new altitude record for Lithuania. The height is equal to the world's highest peak 's Mount Everest in the Himalayas.The hot-air balloon took off from Siauliai, Lithuania on Nov. 27. Approximately two hours later, after covering a distance of 160 kilometers, the balloon successfully landed near the town of Utena, reaching a record altitude of 8,848 meters above Panevezys. According to Samarinas, there were some surprises during the flight but they posed no serious threat. "The speed [we reached] was very high, at one point more than 150 kilometers per hour. Therefore, we may have set a [hot-air balloon] speed record as well," Samarinas told the Baltic News Service.
Belgian tennis star Justine Henin-Hardenne confirmed her status as the new world number one after beating Amelie Mauresmo 6-4, 6-3 at the WTA Championships in Madrid. Henin-Hardenne reached all four Grand Slam finals this year, but only took the title at the French Open.
Alex Zanardi tested out a Formula One car five years after losing both his legs in a near-fatal accident. The Italian former F1 driver completed four laps in a modified version of BMW-Sauber's 2006 car in Valencia on Nov. 25. Zanardi, 40, had his legs amputated after a 320kph crash at Germany's Lausitzring while racing in the U.S.-based Champ Car series in 2001. The racer admitted to being deeply moved by the experience of driving an F1 car again.
Cyclist Tyler Hamilton, whose two-year suspension for doping ended in September, has joined the Italian-based Russian team Tinkoff. The 35-year-old tested positive for a blood transfusion at the 2004 Tour of Spain, weeks after winning Olympic gold in the individual time trial. Hamilton was allowed to keep his title because his B test was destroyed during the examination process.
Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe has stunned the world of swimming by retiring at the age of 24. "I'm very proud about my decision to quit my career," explained Thorpe. "I could continue to set new records. I know how to do it, but I'm not interested in it anymore," the athlete added. In addition to his Olympic success, he went on to claim 11 world titles and 10 Commonwealth Games gold medals, six of which he gained in Manchester in 2002.