Wow blink your eyes and two weeks have gone by

October 24, 2007

I’m really getting bad at the posts.  I apologize.  I chalk it up to a monster travel schedule (20,000+ Frequent Flier miles in the past couple of months), laptop issues while travelling, and a general malaise.  This truly was a year to remember, or forget depending on your perspective.

Now we enter the quiet time.  The seasons (Cycling, transfers) are over.  The only real story is the CAS Appeal of the Floyd Landis decision.  I’m sure I’ll find things to rant about. 


I guess it’s better than dancing with the stars

October 12, 2007

What do retired athletes do when their career is over. For most, they return home to the families who supported them throughout their careers. They are happy just being mom, dad, friend, spouse. Maybe they try to continue a revenue stream by lending their name to a clothing line, equipment, etc.

Some, however seem to need the spotlight. Having lived in its warm glow for so long, there must be some withdrawal symptoms when trying to live without it. This is what causes athletes to do crazy things.

One of my favorite athletes is Mario Cipollini. He is not necessarily one of my favorite ex-athletes. Lured by the seductive spotlight, Mario returned to center stage – literally. He joined the Italian version of dancing with the stars. This program seems to be the way station for athletes who need to cross-over into new careers.

Other athletes try to other sports. While not as embarrassing as a televised tango, it can harsh reality lesson to find out that success in one sport may not translate into another. Look at Michael Jordan’s baseball and golf career. Even Lance Armstrong showed a human side when running the New York Marathon last year.

These are the thoughts that crossed my mind when I read that tomorrow morning, the Ironman triathalon in Hawaii will have a familiar name starting. Laurent Jalabert. After retiring, Ja-Ja has spent most of his time sitting behind a microphone. This is not a recommended training regimen.

Will Ja-Ja get the best of the event? Or will he go down in the annals of athletes who learn the hard way.

It was a lot better when the only outlet for former athletes was The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.


Bringing down the curtain on 2007

October 12, 2007

So, if the 2007 cycling season was a play, how would you review it? Here is how I would begin to organize my thoughts.

The play started with some fine acting in the early acts . Hometown boy takes the Tour of California. With a performance like this so early in the play, I was wondering what the writers had in store for the rest of the evening.

We also see a new actor in Albertor Contador steal the scene titled “Paris-Nice.” With acting talent like this, I hope to see more of him.

After some promising numbers early on,the writers introduce very complex storylines. Villains start entering from every direction. ASO, UCI, WADA, USADA, RCS Sport, and Unipublic all vie for center stage and the competition for the spotlight detracts from the play.

Then, the writers start killing off the main characters. Basso and Vino go down in a bloody mess making me think I was in a bad remake of a Shakespearian play. The writers try to bring back early hero, Contador, to save the play but to no avail. There is too much confusion, too many storylines. Much of the audience did not come back after intermission.

Then as if the play was not complex enough, the writers bring the back story of a fallen hero, Floyd, who is attempting to combat injustice of some of our main villains.

The play runs for another week or so when it closes in Lombardy on the 20th.  If this play is to shine on Broadway in 2008, it needs some major attention.


Can an athlete be bigger than the sport?

October 2, 2007

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim

Growing up, I idolized Julius Erving from the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers. I would argue to anyone who listened that Dr. J was the greatest player who ever lived and all NBA players present, and future owed a debt of gratitude to the man who brought the NBA into the realm of big-time sports.

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One day while I was raving about the Doctor my father said one of life’s truisms. “An athlete, no matter how good, can not be bigger than his sport.” When Dr. J retired, the sport moved on. The ‘air’ to the throne, Michael Jordan continued where Erving left off. Even when Jordan retired, the sport continued to thrive.

A look at all sports shows this to be true. Big names come and go but the sport moves on. In cycling, we had Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Jaques Anquetil, and of course Dr E, Eddy Merckx. All men dominated their sport then retired. The sport lived on. Then came Lance Armstrong.

In college, I had a Marketing professor that had his own truism. “There is always an exception that proves the rule.” Is Lance Armstrong that exception? Let me lay out the topics for discussion. All athletes that I mentioned dominated the other athletes in their sport. Therefore, their dominance is based on athletic talent only. Lance’s dominance went beyond his ability compared to his competitors. He engaged the current authorities of cycling as an equal. And one could say, he dominated them too (more on that in a minute).

Athletes are known and associated inexorably with their sport. Therefore, the sports fortunes are their fortunes and visa versa. Is Lance a cancer-fighting, celebrity who cycles? Is he a famous cyclist who has a cancer foundation?

When the biggest names in sports retired, their sport lived on and in most cases thrived. There is no doubt that cycling is on life support at the moment. The moment Lance left, the power struggle that ensued has severely wounded cycling. Is it a coincidence that in the year immediately before and after Lance, our sport was in a precarious situation? During the Lance years, the sport prospered and there was peace across all fronts. Did Lance have the power to dominate the Grand Tours and the UCI forcing them to play nice? I could make the argument the war started out of a fight for the power vacuum left by the retirement of Lance Armstrong.

I’m not sure where I fall on this issue. Lance might be the first athlete to transcend his sport to a level that he struck fear or awe into the hearts of all involved. He managed to become bigger than the sport. If that is the case, then there is no precedent on what should happen now.

I do know that the mere mention of Lance Armstrong generally brings forth a lively discussion. I am hoping for that in the comments section.