That’s all you have to say today and all you’ll have to say 30 years from now. Everything else will fill in by itself: the last name, the incredible record in the Tour de France, the enormous strength, the unquenchable competitive spirit, the sheer greatness of his career and accomplishments.
The greatest tribute in sports today is to be known by a single name or nickname. Say Tiger, Barry, Michael, Magic, Rocket, Ali, Emmitt, Sweetness, Pele or A-Rod and everyone knows about whom you are speaking. You are talking about the best.
Lance Armstrong is retiring with his unprecedented seventh straight Tour de France victory. The final one, which should have been the hardest, was absurdly easy. He took the lead early, fought off a few puny challenges, and spent his final week not threatened in the race he has come to define. His pursuers said they had given it their all and admitted it wasn’t nearly enough.
Lance wasn’t just a little bit better than the best of his generation; He was a lot better. He dominated his sport like Babe Ruth dominated baseball 80 years ago. No one before was better at this one consummate test of cycling and it will be a long time before anyone is as good again.
We’ve been through a remarkable era in sports, an era that rivals the Roaring ’20s for producing heroes. Back then it was the Galloping Ghost, Red Grange; The Manassa Mauler, Jack Dempsey; the Babe; Big Bill Tilden, the tennis great; Bobby Jones, winner of golf’s Grand Slam. Some say it was the greatest era ever.
We have some right to say we’re not far behind, if we’re behind at all. In the past decade, we’ve been able to watch Roger Clemens, who is arguably the best right-handed pitcher ever; Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player who ever lived; Emmitt Smith, football’s all-time rushing leader; a crop of NFL quarterbacks that includes Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway and Brett Favre; Shaq, the greatest center of his generation and one of the greatest ever; Pete Sampras, who won more Grand Slams than any other man; Barry Bonds, with his seven MVPs; and Jerry Rice, without question the greatest receiver in NFL history.
We didn’t have a great heavyweight champion; Ali was the last who truly fit that description. But Iron Mike Tyson was as compelling a personality as anyone who has ever held the title.
We also have a some stars who are approaching their primes, including Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Anika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods. All could one day be the best ever.
The 2005 Tour
See images from Lance Armstrong's seventh straight Tour de France victory.
Lance on winning
July 25: In an exclusive interview, the 'Today' show's Ann Curry talks to 7-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
2010 Tour de France