Lance Armstrong fits right in there, an athlete identifiable by a single name who dominated the signature event of multiple-stage bike racing like no one ever has. His accomplishment has to stand with those of Rice and Emmitt and Marino and Sampras and Bonds. It stands with any achievement by anyone.
And let’s hear no more debates about whether Lance is truly an athlete and whether bike racing is truly a sport. The Greeks invented athletic competition nearly 2,500 years ago. In the first recorded Olympic games, there was one event — a sprint of approximately 200 meters. The distance was called a “stade,” and it’s the word from which we get the word “stadium.”
For the Greeks, athleticism wasn’t about hand-eye coordination; it was about speed and power. To this day, the most celebrated Olympic champion in track and field is the winner of the shortest race, the 100-meter dash.
Sports are contests in which people compete physically, matching a skill or skill set against others. That’s my definition, at least. My cut-off line is anything you can do better while drinking beer. So billiards doesn’t make it. Nor does darts. Those are games.
Bike racing qualifies on multiple levels. It requires strength and power and incredible cardiovascular fitness. On the Tour, it calls for teamwork. And if you don’t think you have to be coordinated or athletic to ride a few pounds of alloy at 60 mph down a mountain festooned with switchbacks on a couple of millimeters of rubber that’s hanging on for your dear life to the pavement, think again.
And if you remember being a kid and racing other kids on bikes, you’ll also remember that the kids who beat you were almost always better athletes than you in other sports.
To say that bike racing isn’t a real sport is merely a way of justifying the fact that you don’t pay attention to it or find it important. But you don’t have to like cycling or ever watch it to appreciate it. Not many people watch triathlons, either, but it’s impossible to deny the athletic ability of those who excel at them.
Don’t argue about what he does. Appreciate what he’s accomplished, because it’s likely you’ll never see it equaled again.
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