In the summer of 1986, I was an arrogant, overweight five-year-old American boy watching my first Tour de France on television.
My father warned me that I was setting myself up for disappointment by rooting for a cyclist from the United States. He gave me a history lesson ... no American-born rider had ever captured the 2,178-mile race spanning over three weeks through the French and Belgium countryside.
Dad was content that other countries took competitive bicycling more seriously because their athletes had better-suited training grounds (i.e. more hills and mountains). America's dominance in football and basketball was enough to satisfy his pride.
I was convinced that when it comes to any sport, my fellow countrymen had bigger hearts than those of any foreigner. My father said I sounded like an obnoxious little boy (which I was).
Paps shut up, though, after he saw American-rider Greg LeMond in a yellow jersey (given to the leader). LeMond became the first non-European to win the Tour de France since it was first held in 1903.
But tragedy struck LeMond less than a year later.
He was accidentally shot while hunting in California. Sixty shotgun pellets were lodged in his body, including two in the lining of his heart.
While waiting for rescue, LeMond's right lung collapsed, and he lost three quarters of his blood supply. Surgeons were forced to leave 40 shotgun pellets imbedded in his body because of their dangerous location.
Only a movie-maker in America could have written the script for what happened next.
After missing two straight summers recovering from his life-threatening injury, LeMond overcame all odds and a seemingly insurmountable lead by Frenchman Laurent Fignon during the 21st and final stage of the 1989 Tour de France. He won by only eight seconds (still the closest finish in the race's 103 year history).
LeMond repeated in 1990, then retired as an American icon. Sports writers wrote off his cycling dominance as an American fluke.
Little did they know at that time an 18-year-old Texan had his eyes set on achieving more.
On Sunday, Lance Armstrong became the first rider to ever capture six consecutive Tour de France titles (four foreigners had won five in a row).
In 1996, after garnering the title of No. 1 cyclist in the world, Armstrong was forced off his bike because of excruciating pain. Tests revealed advanced testicular cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain.
But like his predecessor LeMond, nothing could take away Armstrong's American heart.
Even though he was 27 years old in 1999 and beyond a typical cyclist's prime, he came back from recovery with one less testicle and won his first Tour de France.
Since that year, Sports Illustrated has had a hard time picking anyone other than Armstrong as "Sportsman of the Year."
During his tour through France this year, some foreign fans spit on Armstrong, and others tried to plant illegal drugs in his rooms.
Seems jealousy towards Americans is ever-growing.
"It's special to stand on arguably one of the most famous boulevards in the world and have your own national anthem played," Armstrong said after the final stage. "And to have it done six times is incredible."
Stories like those of LeMond and Armstrong just don't happen in other countries.
Guess the only remaining sport for U.S. athletes to dominate is Sumo Wrestling (the fact that over 50 percent of American children are now obese gives us hope).
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cyclists symbolize US heart
Published: Tue Jul 27, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:13 p.m.