As President George W. Bush wraps up his meetings with other world leaders at the G8 Summit in Genoa, American international relations are the worst they have been in years. The President”s military and environmental plans have alienated the United States from the rest of the international community. Fortunately, a Texan (not Dubya) and a Floridian (not Jeb) represented the U.S.A. much better this past weekend. So pardon these patriotic ramblings, as I pretend that the only place America”s image is observed is on the playing fields of international athletic competition.
David Duval and Lance Armstrong gave America a belated Fourth of July present this past weekend. What a gift to America, to not only represent but to excel on behalf of the stars and stripes on an international stage. Duval, thought by many to be the second-best golfer in the world, finally won his first major by shooting 10-under at Royal Lytham to capture the British Open.
Meanwhile, Armstrong who has battled away testicular cancer to win the Tour de France in each of the past two years captured the lead in the race”s 13th stage on Saturday. Armstrong is now expected to cruise down from the Pyrenees, north through the streets of Paris and into the record books as the first American to win the world”s greatest bicycle race three-straight times.
And what of these accomplishments? As American sports enthusiasts get caught up in home run races and pennant races that reoccur every summer, two Americans are laying claim to their nation”s dominance internationally.
There are few fair and true international competitions. The Olympics have become diluted by controversies over amateurism, drug abuse and IOC scandals. The World Champions” status credited to the yearly winners of the NBA Finals and World Series is an obvious anomaly. America participates in a hockey world championship, but it is strictly a North American/Northern European/Slavic affair. International athletic prowess is gauged by success in sports like track, tennis, wrestling, soccer, cycling and golf. In these sports every continent is represented. This past weekend, America earned two notches in its red, white and blue belt as Duval took golf”s oldest major, if not its most prestigious, and Armstrong all but assured his three-peat in a sport typically dominated by Europeans.
Armstrong”s story is a heart-warming one of a man”s triumph-over-illness. His comeback has been an inspiration to everyone who is familiar with it, and his ability to complete the 3,600 kilometer race through the French countryside (and across some of Europe”s highest peaks), let alone win it three-straight times is astounding.
As Charles Barkley famously pointed out, we should not look to athletes as role models. But if ever there was an athlete to whom a nation could revere, respect and celebrate, then he is Lance Armstrong. He is respected amongst his peers, and applauded in France, where no American has been applauded, let alone served a glass of overpriced wine without an accompanying glass of attitude since the glory days of Jerry Lewis.
By winning the British Open on Sunday, Duval becomes the sixth American to do so in seven years. He can now claim, without reasonable debate, that he is indeed the best golfer in the world, besides fellow countryman Tiger Woods. The only golfer other than Woods to hold the No. 1 world ranking is not Scotsman Colin Montomerie, not South African Ernie Els and not Fiji”s Vijay Singh it”s Duval. He and Woods represent America with tremendous dignity, and have regenerated American interest in golf (both the domestic PGA tour and international events like the British Open and Ryder Cup).
In the international tennis world, Venus Williams won her second-consecutive Wimbledon crown earlier this month. She leads a powerful American corps of herself, Lindsay Davenport, a renascent Jennifer Capriati and Venus” sister Serena, who have reclaimed American dominance in women”s tennis.
On the soccer pitch, the U.S.A. leads its CONCACAF group in World Cup qualifying, and is playing the best soccer in its rather pathetic history.
And if you can”t get excited for red, white and blue achievement, perhaps the promise of a maize and blue legend-in-the-making will get you going. Alan Webb, who will be a freshman on the Michigan track team this year, became the first American highschooler in 34 years to run a sub-four minute mile when he accomplished the feat this past January in New York.
America takes a lot of criticism from the international community in politics, and in sports. But our image on both fronts can only be improved by the continued success of athletes like Armstrong and Duval. It is not just their success but their always humble and sometimes inspiring success that earns fans for the USA and her athletes over-seas, and gives us back on this side of the pond something for which we can whole-heartedly cheer.