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Cycling News, Unique Look at College Football and More

| by Sports Nickel

 

So it’s been a crazy journey over the past couple years. When I sat down at FanNation in March 2008 — prodded by a friend on the site to write a weekly article for one of his groups — and penned the first edition of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America, I was simply setting out to define what has made me the type of sports fan that I’ve evolved into over the years. Little did I know then that a simple rant about my personal proclivities would evolve into a full-fledged column that has traversed time and appearances on three different websites to become what it is today. It’s been a crazy journey, full of twists and turns both in the global realm of sports and on a more personal level in my own life.

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A simple scan of SI.com led to the innocent-enough rant that would take root and become a column that, two years later, is a hundred editions strong and counting!

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Since that fateful Thursday two-plus years ago when the journey began, I’ve lived in even more residences than have housed the column. But even as things change, so too do they stay the same. I still work by day at the University of Oregon, putting that culinary degree to some semblance of use in the catering department on campus. By night I still keep staying up way too late, surfing the nether-regions of the cerebral vortex that is cyberspace and tapping out words into the wee hours of the morning. I still enjoy a cocktail as I write… and I still think far too much about performance-enhancing drugs as I drink them down and continue working the keyboard.

The format has expanded — and is still always malleable, if there’s anything in particular you faithful readers desire to see as a regular feature. Since that first disjointed rant, this space has evolved a more codified format. Regular features such as “Tooling Aroung the Net” and “On the Docket” have become weekly staples. The former is there every Thursday, helping to keep you up-to-date on those particular readings I’ve found interesting and wish to share; the latter is the primer of what’s coming up over the weekend and up until our next time together.

It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and I appreciate all the comments, suggestions and questions which have come in over the past two years from all of you out there. If all goes well, a book should be coming out sometime early 2011 — it looks like it will be part almanac, part year-in-review, and part memoir (some might say cautionary tale), taking you through what it is like to spend an entire year immersed in as much as one man can gobble up on the smorgasbord offered by sporting communities around the world. And now that a new home has been found here at Sports Nickel, I’ll still be churning out the volumes week after week. It may be laborious at times, but being A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America is nothing but a labor of love…

SEE EVERY ONE OF THE 100 NTSF ARTICLES HERE!

TALKING ABOUT THE PROTOUR AHEAD OF THE VUELTA…

As we get nearer to the start of the Vuelta a España in the last week of August, several different things are coming to a head. The UCI ProTour has found its way back into the news lately. I have a special fondness for the pet project of former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, his last attempt to unify the elite events on the international cycling calendar with the top teams and the best riders. Ultimately it proved futile — the weight of the large-scale race organizers headed by Amaury Sport Organization, the management of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and other legendary races throughout France and Belgium, served to collapse the always-tenuous hold Verbruggen’s pipe dream had on the calendar. But despite having penned down this effective obituary for the ProTour before the fact, and despite the fact that a piecemeal version of the ProTour exists mostly as a satellite schedule of feeder events that provide training and race miles for the top teams in preparation for the biggest classics and the grand tours that fall outside its rankings, it still apparently holds the various teams captive.

This is the time of year when teams start to clamor for those eighteen spots available. With ten teams already renewed through 2011, there are just eight licenses up for grabs… and fourteen teams clamoring for them. Eight are teams requesting renewal of contracts which expire at the end of 2010, two are former ProTour license holders looking to reenter the top ranks of the sport, and four more still are either newly-formed teams for 2011 looking to start right out at the top or lower-level teams looking to promote up to the ProTour.

So who has the best chance at getting licenses? Who are these fourteen teams battling for the eight golden paydays, if you will? After all, while these spots don’t guarantee passage into the Giro or Tour or Vuelta, they do confer upon these teams a certain cachet that makes them more appealing to the race organizers when selection time comes (grand tours are obligated to take only the top 14 teams out of the 18 ProTour members, though usually most if not all make it in). And there are some heavy hitters aboard. Let’s take a look…

Farrar defends Vattenfall Cyclassics title

The Vattenfall Cyclassics — as the only UCI ProTour event on the calendar in Germany, the one-day classic has been taking place annually since 1996 — had never until this year seen a repeat champion. It is a race that favors the rider who has either been away from the Tour de France and is getting ready for the Vuelta. The list of former winners, a who’s who of the sport’s great sprinters (including McEwen, Freire, Erik Zabel, Johan Museeuw, and Paolo Bettini), had been without a two-time winner. So now, as he enters the prime of his career, Farrar once again sets himself up as a man to watch in the sprints heading into a Vuelta that should be jam-packed with perhaps its most talented cast of rider’s in the race’s long history….

READ MORE HERE

SAFE TEAMS IN 2011 (10)
EXPIRING CONTRACTS (8)
SEEKING PROMOTION (6)

AG2R

Garmin-Transitions

Lampre

Omega-Lotto

Quick Step

Rabobank

Team Sky

Katusha

Radio Shack

Saxo Bank

Astana

Euskaltel-Euskadi

Milram1

Française des Jeux

Geox2

Liquigas

HTC-Columbia

Team Movistar3

Bouygues Telecom*

BMC

Cofidis*

Pegasus Sports

Luxembourg Cycling Project

Vacansoleil

1 — seeking sponsorship for 2011

2 — formerly Footon-Servetto

3 — formerly Caisse d’Epargne

* — former ProTour teams

Who amongst the teams has the best chances moving forward of obtaining one amongst that precious octet of slots still available? In order of probability, here’s who I think will make the cut:

  1. HTC-Columbia — With sprinters Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel leading the way, HTC-Columbia is probably the team most assured of retaining a spot in the ProTour for 2011 and beyond. A consistent threat in the grand tours and a big draw at races abroad such as the Tour of California, the American team that Bob Stapleton crafted out of the wreckage of the T-Mobile powerhouse will give the United States representation by four squads out of the eighteen in 2011 (see fourth below). For those who continue to assume that cycling is going to dry up and fade away in this country once Lance Armstrong finally retires for good, the upswing in participation from grassroots to the cream of the crop continues to prove otherwise.
  2. They'll be riding in different jerseys for a new squad based in their homeland, but the Schleck brothers will still be part of all of cycling's biggest events in 2010...

    Luxembourg Cycling Project — The team has yet to suit up for a single race. It has yet to even reveal its 2011 title sponsor. But the team designed to capitalize on the growth of cycling in the small European grand duchy of less than a thousand square miles will make it into the 2011 ProTour on its first try for two simple reasons: Andy and Frank Schleck. The two brothers naturally signed on to the project, as the growth in cycling in the country has coincided with their burst onto the scene. Frank, the elder brother, has been national champion three times and has won both small yet prestigious stage races such as the Tour de Suisse along with classics like the Amstel Gold Race. His younger brother, Andy, has done his sibling one better. The younger Schleck has been the best young rider at each of the past three Tours de France; in 2009 and 2010 he was runner-up to Alberto Contador. They are the reason this team gets into the ProTour.

  3. Team Movistar — The team has had many sponsors over the years, but the link to the past has remained throughout. Originally formed in 1980 as the Reynolds team, the team has sustained three decades of continuous presence at the top of the sport. From former Tour de France winners Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain to Oscar Pereiro’s improbable ride in 2006 that retroactively handed him the maillot jaune, the team has gone from Reynolds to Banesto to Illes Balears to Caisse d’Epargne without sacrificing an iota of excellence. This team of Eusebio Unzue, one of the sport’s legendary figures, will certainly be amongst those appearing in the ProTour in 2011.
  4. Liquigas — Most recently this team captured the Giro d’Italia with Ivan Basso, and is currently ranked fifth in the UCI World Ranking for teams. But this team is far more than just the wily veteran who returned from his suspension for involvement in the Operacion Puerto doping scandal to win another Giro. Roman Kreuziger, Vincenzo Nibali, Valerio Agnoli and Robert Kiserlovski are a power-packed quartet that are all 25 years old or younger and just coming into their prime. As we saw in Italy this May, the decade-old outfit offers up one of the deepest rosters in the peloton. As the preeminent Italian team at the moment, the UCI would be absurd to deny the ProTour license to Liquigas.
  5. BMC — This will be the fourth American-registered team in the 2011 ProTour, thanks largely to the presence of current world champion Cadel Evans. Evans, twice the runner-up at the Tour de France and for the better part of the past decade one of the more dangerous GC riders in the peloton, lends the team all the credibility it needs to slip into the ProTour for its first time. Alessandro Ballan, the 2008 world champion and former Tour of Flanders winner, lends additional credence to their inclusion, as does up-and-coming time-trial specialist Brent Bookwalter.
  6. Euskaltel-Euskadi — What would life be like without the Basques? A traditional hotbed of cycling and individual identity, the orange-clad riders of Euskaltel-Euskadi have represented their region (all riders for the squad must either be from the Basque country or have familial ties to the territory) with distinction for over sixteen years now. Its current star, Samuel Sanchez, has been on the cusp of greatness over the past few years. Last year he lost out on the Vuelta to Alejandro Valverde; this year he was standing on the podium at the Tour de France until the penultimate stage when Denis Menchov leapfrogged him in the standings thanks to a stronger time-trial performance.
  7. Astana — Two things could certainly hurt the Kazakh team’s bid to stay in the ProTour. First, the loss of Alberto Contador after 2010, to fill the leadership void at Saxo Bank left by the departed Schleck brothers, will leave the team without any true contenders. This team is going to look a lot more like the true Kazakh squad envisioned by Alexander Vinokourov when he stepped in to rescue the pieces of the Liberty Seguros squad. But even if he races next year, he is no grand tour threat anymore now that he is soon to be 37 years old and has been away from the sport for years. But they’ve also been at the top of the UCI World Ranking each of the only two years it has been calculated, and it’d be surprising to see them snubbed as long as the financial backing is still there.
  8. Bouygues Telecom — Why Bbox-Bouygues Telecom? Well, I find it hard to believe that UCI would allow the traditional standard-bearer of the sport of cycling just one team at the highest rank of the sport. AG2R is the obvious class of French cycling currently, and both Bouygues Telecom and Cofidis are clamoring for that other spot. (It’s amazing to think America will get four team slots and the French are battling just for a second.) Cofidis currently leads the UCI rankings by a single point over Bouygues, 148-147. But I’m guessing top-ten appearances by the team at both the Giro and the Tour this year will sway the decision in their favor.

And here are the six who won’t get in and why they’ll see their bids denied:

  1. Milram — Sponsorship. Sponsorship and big names. Guys like Gerald Ciolek will get nabbed up quickly by the other sharks; the rest will fade off to Continental teams or into obscurity. This team splashed onto the scene five years ago thanks to the prowess of its twin sprinting sensations, Erik Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi. Now Zabel is retired, Petacchi is at Lampre and Milram is toast.
  2. This might be the last time these two dozen guys all assemble together for a team photo as Milram seeks 2011 sponsorship...

    Française des Jeux — Results. As the second-worst placed amongst the five French squads in the top 30 of the world standings (and at #25, no less), there is simply no way that the UCI can justify the continued inclusion of this squad. It was always going to be a three-way battle between the three French teams lumped together at #18 through #20 in the world ranking. And FdJeux misses out by a wide margin.

  3. Geox — Even worse results. Only Skil-Shimano ranks lower amongst the top 30, and no one is pretending that they are a ProTour-worthy squad. Despite nabbing a big new sponsor for 2011 and beyond, the simple fact is that this squad is simply not good enough at this time to compete throughout the season against the elite. Like with Pegasus, inability to be consistently competitive will come into play.
  4. Cofidis — Grand tour performance. While they aren’t directly a part of the ProTour calendar, the fact that the gap between this team and Bouygues Telecom left the three grand tours as the final determinant. Cofidis placing 4th in the 2009 Vuelta wasn’t enough to displace Bouygues, who has been there at the past two grand tours in greater force. After all, it was apparent after 2009 they weren’t up to snuff.
  5. Pegasus Sports — Obscurity. This team has been racing to this point as a domestic team pretty much in the American calendar, with brief forays back to home soil (but not yet for even the Tour Down Under). The UCI would love to have an Aussie team to build the base around following the September world championships being held in Melbourne and Geelong, but they can’t ignore the lack of strength here.
  6. Vacansoleil — Name recognition. The Dutch squad has been slowly building itself over the past two years, picking up results here and there with guys like Borut Bozic and Johnny Hoogerland and Bobbie Traksel. But they still have yet to really make an impression. Their one grand tour appearance, at the 2009 Vuelta, they finished 15th of 22 teams; just as the Vuelta didn’t invite them back, neither will the UCI invite them into the ProTour.

After all, it’s a tough business in professional cycling. Nothing is ever guaranteed, and even the most solid of foundations can crumble in an instant. Yesterday’s dominant powerhouse is tomorrow’s cannon fodder. That’s the beauty and the burden of the sport, all wrapped in a layer of mystique and suffering…

INTER CONQUERS COPA A SECOND TIME…

Internacional came into the second leg of the 2010 Copa Libertadores final with all the advantages. The Brazilian side had earned a hard-fought, come-from-behind first leg victory over Chivas Guadalajara on the road in Mexico. But despite the two away goals in hand, they could not afford to even lose the second leg of the home-and-away final 1-0 — the Copa Libertadores does not permit the away goals rule to serve as a determining factor in breaking ties in its final. With the CONMEBOL spot in the FIFA Club World Cup already determined, the other Inter set to play against their Milanese namesake in December’s tournament in the United Arab Emirates as the last South American team in the Copa Libertadores, the pressure was off and the Brazilians held all the cards. With the crowds amassing at the Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, everything was in place for the majority of the fans in the stadium to walk out gleeful at the result.

Internacional emerged victorious to claim their second Copa Libertadores crown and fourth continental trophy since 2006...

But that was not to say that Chivas was about to roll over and play dead, either. The Mexicans had come into this year’s tournament at the second stage of competition after having been forced to withdraw — due to the H1N1 scare in Mexico right around the time group play was concluding — after already qualifying for the knockout stage. They had taken out tough opponents to get to the final, and as one of the most dangerous teams on the road in the tournament (they had just gone to Santiago to defeat Universidad de Chile 2-0 to reach the final) nothing could be taken for granted.

The match started out quite chippy, with Guadalajara getting forceful early. The mood had been set before the match even started, as the Mexican national anthem was cut short in the Beira-Rio. The seeming slight led Adolfo Bautista of Chivas to walk away during the playing of the Brazilian national anthem, causing the partisan crowd to rain down its disapproval from the stands. It was bound to be a violent affair, which at one time would get to the point that Inter midfielder Tinga was left bleeding from his head to the point where he was given a swimming cap to wear, a change into his teammate’s shorts and then sent back on the field.

The physical play earned the Mexican side the first yellow card of the evening, Mario de Luna Saucedo getting shown the caution by three-time World Cup veteran referee Oscar Ruiz for his rough play on Rafael Sobis in the 10th minute. Eight minutes later, Sobis was the victim once again as Marco Fabian De la Mora took another dig into the Brazilian and saw his own yellow. But the midfielder would at least redeem himself before halftime, getting the visitors the halftime lead as he put the Omar Bravo service past Renan for the 1-0 halftime lead. If the scoreline would only hold, the Mexicans would force extra time.

So as the second half began, the chance that a Mexican side would win the South American tournament for the first time since first being invited to compete in 1998 was still very much alive….   READ MORE HERE

BUSTING BEYOND THE BCS…

And then there’s that other type of football, much more familiar to American audiences despite the World Cup captivating the continent over the summer.It may not seem like the most non-traditional thing a guy touting himself as A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America could possibly be doing, but this time of year naturally gets me to thinking about football. And for me, a guy who proudly counts among his greatest joys and greatest pains ever endured in sports that tumultuous 10-2 season for the Wyoming Cowboys in 1996, the tradition in college football hovers largely in the power conferences. So how do I make things non-traditional? Well, last year when we were over at Informative Sports I put together weekly rankings of the potential BCS Busters.

Will the Broncos make it to the title game after starting the season #5? Will TCU return to a BCS bowl? Can anyone else Bust the BCS this year? Click below to find out more...

All those teams in the five conferences without an auto-qualifier to the BCS have some big shoes to fill, after 2009 gave us the first chance ever to see two teams bust into the BCS. Of course, the powers that be felt it necessary to protect the sanctity of the six BCS conferences, and decided to pair the Broncos against the Horned Frogs  in the Fiesta Bowl rather than letting the two schools test their mettle against more established, name-brand programs. The rest was history, with Boise State prevailing to cap off their undefeated 14-0 season.

After we’ve seen a non-AQ school bust into the BCS each of the past four seasons — six, if you count independent powerhouse Notre Dame as outside the BCS structure… which I’m not about to do, seeing as how they have their own sweetheart qualification deal with the power brokers of the sport — it stands that we have likely reached the horizon where we’re going to see a BCS Buster every January.

But who is going to break through in 2010? The past few years have been the age of the Mountain West… and after this year it should become even more so, as the top team on this year’s preseason rankings moves from the WAC over to what has become the preeminent non-AQ conference in the country. Of course, that could be a net gain, as another top-five team in this rankings graduates to BCS status with conference expansion. So the time is now, for both the WAC and MWC to see if they can generate some magic yet again. And the other three younger siblings to the BCS conglomerate — the MAC, Conference USA and the Sun Belt — hope that this might just be their year to finally land a team onto the shortlist for headliner status on the biggest stage in the sport….   READ MORE HERE

TOOLING AROUND THE NET…

21 editions ago, the 79th edition of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America (ISC #053) marked the start of the column’s second year at Informative Sports. As a tribute to that longevity, I integrated this new section into the column. After appearing sporadically that first month it was in existence, the weekly list of my favorite online reads since the last edition has become a regular staple of each posting. It’s almost like a book club, except for online articles… and in that vein, please feel free to leave your thoughts on the following articles (or post links to something that has captivated you in your cyber-wandering) down in the comments:

  • PGA Championship Penalizes Dustin Johnson… Again (Matt Strobl/Sports Nickel/15-16 August 2010) Golf’s final major fell this past weekend at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, and there was plenty for a guy like me to gush over… after all, I have been saying for years that golf needs its field to grow in ability beyond merely being the ringers for Tiger Woods to knock off every weekend. Seeing the battle between Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watney in the playoff was a wonderful example of the depth of the fields at the present. But as fellow Sports Nickel writer Matt Strobl points out, there probably should have been three men in that three-hole playoff for the championship. After incurring a penalty at Pebble Beach that dropped him down the leaderboard, an errant bunker left Dustin Johnson fuming after a two-stroke penalty was assessed after the fact. What did golf do right? What did the PGA do wrong? Read on for both parts of Strobl’s weekend coverage of the PGA Championship…
    PART ONE: PGA Favors Letter of the Law Over Spirit, Removes Johnson From Playoff
    PART TWO:
    Like MLB, PGA Suffering from Ineffective Use of Replay
  •  

    Despite the color of the fairways and greens, golf has long been anything but a "green" sport... but the Vineyard Golf Club in Massachusetts is working to change that...

    Exclusive Golf Course Is Organic, So Weeds Get In (Bill Pennington/NY Times/16 August 2010) It’s one thing to take a look at the conditions at Whistling Straits and say that Johnson got hosed. But as Pennington shows us in this New York Times article, not all golf courses are created equal. For the past eight years, Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard has been providing a beautiful course for an exclusive clientele that is widely touted as the only 100% organically-maintained golf course in existence. With golf course management traditionally so dependent on herbicides, pesticides and all sorts of other chemicals for their continued existence, the model provided by course superintendent Jeff Carlson and his crew could be the prototype for golf courses around the world in the future…

  • Michigan footballers catch a break for Ramadan (Jeff Karoub/NBC Sports/16 August 2010) The recent debate over whether to commemorate the 9/11 obliteration of the World Trade Center with a mosque has brought deep-seated enmities to the surface amongst many Americans regarding their country’s relationship with Islam. But as Muslims worldwide settle down for a month of fasting and reflection for Ramadan, those in the United States find life taking on some interesting adjustments. As AP writer Jeff Karoub details in this piece for NBC sports, one Michigan community with a large Arab population has been able to offer respite to its football players during the summer heat — protecting their developing bodies in the process and allowing for full workouts where daylight practices would’ve weakened the roster…
  • Vanishing traditions in sports (Steve Rushin/SI.com/18 August 2010) The longtime Sports Illustrated writer is back after over two years away from the sportswriting game, and has returned to the magazine’s website with a weekly Wednesday column that is definitely worth reading most weeks. The current edition is no different, as Rushin looks at how sports are always in a constant state of flux. The lesson most worth taking away from this article? Tradition remains ingrained in our minds even as the smaller details change over the years, and what we’re ultimately left with is a confluence of positive memories and positive revisions that serve to make our sports even better…
  • West Ham’s grounds for optimism over Olympic Stadium (Frank Keogh/BBC Sport/18 August 2010) It’s always a vexing question for Olympic organizers in host cities: How are the venues which are constructed to host an Olympic Games going to be used once their primary function has passed? We’ve seen this question plague many a city, as the giddy construction boom of an Olympiad leaves behind hulking dinosaur remnants that are often far too big for the community in which they were built and/or are bound to be a drain on public resources if only because of the upkeep. But as Keogh reports for the BBC, there are plenty of London soccer clubs that could use a new stadium. In this piece he details the West Ham United bid to take over the Olympic Stadium once 2012 comes and goes…

ON THE DOCKET…

When the column first started its journey in the second phase of its life at Informative Sports, I started producing a monthly calendar of the biggest events in the sports world so that fans could hopefully tune in to some events they’d otherwise miss and follow along with where I might be headed with my writing in future articles. But after a while, it simply became too cumbersome. So a month after introducing the “Tooling Around the Net” section, I brought back a primer of the big events on the calendar for the next week, a docket including dates and ways to find a broadcast of the events so that you readers have all the tools you need to actually watch some of these feats in real time. From the days when the internet meant being able to read about an event that evening or the next day without having to drive 40 miles to the public library and peruse their international newspapers, we now have unfettered access to pretty much anything you’d ever want to watch in the world of sports. Here are my top things to follow in the coming week:

  •  

    Manchester United gave Newcastle a rude welcome in their first game back in the English Premier League...

    Start of domestic soccer (Friday/20 August 2010 through Monday/23 August 2010) Last weekend the English Premier League kicked off its first round of matches to get the 2010-11 season started in European domestic soccer. With Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A still a week away from their openers, this weekend sees England share the spotlight with the Bundesliga. Germany’s league begins play on Friday with the powerhouse battle between title contenders Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg. You can catch that match (as well as Saturday’s TSG Hoffenheim-Werder Bremen tilt) on ESPN3.com. For those looking to stick with the English game, ESPN2 will be showing two matchups: Saturday’s matchup between Arsenal and Blackpool, and Monday’s clash of title hopefuls Liverpool and Manchester City…

  • UCI ProTour races (throughout the week) After last weekend’s Vattenfall Cyclassics yielded victory for American Tyler Farrar, the pros of cycling have two ProTour events left on the calendar prior to the start of the Vuelta. The ENECO Tour, which is currently racing its second stage throughout the Benelux region (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), currently has Canadian rider Svein Tuft in its leader’s jersey after his prologue victory on Tuesday. Robbie McEwen, the ageless Aussie, won yet another race in a long and illustrious career to kick off road racing on Wednesday. The race continues through to the final stage next Tuesday. Meanwhile, those riders not in the stage race will head to France on Sunday (22 August 2010) for the GP Ouest-France, a one-day classic based in Plouay that last year saw Simon Gerrans take the victory for Cervelo. Keep watching all week courtesy of the fine folks at Steephill.tv
  • Tennis’ U.S. Open Series (throughout the week) Last weekend Andy Murray finally worked his way out of the doldrums and showed the world that he still can dominate the tennis court. He defeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in back-to-back matches in Toronto for the first time in his career to take the ATP Tour event there. Likewise in Cincinnati, Kim Clijsters ramped up her form just as she did in her comeback last year with a WTA event title in Ohio that might just preface once again a win in the last Grand Slam event of 2010. The Tennis Channel offers live and tape-delay coverage of the tournaments throughout the week, so be sure to see who’s on good form heading into the Slam at Flushing Meadows…

It’s amazing how quickly a hundred editions can fly by. It seems like just yesterday we were first seeing Vonn and Miller conquer the FIS World Cup… and now they’ve gone on to become Olympic champions after this February’s Winter Games in Vancouver. We’ve seen Spain dominate 2008, fall down a bit in 2009 and pick right back up in the next even year this year. I’ve endured the sting of relegation of my favorite soccer team, and seen them rebound with their first championship of any sort in ages. Tennis has seen the cyclical form of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, tirades and titles for Serena Williams, the Belgian comeback kids and a slew of upstarts making names for themselves at the Grand Slams. Cycling has emerged stronger following the Lance Armstrong era — even when the American did deign to return to the sport for one last go. Records have been set and broken everywhere from the track to the slopes…

And all along the way have been all of you: friends, confidants, fellow writers and readers all. Before I close out this hundredth column, I’d like to extend my best wishes for a friend that currently sits in the hospital. One of the first guys I really helped mentor into the finer points of FanNation after myself getting established there, he’s proven a valuable guy to have on one’s side over the years. So Mr. Baun-ded, here’s to hoping that medical technology allows your doctors to figure out what’s wrong, help get you cured up and back mobile and active once again. It’s amazing how profoundly the physical downturn of somebody close to us can put things into proper perspective. When you spend so much of your life following the finest physical specimens all the corners of the earth have to offer, as a Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America is apt to do for hours on end day after day, we can easily become jaded about our own mortality and physical health. So hang in there, Baun-ded, and hopefully all the rest of you readers remain in good health as we draw closer toward the end of this summer. There are plenty of journeys left to conquer this year and beyond, and I hope you all are here to enjoy the next hundred weeks and more with me moving forward…

 

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