Archive for May 23, 2009

Giro d’Italia

May 23, 2009 2 comments
Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

Andy Hampsten, Giro d'Italia, 1988

I don’t get it. Why all the coverage of the Giro d’Italia? It’s been ignored for years, but now Juliet Macur has daily coverage in the NYT. Since when is interest in the race sufficiently large?

Perhaps I should explain. There are three great multi-stage bicycle races each year: the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a Espana. Each lasts three weeks. Each has the cyclists riding all over the country, with mountain stages, flat stages, time trial stages, and so on. The Giro is in May. The Tour in July. The Vuelta in August.

US coverage used to be limited. I have the perhaps false memory that I read little bits about the Tour in the NYT when I was in summer camp in my childhood. And I remember when Eddy Merckx used to be the dominant rider, winning five times between 1969 and 1974. Only Jacques Anquetil had won five times before him. Merckx also won the Giro five times, and the Vuelta once. But I really started paying attention in 1985. It helped that we were in France for part of the Tour, in the early days of our extended honeymoon. On the final day, we were over at my sister’s apartment watching on TV as they came along the Seine into Paris. I realized they were just 200 meters away and here we were watching indoors on TV. That was silly. We could instead cross over the Seine and walk up to the Champs-Elysees to see the finish. Gail (my wife Gail, not my sister Gail) and I headed out and just as we got to the street, sister Gail leaned out the window to shout down to us that our niece Joelle wanted to come too. She would have been 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday at the time. We waited for her to come down, then headed to the Seine,. She wasn’t walking too fast, so I ran ahead while Gail led her on. They eventually caught up and somehow found me amidst the huge crowds leaning against the barriers along the Champs-Elysees. (Many years later I would discover that my friend and colleague-to-be Sandor, then a young student from Hungary, was watching from somewhere nearby, up on a lightpost.)

I got to see the field zip by in the repeated circuits from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back that close the race, with Bernard Hinault being cheered as he was about to win his fifth Tour, thanks in part to the help of his teammate and rising star, the American Greg LeMond, who rode beside him safely in the peleton as they awaited the finish. LeMond had finished third the year before, his rookie year, and might well have won it in 1985 had he not been assigned the role of helping Hinault. LeMond settled for second, with the understanding that Hinault would repay the favor the next year by helping him win. Except that a year later it seemed Hinault wanted to win again. There was some friction before LeMond ultimately won. And if LeMond’s brother-in-law didn’t accidentally shoot him the next year, he might well have won five straight, but instead he took two years to recover before winning two more.

I could go on and on about the Tour. By then I was hooked, a committed fan. In the early ’90s, before the world wide web existed but with news services available on the internet, I would sit at my desk in the mornings during the Tour and constantly update my news feed in order to get the latest reports. TV coverage started around then, on ESPN, but in the evenings, hours after the actual daily race. It took years before we had live coverage. What changed everything of course was Lance. Lance Armstrong. With Lance as national hero, we finally got to have live coverage of the Tour every morning.

Which brings us to the answer to my opening rhetorical question. Why the sudden interest in the Giro? Lance of course. I understand, sort of, but it’s still a bit of a mystery to me why someone who retired years ago and is well past his prime should have such a following that we now have detailed coverage. He’s not going to win. He’s 14th at the moment in the general classification, with a week to go. Pretty impressive, I admit, but not a reason for blanket coverage.

An American has won the Giro in the past. Andy Hampsten, in 1988. He is perhaps better known for finishing 4th to LeMond in the first Tour that LeMond won, in 1986. Imagine that. Americans in 1st and 4th in the Tour, at a time when hardly anyone in the US paid attention. And that still didn’t result in greater coverage. It took Lance to change everything.

I should be happy. I just wonder why it took so long, and why it took a national celebrity to bring the press. I wish things were different.

Categories: Cycling, Newspapers, Sports

Black Hawks vs. Red Wings

May 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Another hockey post (following my post this morning on Zambonis). There’s an article in tomorrow’s NYT on the meeting of the Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings in the conference championship round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Red Wings are currently ahead 2 games to 1 in the series, after losing in overtime last night to the Black Hawks in Chicago.

The article describes the excitement generated in both cities by having two of the Original Six hockey clubs meeting in a late round of the playoffs, something that happens rarely. Indeed, this is only the third such series since 1980. And not just any two Original Six clubs, but Detroit and Chicago, with their rich history against each other: no other pair of teams has played each other as often, 775 games going back to 1926. And starting in 1961, they met in the playoffs five times in six years.

That’s about the time when I first started paying attention to hockey. Not 1961, but somewhere in the midst of those six years. The Original Six were just the Six at that point, since expansion hadn’t occurred yet. And really there were the Four real hockey teams and the two Jokes. I was a fan of one of the jokes, the New York Rangers. They shared cellar status with the Boston Bruins. The top four in the standings each year got to meet in the playoffs, one round to narrow it to two teams and then the round for the Stanley Cup. Not having any sense of hockey history, I just assumed this was the way of the world. The Red Wings and Black Hawks got to mix it up with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and the Rangers and Bruins, after a regular season of embarrassment, got to go home. I didn’t even understand that the Rangers and Bruins had some great players. I just figured we had all the turkeys. But of course, given the existence of only six teams, they were all great players. What I did know was that Stan Mikita was the greatest. He didn’t get the goals. Bobby Hull did. But he made them possible. I didn’t root for the Black Hawks, but I admired them. And just last week, when Joel was home and we were talking about the upcoming Detroit-Chicago series, I thought immediately of Mikita. I then thought that if I ever were to get a hockey jersey to wear (I’m not sure when I would be wearing it — when I teach?), I would get his.

I found myself re-considering this choice this afternoon. Why Mikita? Why not my real hockey hero, the greatest ever? #4. Bobby Orr. So I went online to see what was available. There are autographed ones, suitable for framing. Not what I had in mind. At the Bruins site, one can get authentic jerseys for $299. There’s a customization option, name and number, but restrictions on names of retired players. You can get a current player’s name or just about anything else, as long as it isn’t too long and isn’t too vulgar. Not retired players though, if they retired from the given team. So maybe, since Orr didn’t retire as a Bruin, his name would be allowed. I don’t know. I didn’t pursue it further. At another site I could buy a replica 1972 jersey with his name on it. Maybe that makes more sense. And for less. But they only have smaller sizes. And then I thought, you know, I really want a Johnny Bucyk jersey. The Chief. He may not be Bobby, but he’s the ultimate Bruin, playing with them in all those bad years, wasting his prime, but hanging on into hockey late middle age and hockey old age, still productive and still great.

Then again, what I’ve really wanted all these years is a St. Louis Cardinal baseball jersey. They’re the best jerseys in all of sport, aren’t they? I could get one with Musial on it. Or so I was thinking.

By the way, one of the wonderful aspects of the Black Hawks’ resurgence is the re-appearance of Mikita and Hull at the games. The article explains:

Mikita, Esposito and Hull have been very visible presences at Blackhawks games over the last two seasons after an absence of many years. They were brought back into the fold after the death in 2007 of the Blackhawks’ longtime owner, Bill Wirtz. The last two decades of Wirtz’s tenure were marked by poor performance on the ice, feuding with the club’s former stars and outdated practices like banning telecasts of home games on the belief that it would hurt attendance. In 2006-7, the team sold only 3,500 season tickets.

After Wirtz’s death, Rocky Wirtz, his son, brought in the former Cubs president John McDonough to revive the Blackhawks, and the transformation has been rapid. The Hawks’ second annual fan convention, set for July 17 to 19, is sold out.

“Detroit’s been on top, Chicago’s been down,” Esposito said. “But now they’re coming back, and it’s pretty even hockey. I suspect that the next several years, the rivalry will be unbelievable. Again.”

Categories: History, Sports


May 23, 2009 Leave a comment


Who doesn’t love a Zamboni (brand ice-resurfacing machine)? And what better way to start the day can there be than to open the NYT to the photo above and a front page article about Zambonis? The caption for the photo is, “The first test for every new Zamboni is a turn down tkhe tree-lined streets outside the factory in a suburb of Los Angeles.”

Forget the article, at least for a moment. Instead, go straight to the on-line slide show. Among the many delights is a photo of Sonja Henie standing in front of a Zamboni. The accompanying text explains that the “second and third machines built by Zamboni were bought by the Olympic star Sonja Henie for use in her ice shows.”

The article ends with the concern that Zamboni has become the generic name for the ice-resurfacing machines:

Most would-be competitors have come and gone. But one, the Resurfice Corporation, of Elmira, Ontario, said it produces about the same number of machines as Zamboni. The companies are, in effect, the Boeing and Airbus of ice resurfacing.

Resurfice is owned and operated by the Schlupp family, with none of the name recognition of its competitor. Don Schlupp, the company’s sales and marketing director, says he is used to hearing people call its machines Zambonis.

“We refer to it as the Kleenex syndrome,” he said.

All the off-hand familiarity makes Zamboni a bit nervous. It has trademarked its name (and the block shape of its machines) but fears the name becoming a lowercase zamboni, suffering the same fate as Aspirin, Escalator, Zipper and other brand names that lost trademark protections.

The company also asks that Zamboni not be used as a noun (as it has been throughout this article) or a verb. The ice does not get Zambonied, then, and the vehicle is a Zamboni brand ice-resurfacing machine. Good luck with that.

Categories: Business, Language, Sports