Category: Sports

A Tale of American Greatness – and Gender Discrimination on the 4th of July

 

A record number of Americans found a new source of pride during the July 4th holiday weekend as they

cheered on the U.S. soccer team in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.  Women internationally also learned once

again how under-valued they are financially by the world’s major sports organizations.

 

The showdown took place Sunday on the Fox Network as a record-setting 25.4 million viewers tuned in

(along with 1.3 million viewers on Telemundo)  to watch  a sizzling American team

face the defending Japanese champions, who beat them in a  heartbreaking 2011 championship game and

were again in top form. The Americans last won in 1999.  This year’s viewership was the most for any soccer

game, men or women’s, shown on  English-language television in America.

 

The U.S.team initially  was focused on defense, thanks to the brilliant performance of goalie Hope Solo, who

shut out four teams in a row and was on a record-breaking streak.

Then the first 16 minutes of the showdown with Japan set a new kind of record:  four quick goals against

a shocked Japanese defense – three by midfielder Carli Lloyd. The final winning score was

5-2 for the Americans.

 

The celebration continued Monday at a rally in Los Angeles as the victors were welcomed back

stateside from Vancouver, Canada  and will continue with an unprecedented ticker tape parade in New York

on Friday and a visit to the White House in the future.  But the coverage also  dramatized how underpaid the

winners were by  international organizers  FIFA — $2 million for the victors,  compared to the $8 million

awarded to men’s soccer  teams who lose in the first round.  The total payoff for the Women’s World Cup will

be $15 million this year compared to the Men’s World Cup total last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as

much.  Despite earning billions in  revenues, FIFA also forced women, but not men, to play on artificial turf,

increasing the risk of injuries  and resulting in  a gender  discrimination lawsuit filed in Canadian court.

FIFA has agreed to let women  play on grass in 2019.

 

For more coverage,

visit http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/carli-lloyds-hat-trick-us-women-victory-japan/story?id=32239037

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The 37 Year Triple Crown Drought Ended by American Pharoah – a “Short” Tale

Last year I cheered on the exciting, but ultimately unsuccessful  Triple Crown quest of an improbable thoroughbred champion named California  Chrome*– dubbed the “people’s horse” by his Michigan owners in tribute to their working class roots and the horse’s modest breeding tag.  On the first Saturday of June this year, I celebrated my birthday with friends by watching  a 3 year old, frisky Bay colt named American Pharoah** finally end the 37 year drought in one of sport’s most elite championships by dramatically winning the Belmont.  You have to go back to 1978 for the last Triple Crown triumph, when  Affirmed beat his archrival Alydar three times to become only the 11th superstar since 1919 in the club that also added Seattle  Slew in ’77 and  Secretariat  in ’73.  Secretariat’s win followed Citation in 1948, a 27 year drought.

Yes, we got spoiled in the ‘70s. That trio of superstars made those of us lucky enough to see one or more of them win believe we would keep seeing more coronations in the “80s.  I was new to horseracing and handicapping in those years and lucky enough to be hanging out with college friends Alan and Peggy Fisk at the New York tracks.  We had all started our journalism careers in Detroit, but it wasn’t until we met up again in New York that they convinced me to occasionally join them on summer weekends handicapping America’s best thoroughbreds .

As the years passed without a winner, we were reminded that the Triple Crown combines a grueling pace – three races in five weeks – with a final painful distance of one-and-a-half miles as the final test.  The Triple Crown begins with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in early May, followed in a few weeks by the Preakness at Baltimore’s  Pimlico Racetrack, capped by the Belmont in early June in New York.  The team behind American Pharoah needed to get seasoned by first taking a few talented racehorses part of the way.  In fact, 13 horses since 1978 have won two races before failing to win the Belmont.  Over the past 36 years, Bob Baffert –the Hall of Fame trainer of American Pharoah– has had five thoroughbreds win two of the three major races, most recently War Emblem in 2002.   For American Pharoah’s  Jockey , Victor Espinoza, it was his third Triple Crown attempt – the first was on Baffert’s War Emblem and last year he rode California Chrome to a heartbreaking  third place finish in the Belmont for trainer Art Sherman.

American Pharoah’s owner, Egyptian-American businessman Ahmed Zayat,  was confident that his horse had the right bloodlines to go the distance – his only flaw was a short “tail” bitten in an encounter with another horse.  This year, the Belmont yielded a spectacular win for Zayat’s horse,  by 5-1/2 lengths, in a time only beaten by Secretariat.  Yes, for some members of the American Pharoah team, the victory came after a few very painful failures. Ultimately that’s a good lesson for all of us on staying the course –and don’t forget American Pharoah’s own “painful” encounter on the road to victory.

* Despite losing the Belmont, California Chrome went on last year to win more stakes races and was crowned Horse of the Year for 2014.

**The misspelling of the word pharaoh occurred during a contest and was not caught until after it was officially submitted to the Jockey Club.

Lessons in Leadership from a retiring New York Yankee

In my last years in New York, I really grew to appreciate the greatness of the soft spoken captain of the Yankees, Derek Jeter.  I smiled as I read how his last few games before his retirement in September grew into a maddening love fest that reverberated nationwide.  But for those who wondered  how quiet Number 2  drew all this respect and emotion in a town that often prefers  flash and sass, it was all about consistency and courage.  Derek Jeter always showed up with his best effort.  And he gave his teammates a great role model.

Jeter’s numbers weren’t world shattering, but they were pretty spectacular year after year.  He delivered when it counted, including in those last two games – his final appearance at Yankee Stadium and then in arch rival city Boston.  The ovations were almost as strong in both locations and the final performances were top grade as well.

I wanted to share some links that tell the story of this amazing finale – and also a new beginning. Jeter is becoming a publisher in order to let other players tell their stories.  A leader to the end.

http://www.people.com/article/derek-jeter-last-game-yankees-red-sox

http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/yankees/derek-jeter/derek-jeter-on-the-tonight-show-with-jimmy-fallon-talks-final-game-new-career-plans-1.9461643

 

 

 

California Chrome: A West Coast racehorse “for the people”

This year’s Triple Crown chase is a parable about  humble roots,  hard work and beating the odds.  At the age of 77, Art Sherman became the oldest trainer to win the May 3rd Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous race. He didn’t do it the usual way, with a blue blood Kentucky-bred stallion.  Instead, California Chrome came to Sherman from the one-horse racing stable of Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. The California friends named their operation Dumb Ass Partners because that’s what they overheard someone say after they purchased the eventual Derby winner’s dam, Love the Case, for $8,000. The owners then bred the mare to a stallion named Lucky Pulpit for a $2,500 stud fee and that humble union produced a handsome chestnut colt with white trim.

After putting suggested names into a hat, Coburn and Martin let a restaurant waitress pull out the winner: California Chrome. After they chose Sherman as the colt’s trainer, he relocated his operation from Hollywood Park to Los Alamitos, a low-rent quarter-horse track near Long Beach.

In a sport known for upper class breeding, powerhouse racing stables and multi-millionaire trainers and owners, the team behind this year’s Triple Crown contender is proud of its working class roots and readily proclaims California Chrome “a horse for the people.”  Martin tells how his father, Charlie Martin, a hard-working blue collar guy from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, taught him and his brother to go out there and earn it if you wanted something.  After college, Perry Martin went to California and started working at a laboratory.  Using his father’s formula, he kept working long hours and now he owns the lab, which tests polymers, metals and other materials. Coburn runs a small company that makes magnetic strips for things like credit cards and hotel keys.

Trainer Sherman’s stunning victory at Churchill Downs came after 60 years of hard work in the Sport of Kings, starting as a jockey.  Now the team, including jockey Victor Espinoza, have their sights set on the Preakness on May 17th in Baltimore, Maryland. California Chrome is the 3-2 favorite. The odds are in the California horse’s favor to win again – but if he does, the ultimate challenge still comes at the Belmont Stakes, which has eluded Triple Crown seekers since Affirmed won in 1978.  If California Chrome wins the Preakness on Saturday, there will be a lot of hard-working dreamers out there cheering him on to become only the 12th Triple Crown winner since Sir Barton won all three races in 1919.  The Belmont Stakes will take place on  June 7th in New York.  For more information on this improbable team, read Detroit Free Press columnist Jeff Seidel’s touching portrait at http://www.freep.com/article/20140515/COL38/305150035/california-chrome-triple-crown-horse-racing-upper-peninsula

 

 

Lessons in Heroism from the 2013 Triple Crown of Horse Racing

I have a great respect for anyone who breaks historic barriers in the worlds of business or sports — and right now my heroine is jockey Rosie Napravnik.   This month she became the first female Triple Crown jockey in horse racing, a truly amazing feat.

I ‘ve been following Rosie lately because I have a tradition of watching the Triple Crown races –the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont — that goes back to the days of Secretariat, the wonder horse who set the standard and set records for winning all three with spellbinding ease and panache in 1973.  I didn’t get to see that series live, but witnessed two other astounding Triple Crown winners closing the deal in style at Belmont just a few years later.  They were Seattle Slew and Affirmed  in 1977 and 1978.  Since then, there has been a long drought and I’ve been focused on spotting the next winning Triple Crown combination of horse, trainer, owner and jockey.  This year it seemed to be Orb, who won the Kentucky Derby handily for legendary trainer Shug McGaughey, owner Stuart S. Janney III and jockey Joel Rosario.  But by the time the Triple Crown ended with Orb defeated in both the Preakness and Belmont, my attention had shifted to another phenomena – a gutsy female jockey getting rave reviews from fans and sportswriters for setting a new kind of record.

Rosie Napravnik did not win any of the Triple Crown races this year, but she came in 5th, 3rd and 6th on two different mounts – her finish in the Belmont on the filly Unlimited Budget showed a raw determination to break down the barrier that said female jockeys couldn’t cut it in three classic races in a row this tough.  If you’d like to read more about what makes Rosie so special, follow this link to a great article that catches her special spirit and bravery: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1665465-meet-rosie-napravnik-horse-racings-first-female-triple-crown-jockey.   And if Rosie is riding in next year’s Triple Crown series, you should consider paying close attention!

Lance Armstrong and the Sad Tale of a Fallen Sports Hero

Lance Armstrong seemed like an epic hero – a sports figure who used his second chance after surviving cancer to inspire an international audience following his Tour de France cycling race victories.    He seemed to easily rack up seven titles, beginning in 1999, without succumbing to a pervasive drug culture.  Like countless others, I thought his foundation Livestrong proved his integrity.  His incredible triumphs on the world stage under the banner of the US Post Office gave him Olympian status. Now he has revealed to Oprah that it was all a big lie.  http://espn.go.com/sports/endurance/story/_/id/8859543/endurance-sports-interview-oprah-winfrey-underscores-lengths-which-lance-armstrong-needs-go

Tennis champions Serena Williams and Roger Federer were quoted by AP and Reuters as saying that Armstrong let all athletes down by doping and lying about it for so long: http://news.yahoo.com/saddened-federer-says-armstrongs-cheating-hurt-sport-130800920–ten.html Williams said that  “as an athlete, as someone that works really, really hard since I was 4 or 3, I think it’s a sad day for all athletes in general. Overall, it’s even more disappointing for the people that were adversely  affected through everything.  You can only just hope for the best for them.”

Armstrong was a champion in a sport that personally gave me so much joy in my own youth and helped me to learn to push myself hard in life and overcome the pain.  I gave up cycling after I was married in the ’80s and joined my husband in working out in the gym.  It wasn’t until I was a widow on my own again in Brooklyn that I rediscovered the joys of cycling.

In fact, long bike rides have helped me feel less fearful  about the challenges of aging – and as I started cycling in Prospect Park in 2010, I enjoyed watching Lance Armstrong compete.  So it was devastating to first hear that he was finally implicated in drugging and then to learn that he had admitted his lies to Oprah.  I listened to the Oprah interviews to try to understand why such an astounding athlete felt he needed drugs.  Armstrong told Oprah that he didn’t believe he could live up to his own myth without doping.  Once he started, he claimed that the same dogged willpower that helped him beat cancer set in and he bullied his way through his seven Tour de France victories. He swears that he didn’t use drugs for his comeback races.

The saddest realization during Part I  of the interviews with Oprah was that Armstrong did not strike me as remorseful, but cocky and cold.  The cockiness broke in Part II when he briefly cried as he talked about his children. While Armstrong repeatedly told Oprah he was sorry, he made exceptions on what accusations he would discuss and who deserved an apology. The result was that most news commentators agreed that  Armstrong did not in fact seem very contrite.  I still hope that Armstrong eventually finds a way to make amends to those he hurt.  Even more, I hope the drug culture is finally scourged from professional cycling and other sports mired in scandal.  Sports heroes have always been great beacons of hope and inspiration, but we need to know again that true effort, not bullying, wins out in the end.