Great feat, but not a great athlete.
July 26, 2002 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Great feat, but not a great athlete. Let the Cyclist bashing continue.
As a follow up to the pointless Bicycles and cars don't mix column, Ron Borges over at MSNBC wonders if Lance Armstrong is even an athlete.
He says Athletes must do more with their bodies than pump their legs up and down. For his money, being the greatest athlete in the world involves strength, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, mental toughness and the ability to make your body do things that defy description. Anyone who has ever been in a bike race (Road or MTN) knows it does indeed take all that and more. Anyone who writes about sports, rather than participating, would of course have no clue it takes more than moving your feet up and down.
posted by Blake (48 comments total)
Borges can redefine "athlete" all he likes. I can use "eggplant" to mean "piano" if I want to, but people won't understand me and will soon tire of listening to me if I do.

Whether Armstrong is the greatest athlete in the world--as Borges' unnamed NPR correspondent suggests--is questionable. But I think very few people would question that Armstrong is indeed an athlete, by any reasonable definition of the word.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:10 AM on July 26, 2002

If you want to learn a bit more about racing:
Exploratorium has some nice info, Learn About Seats, A Book, Basic Road Racing Strategies and while you're at it, Kepp An Eye On The Tour.
posted by Blake at 8:11 AM on July 26, 2002

So I guess Armstrong pedals with no hands. Oh, wait, he does use his hands. Oh that's right, he doesn't require "strength, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, mental toughness and the ability to make your body do things that defy description". After all, he's not strong, and all humans come out of the womb with the agility and hand-eye coordination necessary to ride a bike. Oh wait, that's no true either.

Well then I guess this guy is either an idiot or a trolling idiot. Maybe he should be posting in our P/I threads.
posted by websavvy at 8:15 AM on July 26, 2002

Who's this fucking MSNBC guy? Is he coming for outer space, is he a troll, what? Why do the MSNBC editors let people who have no understanding whatsoever of a sport, they let them write about those sports anyway?

So, a superhero like Armstong is not an athlete and, supposedly, a steroid-bloated 300 pound fat pitcher is? Armstong is not an athlete and a 60 year old golfer with a huge beer gut, flat feet and a hemorroidal stance is?

I never check out MSNBC much, I'm not losing anything interesting
posted by matteo at 8:20 AM on July 26, 2002

"from" outer space, obviously. My mistake.

This ignorant guy really made me mad. Crapping all over a man like as brave as Armstrong especially, is inexcusable
posted by matteo at 8:23 AM on July 26, 2002

I stopped reading after the following;  It seems inevitable that Armstrong is going to win the Tour de France on Sunday for the fourth straight time, barring any unforeseen bicycle accidents. This is a great feat in his sport, so good for him, but who really cares?

Umm, not sure. So is there any reason to write an inflammatory column besides attempting to get publicity and hits thereby showing your editors that you're "provocative" and "thoughtful"? Your lameass column must be in trouble.

The strawman analogy of the Radio City Rockettes being the greatest athletes in the world because they" pump their legs up and down" would get laughed out of any introductory logic class. Try again.
posted by jeremias at 8:23 AM on July 26, 2002

I would like to believe this article was written tongue-in-cheek, but I just don't think Borges is that intelligent. He's able to get away with writing this piece since cycling is very much under the radar in the US, but that still doesn't make him right.

"If you want, you can even argue that it [the Tour] is a great sporting feat. After all, there are people out there who actually think golf is an athletic endeavor, although I feel if it is, so is pool."

Give me a break! If winning the Tour once, let alone three times, isn't a "great sporting feat," then please tell me what is!
posted by dayvin at 8:24 AM on July 26, 2002

I have a good friend who argues this very thing with me. He thinks that people who play sports that don't use their arms, hand-eye coordination, feet, and have to move around alot, aren't really premium athletes. I think we were intially arguing about marathon runners or Lance. I don't quite remember. But i thought it amazing that he considered these fat idiots who play football (not the QB or Receivers) to be more athletic than Lance Armstrong-because they used a combonation of feet, hands, and had to run around! HUH?
And he's does roadbike races all the time!
posted by aacheson at 8:25 AM on July 26, 2002

But, can NASCAR drivers be considered athletes? I vote nay.
posted by adampsyche at 8:30 AM on July 26, 2002

There is an article in the New Yorker that suggests that not only is Lance Armstrong a miracle athlete, he is also something of a masochist. "It's always fun to win," he said, smiling broadly. "But, man, I am in such agony."
posted by Faze at 8:33 AM on July 26, 2002

The article is crap, but has one good point - "premium fuel". Everyone knows (don't they?) that the cycling is full of drug abuse and dodgy practices like blood transfusions. I've no doubt that Armstrong has both dedication and exceptional ability. But it's also depressingly likely that he has exceptionally good drugs...
posted by andrew cooke at 8:33 AM on July 26, 2002

As much as I hate to feed a troll, let's look at what he claims Lance is missing:

Have you seen the size of Lance's thighs?
I'm guessing anyone that is fit enough to win the Tour de France 4 times is probably quick enough to outrun 99% of the planet.
Ever tried weaving a bike through a crowded Parisian street at 50mph...
hand-eye coordination
...while changing gears, grabbing a drink and avoiding the opponents that are kicking at your bike...
mental toughness
...after overcoming life-threatening cancer...
the ability to make your body do things that defy description
...and winning the premiere race in the world 4 times?
posted by krunk at 8:37 AM on July 26, 2002

The column was a troll. The whole argument about who's an athlete and who's not, what's a sport and what's not -- it's pointless, completely subjective. Art, beauty, truth, sport -- all in the eye of the beholder.
posted by luser at 8:39 AM on July 26, 2002

Umm, I'd really think y'all could spot a troll by now. Just cuz its MSNBC makes it defacto legit?? Come on...

Besides, If Lance is no athlete, what's that make Tiger then? Sounds like one columnist has a bad case of writer's block.
posted by BentPenguin at 8:41 AM on July 26, 2002

The whole argument about who's an athlete and who's not, what's a sport and what's not -- it's pointless, completely subjective.

I propose the following definition:

Except for wrestling, if a fat person could be the world's best, it is not a sport. This excludes pool, bowling, chess, weightlifting, golf, and a few others.
posted by plaino at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2002

Well, I think "us all" did spot a troll. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have fun cutting down his arguments.
posted by jeremias at 8:49 AM on July 26, 2002

The author of this article: a true dick. Cycling is as difficult a sport as any other, more difficult than most others; possibly the most difficult.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:50 AM on July 26, 2002

This is a great feat in his sport, so good for him, but who really cares?

Seems to me that this could be said about any sport, and for a sports writer to write it--well, isn't that a little self-defeating? So Michael Jordan can run around and chuck a ball, who really cares? Obviously people do, and it's those people who keep Mr. Borges fed.
posted by witchstone at 8:50 AM on July 26, 2002

I would like to see Barry Bonds descend narrow, twisting mountain roads at speeds approaching 60 miles an hour on a skinny tired road bike. No mad pumping of legs necessary. Change of shorts, possibly.
posted by xiffix at 8:53 AM on July 26, 2002

But it's also depressingly likely that he has exceptionally good drugs...
Man, he's been tested A LOT. A lot.
Maybe he's amazingly good at not getting caught. But since he's always tested negative for all the shit they test you at the Tour (I'd say it's stricter antidoping than, say, MLB) these are only allegations.
Until this very moment, suspicion of his drug use have always been proven wrong by testing
Maybe he's just better than the others -- stronger and can read the race better.
posted by matteo at 8:57 AM on July 26, 2002

Put yourself in his place for a moment... You very nearly die from cancer, have a beautiful wife & kid, $$$ in the bank already, and you beat back the cancer, would *YOU* take performance enhancing drugs? All this talk is just euro sour grapes
He's the real deal. As Robin Williams says: " he has only one ball, he is more aerodynamique"
posted by BentPenguin at 9:09 AM on July 26, 2002

People who know Lance say that he works harder than everyone else. Plain and simple. When a worthy rider such as Tyler Hamilton or Levi Leipheimer would stop or slow down during a training ride, Lance would increase intensity.

The doping police once surprised Lance at his home in Austin at dawn. The authorities have never found anything. In the absence of evidence, you have to assume that Lance is superior because he works harder.
posted by Holden at 9:14 AM on July 26, 2002

If anyone's interested, you can see LA and a other good cyclists on August 4th in Lower Manhattan on Water Street. Personally, I wish they would have made the route a little longer and more interesting. But at least it's visible from my new office!
posted by ParisParamus at 9:21 AM on July 26, 2002

Lance Armstrong is an exceptional athlete, among the world's best, and undeniably the best at his sport. He has skill, speed, stamina, mental toughness, and heart. He has to strategize, psych out opponents, and do it for miles and days, and up and down mountains.

The Rockettes are terrific dancers, and probably pretty darn athletic.

This bonehead at MSN's words are ill-considered, ill-informed nonsense. What a waste of packets.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on July 26, 2002

I've not read the column; given the reaction here and other places, it seems this fellow is either an idiot, a troll or perfecting that fine American art: Ignorantly denigrating the sports Americans are not dominant in nor aware of.

Armstrong is the exception that proves the rule about that last bit, I'd say. I'm trying hard to think of an American athlete who is more dominant in their sport than Armstrong is in professional road racing and I'm pretty much drawing a blank. Armstrong may just be the most dominant American athlete right now, just as his predecessor, the great Greg LeMond, was during his time.

(Aside: Just as Armstrong battled back from cancer to win the Tour, considered one of the toughest athletic contests ever, LeMond was shot, very nearly fatally, in a hunting accident yet came back to win the Tour another four times.)

Nevertheless, I think it's too bad Americans, to be too general, have this tendency to put down sports they don't know or don't own.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:52 AM on July 26, 2002

Borges is an idiot. He's just an ignorant fool. Apparently his only definition of a sport is a meathead who runs around a field with other meat heads. And I would highly doubt cycling is a fringe sport. It's one of the largest sports in Europe, rivaling soccer. And like WTF, how much baseball can you watch, how can you respect middle age men whining about salary while growing beer bellies. That's a crappy sport to hale as a national past time. Lance must train every day. Every meal he needs to consider his nutrition, every moment of his life is in training. It's an amazing athletic accomplishment. On top of that can't you just be amazed that he might take home #4? It's amazing cause he's american, and Americans suck in the tour because we don't feverishly participate in a sport that the whole world loves, cycling.
posted by Glibaudio at 10:00 AM on July 26, 2002

What Borges is doing is an old columnist's trick -- really a bad columnist's trick, which is why it was in Bob Greene's bag for years. It's a way to get four or five columns in one blow, thusly:

1) First, take an outrageous position on a mildly debatable topic, i.e. value of fringe sports. (Greene preferred to pick on "bloodthirsty" deer hunters, how could they shoot an innocent animal, etc.)

2) Milk outraged mail for at least one, but as many as three, additional columns. The third column might be from the five or ten readers who agreed with you.

3) In all of those letters, one well-meaning reader will offer to take you hunting, or bike-riding, so you can "get a sense of what it's really like, and maybe change your mind." Do this, write another column on location: Hey, maybe I was wrong. This stuff is harder than it looks.

4) Sum it all up in yet another column.

Presto! A week or more of work out of one stupid opinion! Now go play some gol
posted by nance at 10:01 AM on July 26, 2002

Go play some golf, that is.
posted by nance at 10:03 AM on July 26, 2002

One could propose a test to determine if a competitor is an athlete or not: Could someone else do what they do, if only they had the same preparation?

The fact is, even if you were to take some Armstrong-wannabe and have him train and practice as hard as Armstrong does (though of course in real life almost no one could even match his training regimen), the chances that he could match Armstrong's ability on a bike are still almost zero. There are maybe one or two riders in the world right now that have anything resembling Armstrong's athleticism.

If cycling didn't require athleticism, the only remaining explanation for a given rider's consistent success would be miraculous luck.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2002

nance: sublime.

The blog Iberian Notes had the following entry, which raises some equally provocative points:

We've been watching the Tour de France. Observations: 1) Lance Armstrong is by far the best cyclist that has ever competed. No joke. He dominates his sport even more than Tiger Woods does. In tennis, people ask, "Who will win?" In golf, people ask, "Will Tiger win?" And in cycling, they ask, "How much will Armstrong win by? And who'll be second?" 2) Cycling is a goddamn dangerous sport. They were riding down the Col de la Madeleine at like 90 kph on an eight-foot-wide road wth a precipice on one side and the rock wall of a cliff on the other with sharp right and left curves. We were thinking, as the insane French cameramen on motorcycles followed along at the same 90 kph filming the twisting of the curves and succeeding in making our stomachs feel queasy, about which pro athletes have the biggest, uh, testicles. Nobody's ever died in an American pro football or basketball game, and only one person has been killed in pro baseball and that was in 1920, when spitballs were legal and batting helmets didn't exist. While pro soccer is not for wussies--our considered opinion is that it's rougher than baseball, basketball, and rugby and not as rough as American football or ice hockey--no sport, either in America or Europe, not even car, motorcycle, or horse racing, nor triathlon, distance running, and cross-country skiing, is both as dangerous and as physically demanding as top-level pro cycling. Death in the Tour de France is not highly unusual--four years ago a rider on Armstrong's team was killed. Lance won the nest contested stage and dedicated it to his teammate. There are several monuments by the roadsides (they often use the same or very similar courses year after year) at places where Tour contestants died.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 AM on July 26, 2002

borges is a provincial dolt, and the fact that msnbc published his article confirms my already low opinion of them.
although to be fair, they have also published selected reader responses to the article
posted by dolface at 10:37 AM on July 26, 2002

Thanks for that quote, dhartung.

I've watched none of the Tour this year, partially because I've been very busy; partially because it's, apparently, only broadcast on OLN, an obscure cable channel, not picked up in most of the NYC Metro area.

Does anyone know if its on Direct TV's basic level of service (for future reference)?

They keep listing coverage at 11:30pm on "FSNY," but Fox Sports NY(?) never has it.

I'll admit that watching the Tour is more interesting for the scenery than the riders, but really, couldn't ESPN2 be picking it up? Come on!
posted by ParisParamus at 10:46 AM on July 26, 2002

If Armstrong is a great athlete, so are marathon runners.

Mmm, yes? I think this man has a trouble with endurance sports. I've got dragged into the tour by my francophile boyfriend and have to admit it is fun, mainly because it's so hotly contested by the Europeans, and the French spectators are clearly insane. Plus I get to see the little villages I've been to on holiday.
posted by Summer at 10:52 AM on July 26, 2002

Another interesting quote from the New Yorker article, (wish I could find it online). Marathoners routinely use 6,000 calories in a day. TDF riders use between 4,500 and 6,000 most days, some spiking up to 10,000 calories. (almost) Every day. For 3 weeks.
posted by daver at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2002

metric calories are smaller...
posted by websavvy at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2002

posted by daver at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2002

But, can NASCAR drivers be considered athletes
For bladder control...............
posted by thomcatspike at 12:47 PM on July 26, 2002

wish I could find it online

You're in luck!
posted by mattpfeff at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2002

You have to love sports, bottom line who you are, not your origin. No one shows up to an event and says 2nd place please where do I register now can I go home. Thanks for the post Blake, as I'm now inspired to go for a bike ride tonight after work. And on some of Lance's old haunts at that, go Lance, go. \!!/
posted by thomcatspike at 1:11 PM on July 26, 2002

Does anyone know if [OLN is] on Direct TV's basic level of service (for future reference)?

Yes. At least, I theoretically get it, although it's one of the channels I've programmed out (along with all the other sports, shopping, and women's channels).
posted by kindall at 3:09 PM on July 26, 2002

In my socialist utopia, the government would subsidize the broadcast of under-Nielsened road cycling events to encourage people to get off their fat NASCAR/MLB asses and do some real physical activity....
posted by ParisParamus at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2002

One of the cool things about cycling is that because it's the only activity you can do for an hours at a time (or at least an hour), it burns calories like no other; your metabolism is raised as during no other activity. Basically, it's a license to eat.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:17 PM on July 26, 2002

I haven't read the column, but if this Borges guy really thinks Lance Armstrong isn't an athlete, he's an idiot, plain and simple. No two ways about it...

What's disturbing me, though, is some of the reactions in this thread-- negative reactions to other kinds of athletes, the stuff I'm reading like "So he says Lance Armstrong isn't an athlete but such-and-such a fat steroid-inflated meathead is?" (not an actual quote, a composite)

Come on-- they're all athletes. I don't see any need to start ripping on other sports just because of this guy.
posted by nath at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2002

Yeah, Paris, you're right. You can go for a 50-mile ride and eat like a horse, and you still burned more calories than you ate that day. I love eating a lot while losing weight.
posted by Holden at 5:42 PM on July 26, 2002

the government would subsidize the broadcast of under-Nielsened road cycling events to encourage people to get off their fat NASCAR/MLB asses and do some real physical activity

I don't know about most people, but when I see someone else engaging in what looks like a painful level of physical activity, my first impulse is not to join them.
posted by kindall at 6:41 PM on July 26, 2002

Dude needs a clock, a map of Paris, a better understanding of French cooking and a dictionary. After all that then maybe it's worth teaching him something about cycling. But I doubt it.

Just saw Lance trash the field on a very hot day to take the final time trial. Increased his overall lead to over 7 minutes.

One interesting thing about the Tour de France.: it's probably the last major sporting event that is free and on French TV, it's not even interupted by commercials. (Okay, the riders are rolling commercials and then there's the caravan...)

PS to lupus_: Lemond won the Tour three times; I believe two times were after his accident.
posted by Dick Paris at 9:48 AM on July 27, 2002

The author writes about boxing. Boxing! And he's dis'ing road cycling?!
posted by ParisParamus at 12:18 AM on July 28, 2002

From the Article:
[Armstrong is] going to catch the field of mostly foreign bike pedalers

What is it with American columnists and their hatred of foreign sports? If he raced against Americans in America would he be considered an Athlete?

Is Armstrong the best? If he wins it next year I'd say he's reached the greats of Indurain, Merckx and Hinault. I still think he's a bit dull, like Schumacher vs Senna.
posted by fullerine at 3:54 AM on July 28, 2002

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