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PostSports Update: Women's Tour de France, Death of Bill Russell (David Duggan, USA, 08/04/22 7:28 am)
The sports world saw two emergences and one departure over the weekend. The Tour de France Femmes was held for the 1st time in a third of a century; the English women's soccer team won the European cup, and NBA great Bill Russell, if not the Greatest of All Time was the GDPOAT (that's Defensive Player) passed on at the age of 88.
Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) won the TdFF over the 1,033 km, 8-day course, taking the last stage in a dramatic break-away dominating over the last 4 kms which included a 24% gradient over crushed limestone to the summit of La Super Planche des Belle Filles (literally the "super board of beautiful women"--I don't get it). I sympathized seeing her crank those pedals over the last 100m toward the finish line: reminded me of my climbs to the top of "The Beast," a hill on southbound M[ichigan]22 from Frankfort to Arcadia along Lake Michigan. Van Vleuten won the TdFF by 3:48 over countrywoman Demi Vollering (SD Worx) who won the polka-dotted jersey for "Queen of the Mountains." Early leader Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma, also from Holland: how do the Dutch get so good at cycling and speed skating?) faded in the stretch, finishing nearly 37 minutes behind the winner, but imagine if these three had been on the same team. Poland's Katarzyna Niewiedoma (Canyon-Sram-a Chicago-based components manufacturer) rounded out the podium and top American Veronica Evers finished 9th. Northwestern, known for its women's lacrosse team (seven national championships) placed three cyclists in the top 100: Eva van Agt (Col) 52nd; Leah Thomas (Trek) 53rd; and Medill alum Lily Williams finished 98th. She started riding to the "integrated marketing program" six years ago. Funny, so did I some 50 years ago, but I never made a TdF. All three had competed in college, just not in cycling.
There was concern that the total purse of €250,000 was a fraction of the €2,200,000 in the men's TdF, and the winner's share of €50,000 a pittance compared to what Jason Vingegaard pocketed (€470,000--but he won the king of the mountains title too). While the US women's soccer team has bargained for pay parity with the men, and at the US (tennis) Open, men's and women's shares are equal (though the women play between 60 and 67% of the men's matches--a straight set victory for a woman is two sets; that for a man is three sets; a go-the-distance match for a woman is 2 sets out of 3; that for a man is 3 out of 5), this pay parity hasn't migrated to women's cycling. True, the TdFF course is 1/3 that for the men, and there are no time trials, stages in the Alps or Pyrenees (this year's course ran from Paris to the Vosges near the Swiss border), or stages longer than 110 miles (less than the average for a men's TdF stage). But the race featured a spectacular crash in Stage 5, and the crowds lining the course were every bit as rabid as those on the men's tour. C'mon, give the women the dough.
The English women's soccer team took home the Euro Cup (not far, the match was played at Wembley), beating Germany 2-1 in extra time. It was the first English soccer championship since the 1966 World Cup (again over Germany) and the highlight was Alessia Russo's backheel goal in the 4-0 semifinal rout of Sweden. I can't help but repeat the joke about the English playing the Fritz to a scoreless tie, and it went down to penalty kicks when the Fritz put one just out of reach of the outstretched goalkeep. At the pub afterwards a spectator asked one of the players: "aren't you sad that the Fritz beat you at your national game?" And the player replied, "It's alright mate, we beat them twice at theirs."
And Bill Russell: what more can be said? Olympic caliber high-jumper (he still won a gold medal as the captain of the 1956 men's basketball team but could clear nearly his 6'10" height and this was before the Fosbury flop when jumpers did the "Western roll" to clear the bar), could run a sub 50-second 400m, and shotblocker extraordinaire. His 143 duels with Wilt Chamberlain are the stuff of legend (94 regular season, 49 playoff). Though Wilt led Bill in virtually every statistical category throughout their careers (points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage), Bill won 9 more titles than Wilt. But what was key in those epic Warriors-Sixers v. Celtics battles was the way that Russell could shut Wilt down. In the 1961-2 season (the first when NBC broadcast the games), Wilt averaged 50 points (including his epic 100 point game) and 25.7 rebounds. But in the 7th game of the playoffs against the Celtics, he got only 22 points and 22 rebounds as the Celtics won in the last second. It is said that Bill let Wilt score when the game was already decided to pad his statistics; all Bill wanted was that championship ring.
The Greatest Defensive Player of All Time, Bill Russell RIP.
JE comments: David, always appreciate your updates on the Wide World of Sports. You make me feel so darn sports-literate! It is surprising that The Netherlands, such a small and flat country, could produce so many outstanding cyclists--especially of the mountainous variety. Their homeland offers no place to train for the climbs.