Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cyclists and runners - superior athletes?

If I may get on my soapbox for a second...

Every July I watch the Tour de France, and I will bet I haven’t ridden a bike in 15 years. I am just thoroughly impressed with the endurance of these cyclists, and I think they (along with the elite distance runners) are perhaps the best athletes in the world.

Yet every year, you will hear the talking heads on ESPN and other sports media outlets (writers who cover the mainstream sports like basketball, football, and baseball, I might add) debate whether or not cyclists are really “athletes” because all they do is ride a bike. Their argument is that there is no skill involved.

The same could be said of runners. I mean, all they do is run, right?

One of my favorite stories in recent years was from a May 2005 "Runner’s World" interview with Roger Craig, the former San Francisco 49ers running back from their championship era in the 1980’s.

Craig, now a convert to distance running and marathoning, talked about being invited to go on a 5 mile a run with the team’s orthopedic surgeon. This was during Craig’s playing days when he was at the top of his game. Craig said he ended up having to stop two or three times, and once to throw up!

This is a guy who was a physical specimen, in great shape for playing football, but he was only used to running 100 yards at a time! He wasn't conditioned for the long haul, and I think that says a lot about the shape that the best cyclists and runners are in.

I’m not trying to take anything away from the great athletes that play football, basketball, baseball, or whatever. Clearly, these athletes are very skilled and are great in their respective sports. But cyclists and runners deserve more respect.

Cyclists are not real athletes because all they do is ride a bike? Runners are not real athletes because all they do is run?

Very well. Let's throw some NBA player on a bike for a Tour de France mountain stage, or put him on the starting line of a 10k trail race? Then we will see how these "real athletes" fare. :)

Off the soapbox,

Jean
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