I live in the summer furnace known as Las Vegas. I ride my bike with a degree of frequency, and have for years. A couple of days ago, I enjoyed a downhill ride on Eastern Ave. to the Henderson Marketplace, and had a quickie (a frappucino, that is). I felt very refreshed. Then I got back on my bike and rode home up that same hill. The hill was hot hell; not the same as going down that thing. Iím in damn good shape for 66; no matter! Itís only five or six miles, but it was exhausting. All the while I was pushing myself, I kept thinking about Lance Armstrong and his great stamina. That hill coming home always makes me appreciate Lance Armstrong all the more.
The 2005 Tour de France ended last Sunday. This yearís three-week event was 2,241 miles in 21 stages, nine of which were mountain stages. For the seventh straight year, Lance Armstrong won this incredible race of quintessential endurance and determination. His accomplishments are legend, having overcome testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.
We devout sports fans all have opinions about who is the best ever at this sport or that sport. I have those same opinions, but Iíll take this one a step further. What Lance Armstrong has accomplished transcends any performances and records in any major sport. He has taken on the world in sportís most demanding event, and he has won it seven straight years.
My great respect for Armstrongís accomplishments includes his beating his bout with cancer, but that merely adds drama to the story. Itís his winning those seven straight Tours that makes Lance Armstrong one of the two greatest athletes of all time, the other being Jesse Owens.
Story of the Week
Cus DíAmato earned a reputation as one of the most forthright and honest men in boxing. He guided Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres to world titles, and was instrumental in launching Mike Tysonís career. Top trainers Teddy Atlas, Kevin Rooney and Joe Fariello all learned their trade from DíAmato.
Born in 1908 in New York, DíAmato grew up as one of five brothers, and learned to fight in the streets. At the age of 22, he opened the Empire Sporting Club with Jack Barrow at the Gramercy Gym. The purpose of the club was to develop young boxers. DíAmato was devoted to the gym, and actually lived there for years. He was very attentive to his boxers, and his belief in his young stars was important to their success.
DíAmato built the neophyte Patterson into an Olympic gold medal winner, and then the world heavyweight champion. He later guided Jose Torres to the light heavyweight championship. Both Patterson and Torres continued responsible careers after boxing, Patterson as head of the New York State Athletic Commission, and Torres as a writer and member of that same Commission.
Once Patterson won the championship, DíAmato carefully selected his opponents, both with an eye towards maximizing revenues for his fighter, and thwarting the IBC, the International Boxing Club. Although it meant bypassing many top challengers, DíAmato refused to match his fighter in any bout promoted by the powerful but corrupt IBC. The IBC was eventually found to be in violation of anti-trust laws, and was dissolved.
After the careers of Patterson and Torres ended, DíAmato worked in relative obscurity for some years, surfacing briefly as a possible trainer for Wilt Chamberlain when the basketball great considered going into the ring. Cus then moved to Catskill, New York, where he opened a gym. He began to work with Mike Tyson who was in a nearby reform school. DíAmato did much to develop Tyson into a top heavyweight contender, but he died in 1985 before Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history.
I recently wrote a Quick Take on Mike Tyson following his McBride fiasco. In that Quick Take, I wrote that I felt Tysonís life would have been far different had DíAmato lived. DíAmato had a fatherly influence on Tyson, one that ended, of course, when Cus died. It is documented that the passing of DíAmato created a huge void in Tysonís like, and it obviously had a very adverse effect on it.
Cus DíAmato was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.
Last Weekís Trivia
Who is Bernice Gera? She was the first female professional baseball umpire. Gera was hired by the Class A New York-Penn League. On June 24, 1972, she officiated the first game of a doubleheader. Because of her treatment by the fans and players, she actually resigned between games of that doubleheader. Bernice was not exactly a pioneer.
Trivia Question of the Week
Only two men managed teams to American League pennants during the 1950ís. Who were they? What teams? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.