Thursday, June 11, 2015

Last Laps

TigerBlog has a lot of thoughts on the whole Bruce Jenner/Caitlyn Jenner story, and he's probably not going to share them.

He will say that it's a fascinating statement on contemporary American society - and leave it at that. Well, maybe he will throw in one other thought, and that is that he disagrees with ESPN's decision to give Jenner the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. He definitely would have given that to Lauren Hill, the women's college basketball player who died from brain cancer at the age of 19.

Anyway, there is one piece of the story that hasn't been played up enough, TigerBlog believes. It's just how big Bruce Jenner was.

If you're too young to remember the 1976 Olympics, Jenner (the use of the last name prevents having to use a "he" or "she" pronoun) won the decathlon and the in the process became the biggest star in sports for a time. Anyone TigerBlog's age knows that Jenner landed on a the front of a box of Wheaties cereal, and in just about every other major advertising campaign that there was.

He was huge. Bigger than anyone. The "World's Greatest Athlete."

This would be no different than if LeBron James went through this in 30 or 40 years. That's how big Jenner was for awhile. 

In fact, since TigerBlog has been paying attention, the list of athletes who could match Jenner for the level of universal approval and commercial success on a national level - the ones who really transcended their sport - is not a long one. And it's actually an interesting one.

Here it is: Arnold Palmer, O.J. Simpson, Bruce Jenner, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and LeBron James. That's really it. Who is TB forgetting?

What makes it really interesting is that they haven't all gone on to sustain that level of popularity and success. Some have. Others fell a long, long way. Certainly Tiger Woods did. And O.J.? He did too, even though in the 1980s and up until 1994, he was as beloved as it got.

So TigerBlog will leave it to everyone to formulate their own opinions on Caitlyn Jenner.

Bruce Jenner, though, wasn't just some reality TV star who just showed up one day. At one point, he was the world's single biggest sports star.

By now, every Princeton fan knows that the second-best U.S. finish at the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics was by Fred Samara, the men's track and field coach at Princeton.

TigerBlog, by the way, has not talked to Samara about his former teammate.

Samara is in Oregon right now for the NCAA outdoor track and field championships. The event, which is the last of the Princeton Athletics calendar, began yesterday.

Princeton has six athletes at the famous Haywood Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Of the six, two are males, both of whom competed yesterday, with Stephen Soerens in the decathlon and Sam Pons in the 10,000.

Soerens, one of the heroes of Princeton's Ivy League Heptagonal championship, has the final five events of the decathlon today. TigerBlog didn't realize that Soerens is the first Princeton decathlete to reach the NCAA Championships since Peter Hunt in 1988 and that Hunt was Jason Garrett's roommate at Princeton. Or that Garrett is Hunt's children's godfather.

In addition, Princeton's four women athletes all compete today.

Julia Ratcliffe, the defending NCAA champion, will go for two straight in the hammer throw, which goes off at 4:30 Eastern time this afternoon.

The others are Lizzie Bird in the steeplechase semifinal, Cecilia Barowski in the 800 semifinal and Megan Curham in the 10,000.

Peter Callahan won the Roper Trophy in 2013 and now runs for New Mexico with his last year of eligibility. Callahan, if you forgot, ran three incredible anchor legs in the distance medley relay two years ago, giving Princeton the Heps title, a trip to the NCAAs and then most dramatically the NCAA championship.

Callahan ran the 1,500 semifinal last night. TigerBlog isn't quite sure what Princeton's responsibility to publicize a former athlete is, but Callahan is a grad who gave the men's track and field program here one of its best-ever accomplishments, so he's good to go in TB's book.

The track and field championships continue through Saturday, when Bird and Barowski would compete in their finals.

And then, the 2014-15 athletic year will be over at Princeton. It always ends at the track and field championships.

The last laps of the season, as it were.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe Muhammad Ali or Jack Nicklaus? What about Sandy Koufax? Magic Johnson? Walter Payton? I am sure we can all pick a few larger than life athletes depending on our respective ages. Good food for thought.