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Americans Win Two European Championships

July 24, 2006 at 6:40 PM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Two Americans, two countries, two sports, and
two big victories. We begin in France.

After years of cycling domination by Lance Armstrong, there
was a new American in Paris,
when Floyd Landis crossed the finish line yesterday to win his first Tour de
France.

FLOYD LANDIS, Tour de France Champion: Thank you, everybody
who kept believing. And most of all, my team, when things weren’t going so
well, they kept fighting and never stopped believing.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was a victory that almost wasn’t. After a
disastrous ride on Wednesday dropped Landis to 11th place, eight minutes behind
Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, he made most of the time back with a remarkable climb
through the Alps on Thursday.

ANNOUNCER: Floyd Landis will win the Tour de France.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the end, Landis won the grueling tour,
three weeks and 2,257 miles, by a mere 57 seconds and brought a more positive
kind of excitement to a race that began with a doping scandal that eliminated
several top contenders.

Adding to the feat, the 30-year-old Pennsylvania native had suffered a hip
injury from a crash several years ago and will undergo replacement surgery this
fall.

FLOYD LANDIS: I don’t feel like my life was a failure if I
didn’t win a race, but it was a dream. And I would be extremely disappointed if
that was taken away by an unfortunate accident.

JEFFREY BROWN: Landis became the third American to win the
tour.

The comeback kid

JEFFREY BROWN: And with us is Ron Rapoport, sportswriter andregular commentator for National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition."

Ron, the tour's director called Landis' big comeback ride onThursday "the best performance in the modern history of the tour." That'spretty high praise.

RON RAPOPORT, Sports Writer: Kind of gets your attention,Jeffrey, doesn't it, I imagine, saying a thing like that?

You know what I think though, part of it has to do with thefact that Landis had done so badly on one day and then he has one of this great,great days that they're calling the greatest in the history of circling thevery next. Now, that's the kind of performance everybody can get behind, beingawful one day and great the next. It's sort of instant redemption.

And I've got to tell you that I think there's another reasonthey're so excited, and that was, before the race began, there was thisincredible indictment of drug use in that sport. And here is a sport thatpeople really only pay attention to one week a year, and they're just gettingready for their big moment, and all of a sudden all anybody wants to talk aboutis drugs.

Along comes Landis. He has this wonderful victory, veryexciting, and all of a sudden everybody is feeling good about bicycle racingagain. So no wonder they're a little excited, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit more about Floyd Landisand his background?

RON RAPOPORT: Well, he comes from Farmersburg, Pennsylvania,a Mennonite upbringing, no radio, no television, no alcohol, no caffeine. Jeffrey,when he first started riding, his parents had him ride in sweat pants becausethey thought shorts were unbecoming.

And to get into this kind of level, he literally had to runaway from home, go to California, and start riding seriously. Now, his parentsweren't very happy about it. They've gotten back together, and they're all onebig, happy family now.

But not everybody in the community where he grew up isexcited about it. They think that there's too much emphasis on the individualnature of the victory. It's not the kind of thing that he's been taught, and sothere is a lot of getting used to what this all means in Farmersburg.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, doing all this with this hip injury thatI mentioned seems all the more remarkable. Do you know to what extent, if any,it affects his riding? And what's the talk about whether he's going to be ableto come back after this and compete at this level?

RON RAPOPORT: Well, I think he put off the hip replacementsurgery that he needs so he could ride in this race, so obviously he made acalculated decision. But you're right: He's had three four-inch screws insertedinto his hip after the crash.

And he told his mother that lately -- he told reporters --that he told his mother lately the screws are pushing against bone and muscle. Sothis is a young man in need of a serious operation. And it's a real testamentto his ability to ride this way with that kind of injury, you bet.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about another American winning therein Paris in France's great race? Is there any, oh, I don't know, resentmentbuilding?

RON RAPOPORT: I don't think so. You know, this is somethingdifferent. Lance Armstrong was such a machine when he won these races, it wassort of a given, where as Norris (sic), you know, had this bad time and thisgood time. And everybody kind of really is enjoying the way he won the race.

But, Jeffrey, I've got to tell you that this is the mostdrug-addled sport there is, and it's not going to be long before somebodyaccuses Floyd Norris (sic) of having taken drugs just the way they accuse LanceArmstrong and everybody else who's ever won the Tour de France.

You wait and see. He's going to be facing some of the samecharges, too. It's just the nature of bicycle racing at this level, I'm afraid.

An emotional win on the greens

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Well, let's now move to our otherbig sports story. This one was just across the English Channel.

With this last short putt for par, Tiger Woods won his thirdBritish Open Sunday.

ANNOUNCER: Tiger Woods is back in the winner's circle at themajors!

JEFFREY BROWN: It was his 11th major golf championship, butan especially emotional one for the 30-year-old, his first since the death ofhis father, Earl Woods, to cancer nearly three months ago.

TIGER WOODS, Golfer: I guess it's a bunch of emotions thatcame pouring out from what we've had to deal with as a family. And some ofthose things, I just wish, you know, Dad could have been here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Just last month, Woods had suffered anembarrassing elimination at the U.S. Open. But in Britain,on a course just outside Liverpool, Woods ledmost of the way, playing steadily with few mistakes and brilliant shots alongthe way.

Woods became the first golfer in nearly a quarter-century towin back-to-back British Opens.

Winning for his father and himself

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Ron, Tiger Woods is a famously coolcustomer, so a little unusual to see him break down like that.

RON RAPOPORT: Well, Jeffrey, we saw something we've seenmany times before, Tiger Woods winning a major golf tournament in just aruthless, relentless fashion. And we've seen something we never saw before: breakingdown and crying.

Not shedding a tear, not at the emotion of it all, not just,"You know, thank you, Dad, and so on," but wracking, relentless kindsof sobs as he collapsed into the arms of, first, his caddy and then his wife. That'ssomething we've never seen before, because Tiger has always been in suchcontrol of his game on the golf course and his emotions off it, and to see himreact this way was really quite a remarkable sight, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us about this relentless nature of hisgame. Because that is the one, that is the way he won this one, the way he'swon others, with that steady kind of wearing-everybody-down approach, right?

RON RAPOPORT: Well, it's more than that, really. I mean, onthe 13th hole, Chris DiMarco made a birdie to get within one hole of -- withinone shot of Tiger. And now we're on the back nine of a major golf tournament,which is a time when champions famously come undone, when championships arelost as often as they are won.

We only have to think back to what Phil Mickelson did at theMasters, the way he simply just blew it on the last few holes. Tiger's responseto DiMarco's birdie coming within one stroke? He just birdied the 14th, birdiedthe 15th, had a three-shot lead with three holes to go, and said, "See youlater."

I mean, it was just vintage Tiger. Remarkable that he couldjust turn it on at that moment and turn a close golf tournament into a victorymarch for himself.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, in fact, it was, as we said in ourset-up, it was just a month ago that he failed to make the cut at the U.S.Open, which was remarkable in itself. Every golfer I know talks as much aboutthe psychology as anything else of the game. How does he turn it around soquickly?

RON RAPOPORT: Well, Tiger's just a very, very focusedindividual. I haven't seen anybody since Michael Jordan who could exert thatkind of force of will, determine what needed to be done, and then just go outand do it.

And, yes, he didn't make the cut at the Open, and he didn'twin the Masters, but golf is a game of losing. Golf is a game that the greatestchampions, Tiger included, lose more often than they win. And yet here he is. Hejust came back a month later after not making the cut at the Open, and he justmade this tournament his own.

It was just a remarkable expression of that force of willthat he exhibits like no other athlete on the stage today.

A good month for American athletes

JEFFREY BROWN: So two victories yesterday, put themtogether. Do you see any common thread or is it just a nice July coincidence?

RON RAPOPORT: Well, it's a nice July coincidence, butthey're certainly very different, aren't they? Here you have Floyd Norris(sic), who I would wager that very few people outside of the sport of cyclingknew his name a couple of weeks ago.

And he comes up with this very exciting, up and down,thrilling coming back from the brink with this wonderful one-day performance victory.And here you have Tiger doing what he's done so many times, in the samerelentless, ruthless fashion, and just taking another tournament and making ithis own. It was a remarkable thing to see.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Ron Rapoport, thanks for walkingus through it.

RON RAPOPORT: Thank you, Jeffrey. Good to be with you.