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The world of sports has indeed been interesting this week. From the rain turning Roland Garros into Wimbledon to the Yanks playing at the new Wembley Stadium for the first time, the greater world beyond standard baseball chatter and offseason NFL ramblings has offered more than its fill of surprises and action for the enterprising sports fan. At the same time, though, my focus has turned inward as I begin to work toward producing my first novel. You see, I had been writing for Asian Restaurant News, a trade publication catering to restaurant owners and managers specializing in... you guessed it... Asian cuisine. Long story short (and I know I have enough of a problem with this!), the editor is gone and the magazine is cutting its format and freelance writers. An aspiring writer should always be deep in a project, so my chase for publishing success begins...

 

The view of the Tetons from near my childhood home... The story? It is playing into several threads, but they are all largely autobiographical in nature. I am looking at my upbringing in on a resort in Grand Teton National Park, how those experiences shaped me and how the resort evolved and devolved during my time there... and I am using the framework of a bicycle tour I did through Wyoming after my final season working for the company to better understand all of these things... and looking at the valley itself and how it has evolved and devolved with the rise of the tourist culture. Interested?

 

I've posted a rough draft of the prologue (or perhaps first chapter) here on FanNation for the review of all you sports fans out there. Whether you enjoy cycling, national parks or just (for some reason) find my writing engaging, you can check out the posts here... 

 

On that note, let's get to the business at hand. How about we stop this shameless self-promotion and we'll look deeper than my own journeys into that grand world of obscurity we know as non-traditional sports... shall we? All right, then... we're all warmed up for A NON-TRADITIONAL SPORTS FAN IN AMERICA!!!

 

 

 

 

Bringing in the tarps... this should look familiar to baseball fans... The French Open has been since this weekend, but most sports fans would hardly know it was happening for all the rain which has been washing out Paris. Roland Garros, the site of the French Open, is the only one of the Grand Slam sites which uses red clay as its surface of choice. This forces players to have better movement than mere power as the clay dampens each shot on impact. The inevitable problem with this surface, though, is that even the slightest drizzle makes the surface slick, putting athletes at a greater risk of injury and turning the court quickly into a quagmire. Paris in late May looks eerily like London in July... and Roland Garros seems strangely like Wimbledon in how it is playing out...

 

Another sad note about the ongoing tournament in Paris is that young French sensation Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, runner-up in his breakthrough tournament at this year's Australian Open, was forced to withdraw from his national Slam before it even started. Tsonga has always had the talent to be a tennis superstar, having won the 2003 U.S. Junior Open against Marcos Baghdatis. The biggest detriment to his success has always been his health -- from a herniated disc to shoulder troubles and problems with back and abdominal injuries, Tsonga's greatest opponent has been himself. Now, citing injuries in his knees, he misses the opportunity to play in front of an exuberant home crowd. Here's to hoping he straightens out his fitness problems and rebounds to have a great season and a fruitful career...

 

The action which HAS been able to take place, though, has been nothing short of spectacular. Rafael Nadal makes his assault on four straight. Federer attempts once again to complete the career Slam. Novak Djokovic looks to continue pushing against the top two players in an effort to bust open the rankings with another dominant majors performance. Nikolai Davydenko, still facing scrutiny for potential match-fixing allegations, also presses on. Each has made it so far into the third round... all wait for the conclusion of the second round now as they remain at the mercy of the elements. James Blake, America's greatest hope at the tournament, lost in a surprising four-set second-round decision to 80th-ranked Ernest Gulbis of Latvia. Now the hopes of an American victory rest in the hands of Robbie Ginepri and Mardy Fish, two who have yet to play their own second-round matches, and Wayne Odesnik -- who will face off against Novak Djokovic in the third round of play. Prospects for American men's tennis may be low right now, with guys like John Isner and Sam Querrey never finding their game at the tournament, but the prospects for high-quality tennis have never been higher...

 

On the women's side, American prospects look brighter as both Williams sisters have gone through to the third round. They are joined by the cast of usual suspects -- Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva. Everyone has a realistic shot on the female side since three-time defending champion Justine Henin retired before the draw was formulated. The crowd on the female side contains former champions from both here at Roland Garros and in every other Grand Slam event. The coming rounds should indeed provide ample firepower for every type of sports fan... stay tuned here next week as the field narrows and the finals near...

 

 

 

 

On the fence...Detroit has taken a commanding lead in the quest for the oldest trophy in North American sports, the Stanley Cup. Last week I predicted that Pittsburgh, were they to come out of the gate as they had in every other playoff series so far, would be immensely difficult to beat. Yet it seems as though Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were sitting on the fence and waffling over my decision to pick them to win the Cup finals. I know my picks have been somewhat terrible this year, boys, but don't take this as negative self-fulfilling prophecy!!!

 

In all sense of reality, though, Detroit has simply played like the more disciplined and experienced team in this Finals matchup. What seemed so easy in tearing through the Eastern Conference is now coming so hard for the young Penguins. For all the talk of cheating coming from both sides, the reality is that nothing comes easy in the battle for the Stanley Cup. A team might coast to get there; even the most overmatched team will give the eventual champion fits en route to defeat...

 

The kids in black awakened to this reality last night, taking a 3-2 victory over the previously-impenetrable Red Wings back in the Igloo in Pittsburgh and tightened up the series at 2-1 Detroit. If they can build enough momentum to sweep their homestand and take game five in Detroit, they still have a shot at victory. The boys from Motown will certainly have a thing or two to say against such things happening... but regardless, Saturday's game four will prove the pivotal moment for this series and the fate of two teams vying for the Cup...

 

 

 

The U.S. visits the motherland of soccer...The United States' national soccer team traveled to England to play its first game since 1994 in Wembley Stadium. But, while this Wembley looked vastly different than the place where the Yanks had played fourteen years ago, the result was largely the same. A John Terry header from a David Beckham cross in the 38th minute provided the only necessary difference on the scoreboard... but, perhaps more importantly, the goal provided some closure for the beleaguered Terry, whose penalty-kick miss in the Champions League final portended a lifetime of misery ahead...

 

The Americans looked largely absent from the friendly festivities at Wembley, a bunch of tourists enjoying the scenery more than a team of world-class athletes. There was David Beckham, receiving an honorary gilded cap in honor of his hundredth performance for England; there was Landon Donovan, his Los Angeles Galaxy teammate, on the opposite sideline and failing to earn his own hundredth cap for the American side due to a groin injury. When Steven Gerrard came through on the right side of the American's box to slot home an easy insurance goal in the 59th minute, this game had already long been decided. Fabio Capello, recent hire as England coach after an illustrious career in club football, had a great night switching up his team to no ill effect against a highly-overmatched American squad... it appears the days of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan are far behind this U.S. team...

 

 

 

 

We are only a few days out from the conclusion of the 2008 Giro d'Italia and the action has heated up in the final stages of the race. On a ride through the Dolomites on Sunday, 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador took initial steps toward winning his first Giro crown. Emanuelle Sella may have won this and the preceding mountain stage, but Contador emerged the biggest victor, pulling clear to pull on the maglia rosa and gaining a 0:33 lead over Riccardo Ricco and nearly a minute on defending champion Danilo di Luca. Over the next days, through assaults from every direction, the Spaniard remained in the lead atop the general classification.

  

The view from high up the Gavia Pass, to be climbed Saturday in the Giro...With only three stages left after Jens Voigt's first Giro stage victory in Varese -- more mountains over the next two days, including the infamous Gavia and Mortirolo climbs, and a final-day time trial into Milan for the first time since 1992 -- and a 0:41 gap over Ricco holding steady, Contador must simply bide his time and watch the other protagonists and he should have his second grand tour victory. Whether this will be enough to get the beleaguered Astana team into Amaury Sport Organization's good graces and into a slot at the Tour de France remains to be seen. We are witnessing the birth of a new grand tour champion, and it would indeed be sad to see this young rider miss his chance to defend his title from last year's Tour.

 

At the same time, though, it is easy to understand why ASO has made this decision. Two years ago, it was Astana (then Liberty Seguros) embarrassing the Tour as its then-director Manolo Saiz and a plurality of riders were implicated in Operacion Puerto, the Spanish doping investigation. One rider implicated? Alberto Contador...

 

And while his name has officially been cleared, this recent string of dominance only serves to fuel suspicion among the conspiracy theorists. Last year, Astana came to the Tour boasting Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloden as dual threats for the podium; the team was forced to pull out of the race when Vinokourov tested positive. Amaury has the right to protect its investment wherever it can, and the inclusion of a "tainted" name like Astana would bode poorly. After all, if last year Unibet.com was kept out of all races in France hosted by ASO due to an arcane eighteenth-century French law citing the prohibition of foreign advertisements for gaming concerns, Astana has done far more to warrant their ostracism.

 

The team has new management, new riders... it is essentially the U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel team which carried Lance Armstrong to seven Tour victories and guided Contador to the 2007 Tour championship. Yet the enmity is strong between ASO and Johan Bruyneel as well, and it remains to be seen if the champ gets to challenge this year... 

 

 

 

Players from around the United States and around the world are licking their chops about the chance to take part in the 2008 U.S. Open, being held next month at Torrey Pines. Any professional as well as any amateur player with no higher than a 1.4 handicap is permitted to participate in qualifiers across the world for the chance to tee off in San Diego in June. This format allows for great amateur golfers to get noticed and serves for some as a warning of future pros on the horizon. One who might someday be plying his trade on the PGA Tour? Rico Hoey, a 12-year-old Californian who has earned the right to play in qualifying rounds for the chance to line up alongside Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and the rest of the gang in the U.S. Open field. And while Harris Moore, a 79-year-old golf pro from Los Angeles, probably won't be picking up his tour card and joining the regular circuit, he still can live out one last dream of U.S. Open glory as well...

 

Stay tuned for more news as the Open comes closer. Tiger Woods should be able to participate, recent injury woes notwithstanding, and the excitement which comes from potentially having a pre-teen and a near-octogenarian in the field should make for some interesting stories to tell...

 

 

And on this note, all you obscure sports fans, we are going to sign off from here after another great week for this obscure sports fan in America. If you're getting bored, don't hesitate to check out the recent snippets of my ongoing novel-in-progress... or at least be sure to switch that dial away sometime from the Tonys (Reali and Kornheiser) and check out the other sports channels on the television... you may find some ACTUAL action to excite you from a field of play less traditional to you, and it may just turn you on to a sport you never expected to like...

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