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The Willamette Valley at 6:40 am - Monday 30 June 2008As I pedaled my bicycle toward work the other day along the six miles of bike path skirting the Willamette River from my house to the University of Oregon, the sun slowly coming up in front of me to the east as I turned toward campus, it dawned on me that the Tour de France starts on Saturday! I had barely forgot. I need to thumb through that Tour de France Preview Special Edition of VeloNews at work today... it came nearly a month ago and I've given it only but a cursory glance or two. There's several issues piled up, collecting dust and waiting to be read. I have been so wrapped up in an Olympic Track and Field Trials here in Eugene (for which I have cooked and cooked without getting to see a single event... but more on that later) that I have been missing the rest of the world of sports out there...

 

Don't try taking these pictures at home...So let's barrel forward and take a long look at everything else that has happened here in sports. This is to be a special two-part volume today of A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America -- the first will be completed this morning and comprise bringing the column up to date with everything that has occurred in sports over the past several weeks, since last week's column was an exclusive look at Hayward Field in advance of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials; the second will be completed this evening, and will comprise a preview of the Tour de France. So enjoy this rare two-parter as this summer of sports moves ahead...

 

 

Venus Williams defeated Elena Dementieva to claim a spot in the women's final at Wimbledon; her sister Serena is up a set right now as she attempts to create another all-Williams final at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The men's draw has seen, after an odd first week of winnowing some big favorites (Djokovic, Blake et al.), the usual suspects -- Roger Federer, now healthy after his early-season bout of mononucleosis, and Rafael Nadal, who just crushed British hopeful Andy Murray 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 yesterday en route to his semifinal slot. In the Federer side of the draw, it will be former world number-one Marat Safin and not Djokovic who face the Swiss champion; on the Nadal side of the draw Arnaud Clement and Rainer Schuettler are duking it out and are, at the moment I type THESE words (9:05 AM Pacific) they are currently rained out... AT 6-6 in the FIFTH SET! I fear that, regardless of who advances, neither will have the energy left in the tank to seriously threaten Nadal after taking their aggressions out on each other in this quarterfinal contest...

 

 

What else has happened? I missed the finals of the 2008 European Championships last Sunday, in which Spain, after forty-four years of futility, finally captured their second European Cup. The Iberians have often been harangued for having talented squads who couldn't get it done when the pressure was highest, much like their Portugese neighbors. But the powerhouse German side, who was looking for their unprecedented fourth European title, simply looked lackluster all game. Captain Michael Ballack was losing his mind, Lukas Podolski suddenly could not find the back of the net, and even the man who has played both hero and scapegoat all in this same tournament, Bastian Schweinsteiger, couldn't find the pace to crack the Spanish defenses. Iker Casillas now has a national-team title to place alongside his 2001 Champions League crown earned with Real Madrid. A nation has their long-craved national-team title...

 

 

I've barely caught the beginning of free agency in the NHL... though I've had an eye on it enough to notice that the Canadiens are, yet again, letting talent bleed away to rival squads for less than pennies on the dollar... this is a Zimbabwe-level devaluation of a Habs' team which finished first in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Penguins have problems of their own as they try to lure players into town even as guys like Marian Hossa defect to the Cup-champion Red Wings... the sport truly moves ahead as the faces of the nineties -- the Sakics and Haseks of the league -- peel off toward retirement and leave the ice to this next generation of kids. Yet Pittsburgh, supposedly, courts their old curly-mulleted hero, Jaromir Jagr, in an attempt to bring him back into the fold. This new NHL is predicated on speed, youth, energy and skill -- the biggest question in my mind is this: how much longer will we see guys playing into their forties in the NHL? Scary thoughts as some greats retire...

 

 

And then there's these Olympic Trials. There have been some incredibly exciting moment here at the Trials. Take, for instance, the men's 800-meter final which took place last Monday. I was standing around in the kitchen, waiting to fire the last round of food before getting off work at seven. I was talking with the two managers named Robert -- "Hi, Bob...I've got a golden ticket... which turned out to be iron pyrite... Bob..." -- when the big boss of the front-of-house operations, Bryon, came up to me. He is a BIG track guy, runs in several of the races around town every year, loves to talk athletics. We'd been talking about the Trials all throughout the week, since he's been able to catch some of the action in his capacity helping manage the suite operations at Hayward Field. He had found a ticket in one of the suites, and he handed it off to me since he would catch the night's races anyway while working. I had my plans for the evening...

 

Or did I? I waited in the lines to get into the Festival area... and then there I was. This place was much crazier than the days before. I couldn't get a clear moment to get a camera shot off. I was in too much of a race to get into Hayward that I would not have wanted to try. I came up to the entry point. The lady took my ticket. She scanned it... and stopped me. No wonder this ticket had been left behind! Someone had already scanned it! I had been duped... though it had been in good faith. So I pedaled home instead of witnessing three guys residing here in Eugene -- Nick Symmonds and Christian Smith of Oregon Track Club, and Andrew Wheating (of Vermont) from the University of Oregon -- trump multiple-time U.S. champion Khadevis Robinson to take the three spots in the 800-meter race. Wheating, a sophomore, becomes the first University of Oregon student to claim an Olympic slot with remaining collegiate eligibility since 1976...

 

 

But if I don't get going to work, I'll not be an employee of that esteemed academic institution for much longer. This is A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America signing off for now... stay tuned for part two of today's column later tonight, when we preview the impending start of the Tour de France...

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