Monday, June 9, 2008

Dyansties Part III: Individual Sports

What I wrote below about dynasties in teams sports does not necessarily hold true for individuals sports. Dynasties in sports like tennis, golf or cycling can hurt or help depending on the character of the particular athlete doing the winning.

Watching Roger Federer take on Rafael Nadal in the finals of the French Open, I found myself rooting for Federer. It wasn't just because he was the underdog on clay to Nadal. I always root for Federer, even when he's favored to win his sixth Wimbeldon in a row. I like the way he plays, I like that he has a one handed back-hand, I like the way he carries himself on the court. Plus, I like that he could be the best player of all-time and that I've been able to watch his career unfold.

I haven't seen the ATP take steps to stop Federer or to aid him, and I don't think they can or will. Nadal might, but the tennis execs probably won't.

On the other hand, the PGA seems to have done everything they can to help Tiger Woods win or at least be in contention on Sundays, since he clearly does draw a huge number of fans to their television sets. Many tournaments, including The Masters (played at Augusta National) have lengthened their courses tee to green. They usually claim that the change will make the golf course more competitive. In reality, it makes it so the longest hitters (Tiger) have the best chance of being in the hunt.

Even though Armstrong was reviled early on by the press in Europe, his dynastic hold on the Tour de France certainly helped the sport grow in notoriety in the United States. But Tour organizers did not change the layout of the race to suit or hinder him. He was simply built for the Tour's particular format. I do think his win streak had a negative impact overall on the sport, however. Whether or not he was clean (and the amount of energy he put out leaves me among the doubters[1]), in order to challenge him, other riders turned to less than legal methods of preparation. This contributed to a doping culture that led to the numerous expulsions of the last two Tours.

In individual sports, whether or not the dynasty is a net positive for the sport is largely dependent on the personality and integrity of the champion.

So during Wimbeldon this year I'll be rooting for Roger Federer. And during golf's U.S. Open, I'll be rooting for Soren Hansen.

(1) Professor Antoine Vayer has published research demonstrating that the wattage produced by cyclists (including Armstrong) in some of the most strenuous climbs of the Tour is simply inhuman--without the aid of illegal help, at least. One example of his research can be found here:

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