SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
In Armstrong, an Example for Woods
December 17, 2009Sports of The Times
By GEORGE VECSEY
He’s had a wretched three weeks, but Tiger Woods is the athlete of the decade, according to an Associated Press poll.
And according to Lance Armstrong, who finished second. “From a sporting perspective, he definitely deserves it,” Armstrong said Wednesday by phone while heading toward a Christmas celebration at his children’s school in Texas.
“What he did for the game of golf is amazing,” Armstrong continued, raving at how the PGA Tour’s prize money grew during the decade of the Tiger.
Woods definitely deserves to be the athlete of the decade, ahead of Armstrong, Roger Federer, Michael Phelps, Tom Brady and Usain Bolt — five from international sports, one from a mostly United States team sport.
The next decade is just around the corner. Woods, who has not appeared in public since his automobile wreck on Thanksgiving night, has relied on weak statements on his Web site, admitting to transgressions and announcing a sabbatical from golf.
Now there is word that a Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, who has treated Woods, is under investigation in two countries for involvement with illegal drugs and treatments.
Armstrong would not go anywhere near the details on what Woods is going through. Armstrong has had his share of scrutiny, including suggestions that he used illegal body-building drugs and methods on his way to seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005. He has never failed a drug test, calls himself “the world’s most tested athlete” and knows how to challenge critics, just to demonstrate: No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Woods has hunkered down, not telling his story, making things worse for himself with his silence.
“On a personal level, I consider Tiger a friend,” Armstrong said. “We’ve never hung out together, but we’ve talked and worked for each other’s foundations. I would encourage him to get out there and be seen.”
Woods has not been spotted in public since the wreck outside his Florida home. Presumably he knows of speculation that he was injured by his wife or the wreck or both, and knows he is the butt of jokes on every talk show in the land. Sooner or later, he is going to have to go out to address a putt, only to have some joker in the gallery make a remark. He was already twitchy toward fans he thought were rude.
When Armstrong heard hisses of “doper” while riding in France, he would present the Look — wraparound shades and jutting jaw, as if to say, “Anybody want a piece of me?” He could glare down fans or reporters or rivals or even teammates who did not follow his rules.
Right now Woods needs time away from the world, to work on whatever is left of his marriage. Protected by the public’s sepulchral reverence toward golf deities, he has developed a protective shell that made him come off as stuffy or prissy. He needs to make some rudimentary attempts to figure out who he is.
When he is ready to compete again, Woods could do worse than talk to Armstrong, who retired for three years but came back last year, finishing third in the Tour despite not being the lead rider on his own team. Next year, at 38, Armstrong plans to lead his own RadioShack team. This winter he is doing an hour and a half of yoga a day and says he has never felt so loose.
Armstrong’s career now has some comparison to Woods’s career. While Armstrong was competing, he was privately consulting with a notorious Italian physician, Michele Ferrari, who was dubbed Dottore Sangue (Dr. Blood) in the European press. He eventually cut ties with Ferrari. Woods, who has been buff and fit during his career and recently came back from knee surgery, has been connected to Galea, who has athlete-patients including football players and the swimmer Dara Torres. If Galea’s methods are judged to be illegal, where does that leave Woods?
One thing is sure: the International Olympic Committee recently voted golf into the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, assuming that a mature and competitive Tiger Woods would be there. But who knows where Woods will be in seven years?
Not to make light of the lives and careers of Armstrong and Woods, but I have seen Armstrong shrug off pressure and criticism, warranted and not, and crush the entire pack of riders. Woods needs to figure out why he jeopardized his family and his career, let down his friends and sponsors.
If he can see his way to compete again — and I bet he does, in a few months — Woods may need an infusion of public gall. Tiger is one of the greatest competitors and athletes of any age. This is one of those occasions when No. 1 could definitely benefit from studying the hard-edged resiliency of No. 2.