Number one on the list? Desi Davila. Davila finished second in the Boston Marathon on Monday, just two seconds out of the lead. She set a new personal record and became a hero to the next generation of American runners. I followed the race a bit online, and when I realized that I might see an American win Boston for the first time since 1985, I turned on the television.This pretty much describes my reaction: "At this point, I imagine if you were watching Boston all across America, you spontaneously did what I and Alberto Salazar did -- you stood and screamed at the TV/computer screen." (You know this is actually pretty typical behavior for me if you have ever watched a beauty pageant, a gymnastics meet, Michelle Kwan compete at the
Olympics, or the Kentucky Derby with me!)
Aside from her impressive performance as an athlete, it appears Davila
also performed well as a teammate and a human being. Kara Goucher,
another top female marathoner from the US, ran to a somewhat-disappointing fifth place finish (given that she gave birth seven months ago though, I'd call it pretty amazing). Goucher wrote on her blog:
"By 16 miles I was completely out of contention. The real race was ahead of me. Then Desiree Davila went by me looking amazing. I knew she had a chance to catch the leaders and maybe win. As she passed me, she
encouraged me. 'Keep your eyes up,' she said. Now that’s classy."
I also love that Davila would actually rank in the Top 100 of male marathoners in the country this year. It's nice to see a woman beating most men at the same exact event! Finally, on a more personal note, I love that for the past seven years Davila has trained in Rochester Hills, MI -- about thirty minutes away from where I grew up. Everyone knows the Detroit area needs as much positive news/attention as it can get. Davila threw out the first pitch at the Detroit Tigers game on Tuesday, April 26th.
Another new female sports hero of mine who can beat the men at their own game: Nancy Lieberman. This week's The New Yorker had a wonderful profile on Lieberman, "Queen of the D-League."Lieberman was: 1) the first woman to play men's professional
basketball; 2) the oldest female professional basketball player (twice,
once in 1997 and again, at age fifty, in 2008); and 3) the second female coach to lead a professional men's basketball team. She also was a
Harlem Globetrotter, who has played under various nicknames over the
years -- like "Fire," "SuperJew," and "Lieb the Heeb."
Image: © Marianna Day Massey/ZUMA Press
Lieberman was clearly an impressive athlete (she played in college and
in the Olympics, in addition to playing professionally), and she seems to be an impressive coach. But what I really love is the spunky attitude that comes across in Ben McGrath's profile. One of my new favorite lines? "Don't let my stilettos fool you. I still want to win." I also love how Lieberman seems to know when and how to use the fact that she is a female coach to her advantage. For instance, when a key player was nervous in an important game she knew she had to get him to loosen up. So she called him over: "He doesn't know how I work. It's our second game together. I say, 'Antonio, look, this is serious. Do you like my hair?'" Lieberman is not ashamed that she gets her nails painted, or that she gets her fiery red hair done. She is a female athlete, a female coach, and a mother, and none of these are incompatible in her world. I wonder if she paints her nails pink?
Another female athlete not afraid of pink? Cindy (Battlecat) Dandois. I read about Dandois in this week's Sports Illustrated, which reports on page 18 that Dandois withdrew from a planned MMA fight in June because she's pregnant. I suppose that fact on its own wouldn't be worthy of a mention in SI; what makes the story impressive/scary is that when Dandois fought (and won!) last month, she was actually two months pregnant. According toWomen Talk Sports, Dandois had taken a pregnancy test, when she had trouble making weight, but it came up negative. She hopes to reschedule the fight after the pregnancy -- and Kara Goucher has shown you can be in nearly top-of-the-world form only a few months after delivery.
[Note: If you read SI, be sure to check out "Shin-Soo Choo That's Who" on page 63. It touches on a topic related to my other research, on early specialization in young athletes. Choo went to a baseball academy high school in his native South Korea and has some interesting things to say about the experience. Choo is now one of the top five-tool players in MLB, but he is the only successful Korean position player in US.]
Davila and Lieberman show that female athletes can be among the best in
the world, playing with and beating men. But Goucher and Dandois remind us that female athletes have to deal with very different issues from their male counterparts -- like, oh, pregnancy. (True, MLB now has a
72-HOUR paternity leave for players -- which has been getting a lot of attention this week, but the body of the male athlete clearly isn't affected the same way). Given such physical differences between male and female athletes, I'm interested in learning more about a new proposal in Minnesota to increase girls' athletic activity and keep them healthy by offering all-girls' gym classes, which you can read about here. Again, pinking of sports can be okay at times, but shrinking never is, even though at times there are clear physical differences between men and women.
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