If you're a European sports fan, chances are Americans are starting to get under your skin.
Kids from the colonies have been trampling all over Europe's most hallowed events, youngsters with new-age names like Venus and Tiger — are these athletes or cartoon characters? — and guys called Lance and Pete.
If one of them wasn't riding down the Champs Elysees as if he owned the place, another one was tearing up the grass on Center Court at Wimbledon or marching through the fairways of St. Andrews.
America is on a roll, right through the stuffiest, oldest, most prestigious, tradition-bound sports events on the planet. Want to wallow in it a little? Here goes . . .
Americans haven't merely won this summer; they've taken no prisoners. Tiger Woods won the British Open by eight strokes, the tournament's biggest margin of victory since 1913, when they played golf with a stick and a rock. Just across the English Channel, on the same day, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France by six minutes — a gap so big he actually took pictures and
donned a wig as he rode through Paris to the finish line.
Last month Pete Sampras and Venus Williams won Wimbledon. In the women's competition, Americans made up three of the four semifinalists — one of them Williams' sister, Serena. If Venus hadn't won it, another American would have, if not a member of the family. At the end of the day, Venus Williams hoisted the winner's trophy — called the, um, Venus Rosewater Dish. For good measure, Williams teamed with her sister to claim the women's doubles title.
It's been the summer of American kids, and they've been about as subtle as an infantry assault. If Williams, Woods, Armstrong and Sampras have anything in common it is their style of play, which is to overpower the competition with blistering serves and strokes, 350-yard drives and strong, sustained hill climbs.
The rest of the bad news for the competition: Armstrong and Sampras are only 28, Tiger 24, Venus 20.
It would be understandable if Americans dominated an event in one sport, but now they're having their way in three vastly different arenas — golf, cycling and tennis. Combine it with last year's World Cup victory by the U.S. women's soccer team, and America's got serious mo.
The strange part is, America isn't really even trying. Success and participation usually reflect interest, and yet cycling, soccer and tennis are treated like poor second cousins in the United States. Nobody watches soccer in America unless it's from a mini-van, and nobody watches cyclists unless it's to avoid the kid on the side of the road, and nobody pays attention to tennis until the Slam events. But Americans won the big events in those sports. Go figure. Armstrong's victory in the Tour de France was like the Barcelona Dragons winning the Super Bowl.
If this continues — and it looks like it might for a while — it could really grate on our international audiences, but so far they're as captivated as American fans by the nonpareil performances of the Woods and Armstrong, etc. Of course it helps that there's not an ugly American in the bunch. They don't exactly recall the days of John McEnroe trashing the French and the umpires, or Charles Barkley abusing an African rival. Nobody's boasting; nobody's trash talking.
Armstrong allowed that he wasn't sure he could be considered the best cyclist in the world, despite his Tour win. "I'm not a superstar; I'm a regular guy," he said. Woods was almost serene in victory, and Williams was so youthfully charming that she won over the English.
But how charming will the world find the Americans if they keep mowing through the competition?