Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Name Game

I have been thinking about first names recently. I believe it is a function of a co-worker being pregnant and C-Mac and I looking at adopting a stray cat that has been hanging out at the house. For reference, we think her name will be "Celery." The cat, that is.

Anyway, last names, or surnames if you want to get technical, are fairly rigid so if you're stuck with a bad one...tough. Just ask Dick Butkus. Sorry about that, blame your distant ancestors. Or the INS if your surname had the misfortune of being "Americanized" upon your family's arrival to the States. Although I think Coors looks better on a beer can than Kuhrs would. Just saying.

But first names, or given names, are just that...given. Every generation is offered a small but valuable opportunity to get the next crop of "Whatevers" off on the right foot with a good, positive first name. Sadly, many parents are woefully negligent of this, that's not strong enough, let's go with...obligation. Parents have an OBLIGATION to their kids to name them responsibly.

And if the sports and entertainment world is any indication...many parents are not living up to their end of the bargain. And even worse, many are potentially contributing to the growing illiteracy rate in this country. For example: Jerramy Stevens, Jerame Tuman and Geramy Rodamer are all prominent football players and Jeromy Burnitz was an MLB outfielder for about 14 years.

In case you were curious, Jeremy (correct) is a form of Jeremiah and ALL of these spellings are WRONG. In fact, I blame Jerramy Stevens’ horrible Super Bowl performance and subsequent DUI in Seattle on the fact that his name is spelled incorrectly. No real Jeremy would have behaved like that. Except maybe Jeremy Miller aka Ben Seaver from Growing Pains. That kid is bad news. Anyway, Stevens has been overcompensating for that misspelled birth certificate his whole life. That’s on you, Mr. and Mrs. Stevens.

Now, in the grand scheme of genetics and socialization, naming your child wouldn't seem to be at the top of the Overall Parental Duties list. But trust me, it is and should probably be moved up in the order. It’s not as lighthearted and fun as naming your cats Cosmo and Celery. Additionally, blatantly misspelling a "normal" name is just as bad as naming your kid "Dweezil" or "Apple" or whatever. Granted, it helps if your surname is Zappa or Paltrow but come on...isn't growing up hard enough?
With that said, the sport of cycling has remained fairly untainted by the questionable naming and spelling choices plaguing professional athletics and entertainment. Except for the Fabian Phenomenon, which I detailed earlier. But I think we came to a favorable resolution with that one after all the data was collected.

So, since there is not much use in heckling the names of the riders, I thought it would be interesting to look at the origin and meaning of some high-profile first names in the world of professional cycling. Since many names, such as the aforementioned Jeremy, are cultural forms of earlier “root” names, I will try to get to the original meaning.

Cycling Geneology 101: The Given Name

LANCE – Lance Armstrong
From the Germanic name Lanzo, a short form of names that began with the element land meaning "land".

I always thought this was a crazy name because it is a Noun, a Verb and kind of an Adjective in some senses with regard to Armstrong. This is probably the most “Heckle-able” name on the list though. Lance rhymes with too many things and kids are too creative with names like this.

GREGORY – Greg LeMond
From the Latin Gregorius, which was from the late Greek name Γρηγοριος (Gregorios), which was derived from γρηγορος (gregoros) meaning "watchful, alert".

Now we know why LeMond has been so involved in all these public disputes and slanderous accusations. He was born “watchful and alert” so I guess he can’t help calling it how he sees it. He sure could have used those qualities while he was hunting back in ’87 though. Oops.

GEORGE – George Hincapie
From the Greek name Γεωργιος (Georgios) which was derived from the Greek word γεωργος (georgos) meaning "farmer, earthworker", itself derived from the elements γη (ge) "earth" and εργον (ergon) "work".

Once again, this is a very apt name for one of the best “workers” in the sport. Perhaps the “earth” part explains some of his problems in Roubaix, Eneco and California. And the “Farmer” part is clearly a reference to the tan lines.

LEVI - Levi Leipheimer
Means "attached" in Hebrew. In the Old Testament Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the ancestor of one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites (the tribe that eventually became the priests of the Israelites).

Okay, now this is a great example of how hard someone has to work to get over the limitations of their first name. Leipheimer was clearly “attached” as a racer for much of his career. He could usually hang in there but never really separated himself from the group. Things changed somewhat this year as he stretched the shackles of his “Levi-ness” a few times in the TdG, TdF and USPRO but I think he will always be fairly Levi, no matter what.

BJÖRN – Bjarne Riis
From an Old Norse name meaning "bear".

Seems pretty fitting, even though he is known as the Eagle. Regardless, those are two good animals. Question: Does a bear dope in the woods?

CHRISTOPHER – Christophe Moreau
Means "bearing Christ", derived from Late Greek Χριστος (Christos) combined with φερω (phero) "to bear, to carry". Christopher was the legendary saint who carried the young Jesus across a river.

This meaning may explain some of the rather lofty expectations carried by La Chien Moreau. Although I have to think that “young Jesus” was probably pretty light. Solid diet, super good strength to weight ratio.

ALEXANDER – Alexandre Vinokourov, Alejandro Valverde
From the Greek name Αλεξανδρος (Alexandros), which meant "defending men" from Greek αλεξω (alexo) "to defend, help" and ανηρ (aner) "man" (genitive ανδρος).

The meaning of this name would be much more appropriate if they switched it to “defended men” or “to be defended, helped.” Close, but not quite.

OSCAR – Oscar Freire, Oscar Pereiro,
Means "deer lover", derived from Gaelic os "deer" combined cara "lover". In Irish legend Oscar was the son of the poet Oisin and the grandson of the hero Fionn mac Cumhail. The name Oscar could also represent a revival of an Old English name (meaning "god spear" from Old English os "god" and gar "spear").

I am not sure how Oscar became a popular Spanish name but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be quite as common if everyone knew what it meant in Gaelic. Common meanings in Spain vary between “Rainbow Jersey Wearer” and “2nd Place.”

THOMAS – Tom Boonen
Greek form of the Aramaic name Te'oma which meant "twin". In the New Testament this is the name of the apostle who doubts the resurrected Jesus. According to tradition he was martyred in India.

If Tom Boonen had a twin, Belgium would explode. And they would win Flanders on a tandem bike.

PHILIP – Phil Ligget
From the Greek name Φιλιππος (Philippos) which means "friend of horses", composed of the elements φιλος (philos) "friend" and ‘ιππος (hippos) "horse".

Are they talking about Paul or Bob?

TYLER – Tyler Hamilton
From an occupational surname meaning "tiler of roofs" in Old English.

If the Operacion Puerto thing doesn’t get cleared up this may be a viable career option.

PAUL – Paolo Bettini
From the Roman family name Paulus, which meant "small" or "humble" in Latin.

They got the “small” part right but the gold helmet and shoes pretty much did away with the “humble” element.

LLOYD – Floyd Landis
From a surname derived from Welsh llwyd meaning "grey".

Floyd is a variation of Lloyd apparently. Feel free to read whatever you want into this meaning. Grey has a lot of connotations, but not nearly as many as say…Dick Pound for example.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Arbitrary Cogitation - Show Me...Something

So, the road racing season is drawing to a close and the final big event in the U.S. is the altogether confusing Tour of Missouri. Or Missourah, Mizzou or whatever else the local yokels call it. Regardless of your chosen pronunciation, it’s not exactly the first place that comes to mind when thinking about bike racing. Just out of curiosity, is anyone else concerned that the primary locations for two of the biggest events in domestic cycling are Georgia and Missouri? Maybe it’s just me but this seems odd.

Anyway, what does come to mind when thinking of The Show Me State besides its strangely anti-social state motto? Show you what Missouri? Why so skeptical? Well, I can only speak for myself so I will go over a short list of the things that I think about when forced, somewhat unwillingly, to ponder this odd Midwestern/Southern state.

1) The Missouri Compromise, the Dred Scott case and the Mason-Dixon Line – Missouri has a pretty fascinating socio-political history. Not entirely pleasant but interesting nonetheless. A volatile Southern/Midwestern identity crisis has led to a checkered judicial history as well, that has often seen Missouri as a stomping ground of racial and social issues that still exist to this day. No wonder Rush Limbaugh lives there.

Did you know that Missouri is one of only two states that border 8 other states? I’m not sure why, but for some reason I think that is crazy. 8 other states! Are you kidding me?
Maybe all the borders contribute to the weird social make-up of Missouri. I don’t know.

I do know that Missouri's borders physically touch a total of eight different states, as does its neighbor, Tennessee. Missouri is bounded on the north by Iowa; on the east, across the Mississippi River, by Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee; on the south by Arkansas; and on the west by Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska (the latter across the Missouri River.)

Now, I’m cool with Iowa and Illinois but the other six neighbors may leave a little bit to be desired in the culture department. Sometimes you are judged by the company you keep.

2) Nelly – I always thought it was weird that Cornell Haynes Jr. aka “Nelly” wore Band-Aids on his face and fashioned himself as a “Southern Country” type of guy. Last time I checked, St. Louis wasn’t terribly country and not too far south either. And why would you want to affiliate yourself with the South as a rapper anyway? But then again, how can we ever hope to understand the machinations of the man that gave the world “Pimp Juice” and thought it was okay to call out KRS-One? Like Chino XL said, “What’s next? Beyonce battling Rakim?”

3) The Los Angeles Rams – My hatred of all L.A. sports teams didn’t completely transfer to the Rams when they moved to St. Louis…but I still don’t like them. And I still call them the Los Angeles Rams. The switch to gold instead of yellow will never erase my childhood nightmares of Eric Dickerson and his stupid Kurt Rambis glasses.

The matching flat top haircuts of Kurt Warner and his wife didn’t help my appreciation of the Rams very much either. But they did make me smile.

4) National Lampoon’s Vacation – For some reason I always love the scene when the Griswold’s take the wrong exit in the Family Truckster and end up in East St. Louis. It just doesn’t get much better than Clark trying to keep Ellen, Rusty and Audrey calm with gunfire in the background. Goodbye hubcaps, hello comedy gold.

Speaking of goodbyes, has anyone seen Chevy Chase lately? I never thought Anthony Michael Hall would be more popular in 2007 than the man who played Clark Griswold and Ty Webb, two of the greatest movie characters of all time. You never know.

Just for reference, Cousin Eddie lived in Kansas, not Missouri. Close but no real tomato ketchup.

5) Branson – Billed as “The Family Friendly Las Vegas,” Branson is just a weird, weird place from what I have been able to tell. With more neon signs and country musicians than should ever be allowed by law in one location, I think Bart Simpson summed up Branson well when he stated “My Dad says it’s like Las Vegas – if it were run by Ned Flanders.” Sounds like fun huh?

Is gambling okay if it is controlled by conservative, right-wing Christians? The fine people of Branson, Missouri say “Yes. Yes it is.”

Speaking of the Simpsons, many argue that their hometown of Springfield is in Missouri although the show makes a point of never clearly identifying which state it is in. I am not ashamed to know this.

5) The Fifth Down – The only other thing that really sticks out in my mind when I think about Missouri is the infamous “Fifth Down” that the University of Colorado football team took advantage of to beat Mizzou a few years back.

To recap, the “Guy who holds the down markers” spaced out, didn’t flip over his down cards and ended up allowing CU five downs instead of the customary four allotted for each series of attempts at a first down or score. How a whole stadium of people, the Missouri players and coaching staff and all of the referees failed to notice that they played five downs will always baffle me. But my school won the game because of it so I guess it worked out okay. Go CU!

So, yeah…The Tour of Missouri. I still don’t know what to think. Show Me…something, even though the race has apparently been gift-wrapped for Big George Hincapie after the second stage. It would be cool to see local guy Willdren of the Frischkorn get on the final podium ‘bout those exciting GC standings in the TdG and ToM this year eh fellas? Yeah...15 and 30 minute gaps do not make for exciting "Tours."

Speaking of Melanie Hincapie’s husband…did anyone happen to catch GH’s post-race comments after the USPRO? Yeah, not exactly happy to have been on the second step that day (even though he was still taller than Levi). I guess maybe George forgot the selflessness Levi displayed last year and all of the subsequent criticism he took for it. Seriously, Leipheimer got a ton of heat for fetching bottles and basically shelling the field for Hometown Hincapie in 2006. Yet, I don’t recall Levi saying he that he could have won and that he had “great legs but just couldn’t use them” like Small George did this year.

But this brings up an interesting topic that Dave Towle and Bob Roll touched on during the coverage that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I am speaking of the fact that a good number of guys racing at this point in the year have not had their contracts renewed for the 2008 season and have essentially been fired from their current teams or have already signed on elsewhere and are essentially racing against their future teammates. Needless to say, there are conflicts of interest a-plenty in September. And since George will be rocking T-Mobile pink next year, the Disco blue probably didn’t mean quite as much that day.

Even though the Pro Tour guys get most of the attention, I always wonder about the Grunts at this time of year. I’m talking about the guys that are scrambling, trying to make a living racing their bikes. The guys that don’t know whether they will be fighting it out on the NRC circuit or just hoping to catch on with a good regional elite team next year. The guys who are deciding how much longer they can risk life and limb in a profession that may force them into a second job in the offseason. How do you keep sacrificing your own chances when you have already lost your spot on the team? I wish there was more attention paid to this late-season dynamic in a sport where motivation plays such a huge role in performance.

With regard to motivation…I am beginning to think that the UCI must be punishing Spain for the whole Operacion Puerto scandal by throwing Alejandro Valverde under the bus before the World Championships. Of all the ridiculous events that have followed the OP Affair, this may take the cake. Has the UCI identified what exactly they have found in the Puerto documents that makes them so certain Valverde was involved? And has the Spanish Federation responded to the evidence the UCI claims to have? Am I talking to myself and wasting my time by even caring at this point? Will this freaking case ever see ANY kind of resolution at all?

Final not on the Worlds though: Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. And I don't mean Pereiro.

But speaking of frustrating delays…how about our boy Lloyd Flandis? Remember him? It has now been well over a full calendar year since the Mad Mennonite was fingered by the French Lab of Dopes and he is still flapping in the breeze.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have your entire professional reputation and future riding on a verdict that takes over a year to reach. So much for the right to a speedy trial. Every day that passes without resolution is another day that Landis will never be able to recover. It is SHAMEFUL that this process has dragged on for so long. Guilty or innocent…no one deserves to be kept in limbo like this. They say a verdict will be announced by the end of September but I’ll believe it (maybe) when I see it.

Finally, I would like to end on a high note and mention Taylor Phinney’s recent Individual Time Trial victory in the Junior World Championships.

I can proudly say that I have known the Phinney’s for a little over 17 years and actually met the family when Connie was pregnant with their eldest son. I was a Junior racer for their shop team back then and I have to say, it makes me feel a bit old to see Taylor rubbing elbows in local Pro/1/2 events in Colorado and getting World Championship jerseys.

I had a chance recently to spend some time with Connie and Davis at Thomas Prehn’s birthday party as well as the following morning’s group ride and it was great to see how proud they are. And also how mellow they are about it. This is a family that truly appreciates the value of life on a daily basis and it is heartwarming to know that they have been able to experience this. Listening to Davis talk about Taylor with the expertise of a coach and the love of a father is something I will not soon forget.

Greg LeMond might be concerned about the young Phinney’s future as a professional cyclist, but I have little doubt that he has the support structure needed to be as successful as he wants to be. As Davis says proudly and knowingly, "He's got a huge engine."

And suddenly I am reminded of why I love this sport.