What it means to be a champion?
There are many successful cyclists, but what does it mean to be a great champion?
I'm a regular reader of Mike Goldie's blog over on the CCCC website. He often has interesting things to say and is a worthwhile read. One of his recent posts talks about comparing cyclists, and he goes on to declare that a certain cyclist is a great champion. This got me thinking and I posted to his blog, expressing, briefly my thoughts on it, which he disagreed with, not suprisingly! This is healthy, if everyone agreed, we'd all be redundant and the world would be a very boring place indeed.
So what does it mean to be a great champion? Success on the track or road (or MTB, BMX etc of course) is a given, for whatever definition of success you choose to use. I think it also encompasses a greater aspect of the rider. They have to have, I think, done it the 'right way'. Ie: played by the rules. This is the difference between a rider like, for example, Jan Ullrich, Bjarn Riis or Richard Virenque, and one like Eddy Merckx or Lance Armstrong or Shane Kelly (or Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen, Ryan Bailey, Anna Meares, John Nicholson, Stuart O'Grady etc).
What's the difference? Merckx, Armstrong, Evans, Kelly etc have never been caught cheating. I'm careful with my choice of words here, we can never know if any of these riders have actually cheated (used banned substances, ie: deliberatly and knowingly broke the rules, I'm not talking about racing infractions which can just happen, I'm talking deliberate cheating) but we DO know that Ullrich, Virenque, Pate etc did. They got caught (or they confessed just before they got caught). Holding them up as great champions does the sport a dis-service, I believe and implies support for the bad side of our sport. Successful, talented and gifted cyclists, yes, but great champions? No. To be a true champion, you have to do it by the rules as they stand at the time. You have to have never cheated the sport. Doping is not something that these riders did by accident. They knowingly and deliberatly cheated.