Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 23, 2010 - A Historic Day in American Sports

Few times throughout the year do sports get talked about among the majority of the American people. The finals of the professional sports, an amazing play, or a record broken are the moments in which we hear everyone talking about sports. Overall Americans love their sports. The thrill of competition and the sweetness of victory are what makes America great. Rarely does the conversation of sports involve so much talk then it did on June 23, 2010. Even more rare was the talk did not involve basketball, football, or baseball. Two singular moments in sports that had the entire nation talking actually involved soccer and tennis.

The first was the FIFA World Cup match-up between the United States and Algeria. The final game of the group schedule gave the United States the opportunity to move to the tournament of 16 with a win against Algeria. The United States team, seen as second class in world soccer, fought extremely hard to score as early as possible. The coach of the Americans, Bob Bradley, knew that only win would allow the Americans to advance and he was right. The English team had scored against Slovenia early and as the time was winding down it became obvious that an England win and an American tie would result in the United States soccer team heading home early. Not short of multiple chances the United States squad stayed aggressive and continually missed opportunity after opportunity. Despite an inept international ref calling off another American goal we continued to fight. As stoppage time commenced the result seemed inevitable. Watching the game my heart sunk and I began to believe that soccer truly is a world sport and the United States just has not caught up. And then it happened. The goalkeeper Howard pulled down a shot from the Algerians and forward the pass to Donovan on the right-flank. Donovan moving to score quickly got the ball upfield and passed it to Jozy Altidore. Altidore tried to cross it to Dempsey for a chip in however it deflected and Dempsey crashed into the goalkeeper. From their it was slow motion. Donovan, 7-yards out, smashed the ball into the lower corner of the goal. The team went nuts, the stadium erupted, office buildings and restaurants back home went crazy. There is something about international competition that brings even the apathetic fan into the fold. Soccer has never become more interesting and more compelling for the United States than on June 23, 2010. Cheering American fans stayed in the stadium for well over 30 minutes after the finale. Even President Bill Clinton, on hand to watch the event, stayed in the locker room for nearly an hour hanging out with the players and congratulating them on the their victory. This is not an epic victory that will be placed on the same stage as the "Miracle on Ice" but it will be remembered. It allowed for an underdog American team to show the world what they are made of and as Donovan said, it "embodies what the American spirit is about... we kept going, and I think that's what people admire so much about America."

It is important to realize at the time Donovan scored his game winning goal it wasn't even lunch time on the East Coast and the West Coast was just waking up. There was so much time left in the day however that was all anyone could talk about. Then around 1pm eastern standard time we started to hear about a match in Wimbledon, England. It involved two fairly obscure players, John Isner of the United States and Nicholas Mahut of France. When I first heard about the match the score was in the 30s in the fifth set. Records were already being broken and there seemed to be no end in site. From this point the match went from interesting to epic. Despite complete exhaustion these men continued to play, placing serves at speeds well over 120mph. Neither man could seem to break the others serve however. The crowd slowly grew as word broke out about the match. With capacity of the court just over 700 the crowd grew way beyond that. People were finding anyway possible to see this historic match now reaching over 100 games in the fifth set. Even the top professionals like Roger Federer showed up wanting to witness this event. Andy Roddick questioned if either of these men had to use the restroom, the answer is they did. Tied at 58-all the two men took their first restroom break. They played two more games and the inevitable set in. Court 18, where the two men were playing, has no lights. The crowd was chanting for them to move the match to centre court but it was apparent that was not going to happen. After it was tied up at 59-all Mahut walked over to the official and suggested the match end. The ability to seeing was dwindling and despite both men wanting the match to continue and determine the winner, they called it off for the next day. The statistics for this match are unbelieveable. Isner finished the day with 98 aces, Mahut with 95, which shattered the previous record set last year during the Davis Cup at 78. The fifth set alone was longer than the previously longest match record which was just over six hours. I can not imagine the physical toll this match had on these men and unforunately it will probably negatively effect the winner the next time they play. Despite this it is something we will probably never see again. It is sad to think that one of them actually has to lose this match.

Two distinct sporting events nearly 5,500 miles apart. Neither of them performed in the United States however both very American in nature. One can not help but relish in the opportunity we had to enjoy sports on Wednesday, June 23rd. A sports day that did not involve football or basketball, it did not involve money or egos. It was simply about grit. We witnessed determination at its finest level, competition at its most pure, and the spirit of winning rarely seen.  

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