What the Eurpean reaction towards Lance Armstrong's sixth Tour de France win really means.
12:00 AM, Aug 2, 2004 • By EMILY BERNS
My seat in Old Europe is in Munich, from which I watched not only Armstrong's extraordinary, awe-inspiring performance but the tangible reluctance among European observers to acknowledge it as such. After he achieved his record-breaking title, a BBC reporter went out of his way to rank the American biker below several past Tour greats. During the three-week race, rumors of drug-taking were revived by the French and others, though the five-time champion and cancer survivor had never failed a drug test. On the German TV station I watched, Armstrong's early wins in the mountains were attributed to his team members' assistance, his dominance in the two individual time trials was played down, his rivals--no matter how visibly inferior--were lavished with praise and attention while the real star was virtually ignored. When Armstrong snatched a last-second victory from a German biker in a stage he did not need to win, a stunned German commentator struggled for words to describe the Texan. "He's so . . . ambitious," he said finally, echoing the Cambridge dons' distaste.
There is another thread that connects these two stories. Harold Abrahams's critics were classic anti-Semites of the upper-class British variety, who regarded the Jewish runner's single-mindedness and intensity as the hallmarks of a "tradesman"--in other words, a Jew. Lance Armstrong's European critics--even if they are not overtly anti-American--resent even more than his dominance of what has traditionally been a European sport his very American style of success. He trains too hard for them, plans too carefully, strives too relentlessly. He does not wear his talent lightly or camouflage his intense desire to win. Success at any price, they imply, just as Abrahams' critics accused him of abandoning the ideals of an amateur in "a headlong pursuit of individual glory."
On one point, at least, Armstrong's European critics are right. Striving for success, like following one's dream, is a quintessentially American trait. Taken together, the two have made millionaire moguls of uneducated immigrants, powerful politicians of low-born nobodies, world-famous inventors of basement tinkerers, and great sports champions of disadvantaged youths like Armstrong. The natural home for ambitious dreamers, whatever their nationality, remains the United States.