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Edited by Alexander Wolff and Richard O'Brien
December 12, 1994
Guts and Gaul
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December 12, 1994


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Guts and Gaul

The French scrupulously pronounce his name with the accent on the first syllable—always LEM-ond, so it sounds like the citrus fruit. But Americans have grown accustomed to the sound of Le-MOND. A you-bet, gee-whiz kid from Reno wasn't going to win three Tours de France unless he had a little continental je ne sais quoi to go with his brassy, Yankee willingness to take on the world. Why, the idea of an American winning the Tour was so preposterous that Greg LeMond himself, while flying to Europe in 1981 for his first international season, couldn't even bring himself to tell an inquiring seatmate that he was a pro cyclist. He fudged it, saying instead that he was in "sports marketing."

There was felicity in that characterization, as LeMond went on to become the greatest stateside salesman for the world's most sprawling sports event. But that career ended with his announcement last Saturday in Los Angeles that he's suffering from a rare muscle disease. "I've had to overcome a lot of obstacles," he said in breaking the news, "but now I have one I can't overcome."

LeMond, 33, hadn't won a stage race since 1992, when he began to complain of fatigue for which there seemed to be no good explanation. At first he blamed allergies; then he suspected he was carrying too much weight. Finally, in August, his doctors, noticing an alarming drop in his ability to carry oxygen, performed a muscle biopsy. They needed seven slices of muscle tissue from his left quadriceps, but they couldn't administer anesthesia because it might have affected the test results. So they strapped LeMond down and, in an excruciating procedure, sliced seven slivers of muscle out of his thigh, he says, "like sashimi."

The tests revealed that LeMond is suffering from mitochondrial myopathy, an impairment of proteins in his muscles that prevents them from delivering the kind of power a world-class cyclist needs for hours a day, every day of a stage race. The malady isn't life threatening, and it-shouldn't interfere with his daily routine, but because no cure or treatment has been found, LeMond will have to give up his dream of competing in the 1996 Olympics. Doctors don't know if there's any connection between the disease and the 30 lead shotgun pellets still inside him as a result of a turkey-hunting accident in 1987. As the father of three children, Jeffrey, 10, Scott, 7, and Simone, 5, Greg is fervently hoping the condition isn't hereditary. "Greg is still in denial about all this," his wife, Kathy, said on Saturday. "Today is hard because we're here in front of everyone. Before, it's just been me and Greg in the kitchen."

After his legendary win in the 1989 Tour, in which he made up 50 seconds on the final day with two of those pellets still lodged against his heart lining, this magazine named him Sportsman of the Year. A few talk-radio know-nothings objected, reviling the choice by pointing out that riding a bike is something anybody can do. Which, of course, it is. But no rider among tout le monde did it quite as astonishingly as he did.

Ho, Ho, Ho
We know what Dale Brown's voodoo instructor is getting the LSU basketball coach this Christmas. A 29-inch-high, limited-edition Bob Knight doll can deliver good cheer under your tree too, for the modest sum of $545 plus tax, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Indiana University library. The porcelain-and-cloth Bob doll comes in a little red duffel bag and is outfitted in a red sweater, Converse shoes and dark trousers over boxer shorts. In its next venture, perhaps the company manufacturing and marketing the figurine—Treasure Me Dolls of Kendallville, Ind.—can hook up with the makers of Chatty Cathy dolls and World Wrestling Federation action figures. Although it's billed as "so realistic, people are amazed," the Bob doll can't be considered truly lifelike until it curses and throws chairs.

Not a Potted Plant
We're accustomed to umpires hearing the grievances of others, not airing their own. But Joe West, the colorful and confrontational National League ump, recently accepted an undisclosed settlement from Upper Deck, the baseball-card company, for alleged unauthorized use of his likeness. It seems that West appears in an action photo on the back of a Gary Redus card, looking on as Redus scrambles back on a throw to first. With the lawsuit, West's attorney, Kevin Murphy of Covington, Ky., who's representing nine other umpires in similar complaints against various publishers, may have provided something historical: the first documented instance of West's objecting to being in the spotlight.

Feat of Clay

Clay-court specialists make up a tennis subculture, baseline-hugging their way to mild success on the tour, but few have ever parlayed such a one-dimensional game into the kind of ranking and money that Spain's Alberto Berasategui enjoyed in 1994. He finished the year with seven tournament titles (second only to Pete Sampras's 10), a No. 8 world ranking and nearly $940,000 in prize money. And he did it with all but two of his 65 match wins coming on the slow stuff.

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