IT HAD BEEN shaping up as the feel-good story of international motor racing in 2007: Lewis Hamilton, the first black driver in the history of Formula One, a 22-year-old from Hertfordshire, England, won two of the season's first seven races and appeared on his way to becoming the first rookie to win an F/1 championship. Then in September a juicy spying scandal played out flamboyantly on the back pages of European tabloids: Hamilton's racing team, McLaren, was fined $100 million after the World Motorsports Council found that McLaren employees had acquired confidential technical data that belonged to engineers at Ferrari. Although his team was tarred by the theft, Hamilton himself wasn't penalized, and heading into the final event of the season in São Paulo, Brazil, on Oct. 21, he held a commanding seven-point lead over the Ferrari team's Kimi Raikkonen. But on Lap 8, in a twist befitting the bizarre season, Hamilton suffered a transmission failure—his first of the season—and lost the title to Raikkonen, the sport's highest-paid driver, by one point. It was the closest finish in the 58-year history of the world championship and an all-too-fitting end to Hamilton's season.
IT'S HARD to say which is more entertaining: watching Barcelona's Lionel Messi, the 20-year-old Argentine wunderkind, score goals worthy of Diego Maradona, or listening to Ray Hudson describe them on GolTV. ("This man has got a walkie-talkie directly to heaven's gods!") Messi was the little genius of world soccer in 2007, displaying his breathtaking speed, vision and ball skills on a regular basis. Hudson, meanwhile, is the greatest announcer you've never heard of, a Geordie-accented mix of Dick Vitale's enthusiasm and Keith Jackson's uniquely kooky phrasings. In Hudson's world, a shaky defender is "tighter than a camel's backside in a sandstorm" or "as nervous as a Beirut grocery run." And goals? "I got a physical arousal from watching Bojan [Krkic] there." Small wonder that one Hudson-lover started a blog featuring his greatest hits (hudsonia.blogspot.com). Get this man a wider audience.
U.S. Women Slide
NOBODY CAME out looking good after U.S. coach Greg Ryan made the stunning decision to bench starting goalkeeper Hope Solo for the team's World Cup semifinal against Brazil. Not Ryan, who lost his job after the U.S. suffered its worst-ever defeat, falling 4--0 (due in part to the rustiness of sub Briana Scurry). Not Solo, who sacrificed the high ground by publicly criticizing Ryan and Scurry. And certainly not the U.S. team, which blackballed Solo for her remarks with sorority-style vindictiveness, refusing to let her attend the third-place medal presentation, eat with the team or even fly back on the U.S. plane. Lost in the Solo saga was a more important point: Once a women's soccer superpower, the U.S. no longer has the skill or imagination to match Germany and Brazil. To regroup for the 2008 Olympics, new coach Pia Sundhage will have to amp up the creativity in the midfield.
Beckham on the Bench
ASIDE FROM one memorable night (a 5--4 loss to the Red Bulls before 66,237 fans in Giants Stadium) and one trademark-bending free-kick goal (in his first start), the David Beckham experience was a Theater of the Surreal. ESPN hyped his debut (in a meaningless exhibition against Chelsea), then used the "Beckham Cam" to show the injured midfielder adjusting his socks on the bench. And when the Beckhams were honored at a Hollywood party hosted by Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Will Smith, Beck's Galaxy teammates, several of whom were earning less than $20,000 a year, came along. "I got to hang out with the rapper Common," said forward Gavin Glinton. "I'm a big fan of his music." Now healthy, Beckham should be ready for Take 2 when the MLS season opens in March.
Prime Time for Phelps