American Idiots: Reflections on the Greatest Sporting Event in the World

Czech phenom Katrina Nash leads Katie Compton---I'm in the blue coat with the KFC bucket on my head.

Czech phenom Katrina Nash leads Katie Compton—I’m in the blue coat with the KFC bucket on my head.

I’m not a spectator. I haven’t watched an entire basketball or football game in more than ten years. When I was in grad school, Duke went to the Final Four every year, and won the championship my final year. I was in my office working on my dissertation when they won. I never played football, and I quit basketball after 7th grade (though I was the starting center on the A-team….). I guess I don’t like to watch. But, this weekend was different. The World Championships of Cyclocross was held for the first time outside of Europe, and it was contested on a course in Louisville Kentucky that I have raced on several times in the last four years. It  was an incredible event, and for the most part the American organizers did a fabulous job of constructing a truly worthy course and providing support for the racers from throughout the world (or, rather, mostly from Europe and a handful of racers from elsewhere….). Flooding on the Ohio River forced the organizers to move all of the races to Saturday, and the Women’s race would be contested at 11am, Eastern. There was no way in hell we were going to miss this, since the great American hope Katie Fucking Compton was going head to head against the Dutch Goddess Marianne Vos–the greatest cyclist in the world, Olympic Champion on the road and track, and multiple time World Champion in Cyclocross. I picked up six KFC chicken buckets to wear on our heads in support of Compton, and we were armed with our cowbells and vuvuzelas. The change in date meant that we had to wake up at 4am and be on the road by 5 to make sure we would see this epic battle.

But, despite our partisanship in hoping that Katie Compton would prevail, we are all actually racers. We know that Marianne Vos is an awesome cyclist, and would be likely to win. We appreciate anyone who can master a frozen muddy course like what was dealt in Louisville this weekend–a course that was deemed worthy of a world championship by even the most ardent European fan or racer. Indeed, we all were really excited to watch racers like Katerina Nash from the Czech Republic, and Sanne van Passen from the Netherlands, and Sanne Cant from Belgium. On the men’s side, none of us much cared for any of the Americans. We were there to see the best racers—-Sven Nys, Bart Wellens, Kevin Pawels, Radomir Simonek, and Klaas Vantournout.

Despite the overall success of the event, ugly Americans had to rear their heads. I heard of this in the beer tent from a few of the Europeans. Apparently, some of the American spectators were actually booing Marianne Vos. I couldn’t believe it. She’s 25 years old and the most successful woman since France’s Jeannie Longo. She’s effusive, approachable, and just a joy to watch. She rode a wonderful race and deserved to win. We were hunkered on an icy hill blowing vuvuzelas and wringing cowbells wearing our KFC buckets on our heads and cheering Marianne Vos. But, the teabagger “spectators” didn’t care about sport. They only cared about whether or not “their” team won. Katie Compton did win. She won silver, fighting back from a mechanical to overhaul every other woman in the race—but even without the mechanical she was woman enough to admit after that there is no way she could have beaten Vos. I’m proud of my KFC even more for saying that.

Walking back to the car I got the full dose of ugly American. We were a bit separated and it was crowded and I found myself next to a couple who I thought I knew (he looked like a guy I had raced against, but everyone was wearing heavy coats…). He immediately began a tirade against the “foreigners” who gave him the finger and said “fuck you, Americans.”  He said, “I wanted to tell him that we can just send him back to where he came from.” And he was apoplectic that someone would have the audacity to actually root for a non-American in America. I have no doubt that this guy had been among the crowd vigorously booing and harassing competitors from other nations, and then he’s surprised when some Dutch guy sticks it in his face when the Dutch took three of the four titles?!!  I told him “I really liked all of the Europeans, and I’m glad they traveled all this way to cheer their people.” And I reminded him that this was a huge benefit for his parochial city–that a couple of thousand Europeans came to Louisville and spent several nights in hotels, eating in restaurants, renting cars, and the like. He sulked off with his overweight teabagger wife.

We had tons of fun with the Dutch and Belgian fans, and their main complaint was that the beer tent wasn’t big enough. Any real “fan” of the sport would have been rooting for people like Vos, Nash, Nys, and Vantournout just as much as for Americans like Compton or Page. But, for the teabaggers, they thought of this as charity for the foreigners. And, the teabagging heckler made it a point to claim that the Papa John’s fascist was bankrolling the entire event (which was not at all true).  I pointed out that the event could easily pay for itself. We paid $40 admission an there were at least 10,000 people. Had they provided more beer tents, food, and merchandise booths, the event wouldn’t have needed the dirty conservative asshole’s money (and it probably didn’t, in the end). It was interesting that this guy and his spouse didn’t ever see the point that the Europeans were actually “superior” in every way, not simply in the sport. For him, anyone who was not a white conservative Christian from the South was a dirty foreigner probably looking for a handout. In fact, the people  he was ridiculing had probably dropped a minimum of $5k each to go to a sporting event, because they have good jobs and a strong economy over there in Europe…..

Hanging with the Dutch and Belgian fans in the Bier Tent!

Hanging with the Dutch and Belgian fans in the Bier Tent!

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2 Responses to “American Idiots: Reflections on the Greatest Sporting Event in the World”

  1. Beth Says:

    Another sociologist here: I was there too on Saturday, and didn’t hear any of this, thanksfully. We were on the off-camber uphill switchback, and everyone there was cheering for all the riders, if perhaps a little louder for the Americans. Sorry you ran into the haters- I didn’t get the sense that there were many. The booing for Pat McQuaid was the most unsportsmanlike commentary I heard, but not surprising. I heard several people at the merchandise tent say they didn’t want anything with a prominent UCI logo.

  2. sherkat Says:

    Very cool! I must have been very close to you during the Women’s race. We were halfway down the descent and could see the off camber of death and the limestone walk up along with the second descent and ride up. We didn’t witness any bad behavior, until I met the teabaggers as we were walking back to the car….I don’t consider booing Pat McQuaid bad behavior…..

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