Sports at Its Best in Wimbledon - And at Its Tragic Worst in Colombia
WHAT sports should and shouldn't be came into vivid focus over the weekend. Martina Navratilova's gracious ``triumph'' in defeat at Wimbledon was an example of the ``should''; the murder of Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar, gunned down in a parking lot in Medellin, a horrible case of the ``shouldn't.''
First the triumph: Navratilova arrived at Wimbledon with little hope of reaching the finals, much less closing out her 22-year run there with a 10th Wimbledon singles crown. But, lo and behold, she fought her way through the draw into a 12th career Wimbledon final, setting the stage for a possible dream finish to her own personal history at the All-England Lawn Tennis & CroquetClub.
The final chapter didn't conform to fairy-tale specifications, though, as Spain's Conchita Martinez played superbly, refusing to cave in to the pressures that might have conspired to unravel her. Though confronted by perhaps the greatest serve-and-volley player in the history of women's tennis, Martinez aggressively hit an array of passing shots that were brilliantly executed. Navratilova, who won the second set, didn't lose this match; Martinez won it, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
Pete Sampras beat Goran Ivanisevic in straight sets for the men's title, becoming the first man to repeat as Wimbledon champion since Boris Becker in 1986.
Even in defeat, Navratilova basked in the crowd's well-earned admiration and respect for all she has accomplished at Wimbledon. ``It's not just the respect or liking the way I play the game,'' she said later. ``I think, over the years, they've gotten to know me pretty well. Most of these people come here year in and year out. It was like playing in front of a whole bunch of your friends, so it was pretty special.''
Andres Escobar should have been accorded a friend's welcome in his native Colombia. Despite a costly faux pas in a World Cup soccer defeat to the United States on June 22, the defender was one of the reasons that the Colombian national team was so highly regarded. Details of this sad story are still surfacing, but at press time it appeared Escobar was shot six times in retaliation for inadvertantly kicking the ball into his own net during a 2-to-1 loss that led to Colombia's elimination from World Cup play. Those involved in the murder reportedly were drunk and one allegedly bet heavily on the Colombian team.
Earlier in the tournament, an anonymous caller vowed to kill midfielder Gabriel Gomez if he played another game. Not surprisingly, some players have said they do not want to return to the team now because of the specter of violence that surrounds it.
This ugliness is abhorrent, and in no way represents the general tenor of soccer, the World Cup tournament, or even Colombian fans. This writer had an opportunity to observe many of these fans at a pre-Cup tuneup game in Foxboro, Mass., and and it was a well-mannered, fun-loving crowd, giving no hints of maliciousness.
At times, the organizers of the World Cup tournament may go overboard in trumpeting the importance of their event. This is, after all, only sport, and the Escobar tragedy - in a grim counterpoint to the Navratilova story at Wimbledon - points up the need to cultivate appreciation for what is honorable in the human athletic spirit, not just in the final score. Touching other bases
* Did you know the baseball doubleheader is virtually extinct? The only twin bill scheduled for the entire 1994 season was played June 28 in Denver. Customers who stayed through both games, in which the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres earned a split, got their money's worth. Colorado won the first game, erasing an 8-0 deficit to score a 10-to-9 victory. San Diego took the nightcap, 11 to 3, but not until the Padres scored nine runs in the top of the 11th inning, a rally that tied the National League record for the most runs in the 11th.
* If a hockey movie is ever made about the New York Rangers' successful quest to win this year's Stanley Cup, Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a natural - looks-wise - to play Ranger captain Mark Messier.
* In a baseball story that examines Ken Griffey Jr.'s prospects for setting a new single-season home-run mark, reporter Bud Withers of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer identifies other records that are ``harder'' to break. Namely, Cy Young's 511 pitching victories, Lou Gehrig's 2,130 consecutive games, and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Another mark that appears practically untouchable is Hack Wilson's 190 runs batted in, set in 1930. No one has come within 30 RBIs of Wilson's mark for the past 55 years.
* From the look of things, the Colorado Silver Bullets, the barnstorming women's baseball team that has been traveling the United States playing various men's teams, is sticking around. Team owners recently announced that a minor league would be formed next year to develop players for the Silver Bullets - in Europe. Franchises for the six-team Mediterranean Baseball League will be marketed for $1 million apiece in France, Spain, and Italy.