Beyond Golf — 22 July 2012 by Bob Sherwin
What a year for the Brits

There must be something in the crumpets this year.

The English, not particularly renown for the overall athleticism, are having an extraordinary year on the world’s playing fields. Maybe it’s the inspiration of the 2012 Olympics Games in London, which begins Wednesday, but their widespread success is enough to notice.

One of the most remarkable stories will be Sunday with the finish of the Tour de France, the grueling three-week annual bike fest through France’s mountains and meadows. In the previous 98 years of the event, no Brit had ever claimed the yellow jersey, signifying the race champion. When the riders finish what is largely a ceremonial 120-kilometer finish to Paris Sunday an Englishman will not only win the event but an Englishman also will finish second.

Britain’s Bradley Wiggins will coast to victory Sunday as he will toast champagne down the Champs Elysees. He dominated Saturday’s final 54-kilometer time trial and now has a mighty 3 minute and 21 seconds lead over second place, Brit Chris Froome. The British Team Sky will win the team competition.

Wiggins, a 32-year-old Londoner who is a three-time Olympic champion, had crashed out of the  Tour last year with a broken collarbone.

In addition, another Brit, Mark Cavendish continued to establish himself as the greatest cycling sprinter in the world. He now has won 22 Tour de France stages in his career and should win Sunday’s  finale. After all, he has won the final stage in each of the past three years. If he wins, he would move past Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade and into fourth place all-time in stage wins.

Cavendish, Wiggins, Froome and other Team Sky mates David Miller, who won stage 12, and Ian Stannard will be among the favorite in the road race events in London next Saturday.

It’s an unprecedented showing and it came just three weeks after another English breakthrough at Wimbledon. An Englishman won a Wimbledon title for the first time since 1936 while another Englishman reached the men’s final for the first time since – 1936.

Jonny Marray teamed with Finnish partner Freddie Nielsen to win the Wimbledon men’s doubles title. The unseeded duo beat fifth-seeded Swedes Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. The last Brits in the finals were Bobby Wilson and Mike Davies in 1960. But they lost. The last winners were Pat Hughes and Raymond Tuckey in 1936.

The next day, Andy Murray, the first Brit to reach the men’s singles finals since 1938, faced Roger Federer. Murray lost, 4-6-, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, falling short in joining Fred Perry (1936) as the last English men’s champion. But Murray won the hearts of the country.

Then there’s Chelsea, which finished sixth during the season in its football division, won its first-ever Champions League title in June. Chelsea’s Didier Drogba scored a goal in the 88th minute to tie Bayern Munich – on its home turf – 1-1. Then Chelsea won the shootout.

To get there, Chelsea had a mighty comeback against Napoli, then beat Benfica and finally powerful Barcelona in the semifinals.

What’s going on here?

In golf, pint-size Luke Donald is ranked No. 1 in the world. Lee Westwood is third. Donald and Justin Rose each has won an event on the PGA Tour this year.

We should see some English athletes emerge at the London Games this week as its Olympic team officials expect to have a better showing than the Beijing Games in which they won 47 medals, including 19 golds.

Among the Brits expected to medal are: Mo Farah (5,000 meters), Jessica Ennis (heptathlete), Rebecca Adlington (400-meter freestyle; 800-meter free), Savannah Marshall (boxing), and Alistair Brownlee (triathlon).

England has never had it so good.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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