Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chicago Athlete "Top 20 Moments" List Utterly Senseless

A few months ago a friend who writes for Chicago Athlete sent an e-mail asking if I had any cycling-related suggestions for a list the magazine was putting together of the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History." I started to write a reply, but I really couldn't think of any specific moments. I've only been interested in bicycling for a third of that time, and I haven't paid a lot of attention to the local racing scene. My reply said "something about Downers Grove" since the town hosts the National Criterium Championships, but I didn't know of any specific "moments." I ended up deleting the message without sending.

Now Chicago Athlete has unveiled the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History," and frankly it just doesn't make any darned sense. The problem is that few are legitimate moments. Take the first item, the LaSalle Banks Chicago Marathon. This is an annual event, not a moment! They could have legitimately chosen a particular race and said "when so-and-so set the world record" (they lump four record-breaking moments into one entry further down the list, including the 1999 race where I pushed Khalid Khannouchi to the record as he felt my hot breath on his neck from thirteen miles behind). But how can you describe an event with 30 years of history as a moment?

Continuing with the marathon, they name "five with a dream," the founders of the race. But wait, this list is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chicago Athlete. How could a decision made in November 1976 be one of the greatest moments in Chicago Athlete history?

It gets sillier from there, listing people like race director Carey Pinkowski, cross-country coach Joe Newton (York High School), and pro cyclist Robbie Ventura. Had Chicago Athlete zeroed in on a particular point in time, that would have been fine but a career is not a moment. For that matter, what makes Ventura more qualified than Christian Vandevelde, another local cyclist (born in Lemont) and a better one who actually rode in the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong, not merely for the same team in lesser events? I suspect that Ventura's position as a Chicago Athlete columnist had much to do with his selection.

Downers Grove did make the list -- by Chicago Athlete's definition, the mere existence of the event qualifies without regard to a moment in a specific race (say, a particularly close finish or a local winner). Ditto for Bike The Drive, the annual event that closes Lake Shore Drive to motor vehicles. Had they chosen the date the first one was held, I wouldn't complain (though if I remember correctly, the first Lake Shore Drive closure was actually part of the Boulevard Lakefront Tour, which once held Bike The Drive's position on the calendar). But the only date mentioned in the article is for the 2007 event, a moment that hasn't even come to pass yet.

The most bizarre entry is "Chicago 2016 (?)" -- the Olympics that Chicago may or may not host. How can a possible future event qualify as a great moment in history? Not only has it not happened, but it might never happen!

Alas, a list in a local publication wouldn't be complete without shamelessly pandering to its readership, the journalistic equivalent of "This Bud's for you." Why else would "everyday athletes" be listed as one of the "Top 20 Moments in Chicago Athlete History?"

Something went terribly wrong between the conception and publication of this article. Here's my theory... The original idea was to come up with a list of great moments. But the magazine's staff either couldn't think of enough specific moments or couldn't agree on which moments to choose. Then someone decided to open it up by including people and events. This made the task easier, especially when it came to building consensus. Unfortunately, no one bothered to change the name of the list from its original concept, probably because such a broad list would require a weak heading like "Top 20 Things..." The end result is nonsense.

Overall, I am thoroughly disappointed. I was hoping to learn something about great moments that I missed or forgot. Instead, I found a list of people and longtime events that no one could logically categorize as moments. To use the requisite sports metaphor, Chicago Athlete dropped the ball.

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