Monday, July 10, 2006

Great Sports Weekend For the French Turns Sour

For most of this past weekend, it was a joyous time for French athletes. Their presence on the world stage loomed as large as the Eiffel Tower. However, their jubilation ended Sunday night as Italy celebrated a World Cup championship. A great weekend in French sports suddenly turned to misery.

On Saturday, France’s Amelie Mauresmo made her country proud by defeating Justine Henin-Hardenne to win Wimbledon. The top-seeded Mauresmo became the first Wimbledon women’s singles champion from France since 1925, when Suzanne Lenglen defeated England’s Joan Fry in the final. After that match, the embittered Fry allegedly placed a curse on French women, prohibiting them from winning at Wimbledon. Most tennis historians do not believe in the hex, although they do acknowledge that Fry often wore a witch’s costume on the court and played with a broom instead of a racket. According to the legend, the curse would only be broken when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series.

While Mauresmo’s triumph across the English Channel was sweet, the French also prevailed on the other side of the Atlantic Saturday night. Jeff “Frenchy” Francoeur smacked the go-ahead homer to rally the Atlanta Braves to a 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. In appreciation, the Turner Field crowd delivered the Tomahawk Chop chant in a French accent. The sound was music to the ears of new Braves third base coach Gerard Depardieu.

Sunday the French continued to flourish, as Sylvain Calzati won the eighth stage of the Tour de France. Ukrainian Serhiy Honchar currently wears the yellow jersey, but the home fans enjoyed seeing Calzati’s moment of glory. He also entertained his countrymen in ways beyond winning. After the race, he pretended to inject himself with steroids, yelling, “Look at me, I’m Lance Armstrong!” to the amused French spectators.

With all this sports glory, the stage was set for France to win its second World Cup championship. Captain Zinedine Zidane continued the momentum by converting a penalty kick in the seventh minute for a 1-0 lead. The retiring Zidane had led France to the 1998 World Cup championship, and a second title would have vaulted him past ZZ Top as the most accomplished ZZ in history. As a tribute to his namesake rockers, he reportedly considered playing the final in sunglasses and a long beard. Zidane chose to go without those accessories, but he was inspired by a pre-game speech by the band’s Billy Gibbons, who told the French team, “You’ve got legs, you know how to use them.”

Unfortunately for the French, the jubilation did not last. Italy evened the score later in the first half, and neither side managed another goal in regulation. Zidane earned an early exit during the second overtime period by head-butting Marco Materazzi in the chest and drawing a red card. Reportedly, Zidane’s outburst resulted from his career-long frustration over being the last guy listed in the program. To his credit, the French legend remained respectful of the rules of soccer and refused to use his hands in striking Materazzi.

Italy ultimately prevailed in penalty kicks and celebrated the nation’s fourth World Cup championship. The outcome means that France must relinquish certain privileges to Italy until the 2010 World Cup. For the next four years, open-mouth smooching will be called Italian kissing, and the former cast member from 3rd Rock From the Sun will be known as Italian Stewart. Also, the world’s most famous slutty hotel heiress is now named Rome Hilton.

So a weekend that carried such promise for French sports ended in heartbreak. However, the most famous resident of Paris is smiling today. Because the Mona Lisa is Italian.