By Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle
Venus Williams’ dramatic win at Wimbledon is the latest evidence we’re living in a golden age of domestic appliances. Oops, I mean, of women athletes.
Just kidding! Bernie Ecclestone’s bizarre comment regarding race driver Danica Patrick – “Women should be all dressed in white, like all other domestic appliances” – not only exposed Ecclestone as an irrelevant character to be ignored at all costs, but also illustrated how near extinction his species is.
Ecclestone – or, as I like to call him, Rusty Lugnuts – has amassed a fortune selling auto racing, which gives him the right to dehumanize half the people in the world.
Alas, Danica Patrick caused a bigger stir in auto racing this year than any five of the drivers in Rusty’s organization, Formula 409 or whatever it is. Overall in sports, it’s looking as if females are here to stay.
Women are hot. Superstars abound, and we will call the following list, in honor of the dishonored Ecclestone, the Maytag All-Stars:
Venus and Serena: Imagine if Tiger Woods had a younger brother who had all of Tiger’s skills but was larger and more athletic. When Tiger had a bad week or a down year, Leopard Woods would step in to dominate golf.
It’s crazy that siblings could rule a sport as Venus and Serena have. That has never happened.
It’s even crazier considering the Williams’ social background, a huge handicap in their country-club sport. While elevating the level of women’s tennis, they have managed to develop themselves into two of the most interesting, elegant and engaging athletes of any gender or sport.
Serena was out of action at Wimbledon. I believe she took some time off to rehab an injury and to invent a car fueled by old tennis balls.
Stacy Dragila: The first female track-and-field astronaut.
Until Stacy came along, female pole vaulters couldn’t beat male high jumpers. Dragila raised the bar. And cleared it. Again and so on. She broke records, and she broke through a mental barrier for women vaulters.
She won her event’s first Olympic gold medal, but injuries cost her a shot at another gold. At age 34, she recently won her 17th U.S. title.
Now that young women inspired by Dragila are challenging her, trying to take her crown, what does Stacy do? She helps 'em.
The golfers: Women’s golf not only has the most dominant and consistently brilliant athlete in sports – Annika Sorenstam – but a more dynamic group of young players than the men’s game has.
At most tournaments, competing against Sorenstam is like long-jumping against Bob Beamon in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. Annika has the distinction of being the only golfer in the world, male or female, who has the unqualified respect of Tiger Woods.
Alas, Sorenstam is on the verge of falling victim to a generation of young golfers she inspired. Shooting for a Grand Slam, Annika was derailed at the U.S. Women’s Open when she was beaten not only by a 23-year-old named Birdie (Kim), but by four U.S. teenagers. It was like getting mugged at a slumber party.
The fear among some golf “purists” is that Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and other teeny-boppers occasionally will invade the men’s tour. Yeah, what a global tragedy that would be.
Danica Patrick: Fourth place at Indy, dressed in red, white and blue, declaring her independence from twits like Ecclestone.
The Olympians: These women tend to disappear from view in non-Olympic years, but many of them are still out there performing.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May, dramatic winners of the beach-volleyball gold medal, roll on, although they recently had their 50-match winning streak interrupted.
Their uniforms are fetching, sure, but Walsh and May would be stunning to watch if they played in mumus.
The U.S. softball team might have been the most dominant Olympic team of any sport or gender, ever. If you picked a world softball all-star team last year, with eight position players and three pitchers, it probably would have been the exact same 11 women who played for the United States.
The gold-medal soccer and basketball teams oozed talent and charm, which is not surprising. In fact, when it comes to rattling off tired cliches and going all prima donna on us, we can only pray that the women athletes never catch up with the men.
So far, the chasm is wide.
In closing, a nod to Ecclestone for reminding us of the dark ages.
Incidentally, in fairness to Rusty Lugnuts, women athletes are like domestic appliances. They come in many colors and sizes, the new models perform tasks that were thought to be impossible a few years ago and some men still don’t know how to handle 'em.