Sunday, July 12, 2009
In 1986, Greg LeMond, despite being constantly threatened by his own teammate, Bernard Hinault, became the first American to win the largest single annual sporting event in the world, the Tour de France. Millions watched on CBS Television as Greg's historic victory catapulted him into the media spotlight.
In the midst of his run of success he was involved in an appalling accident which almost cost him his life and left him in serious danger of never being able to ride again, let alone compete and win at the top level of the sport. This tragedy struck on April 20, 1987, when his brother-in-law accidentally shot Greg while hunting in California. Over forty shotgun pellets ripped through Greg's body, lodging not only in his back and legs, but more critically in his small intestine, liver, diaphragm, and heart lining. While waiting for rescue, his right lung collapsed and he lost three quarters of his blood supply. A cell phone, a police helicopter and nearby hospital that specialized in gun shot wounds saved his life. Because of the dangerous locations, surgeons were forced to leave over thirty of the pellets imbedded in his body.
After the horrific shooting accident, LeMond put together a comeback, which went beyond the limits of the average man. Greg's long rehabilitation process was both painful and frustrating. He had lost over twenty pounds, most of it pure muscle, and his level of fitness had decreased dramatically. Ever determined, he set a goal for himself to win the Tour de France again! While many people admired his bravery, only Greg's supportive wife Kathy and a few close friends believed he could do it. In engineering this comeback, Greg overcame reduced physical capability by enhancing the innovations that helped him win the 1986 Tour. These cycling breakthroughs, all which have become commonplace today, include: wind tunnel testing, aeroframes, heart rate monitors, human power output measuring devices, protective eye wear and helmets that worked.
That LeMond did make it back to winning ways says volumes about his determination and skill, characteristics which had become evident when he won the 1986 Tour de France. Blending this cutting-edge innovation with unrivaled levels of courage and tenacity, Greg went for it all in the 1989 Tour de France. He fought to stay competitive through the grueling 21-days of racing, which ranged from 100-155 miles each. Right out of a Hollywood movie, Greg overcame a seemingly insurmountable lead by Frenchman Laurent Fignon to win by a mere 8 seconds, the narrowest margin of victory ever in the Tour de France's 87-year history! The incredible resurrection of LeMond's career was capped by victory a month later in the 1989 World Championships. Many awards followed, including being named the 1989 "Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year".
To prove his return to the top was no fluke, Greg won another historic Tour de France for the third time in 1990, before retiring from competitive cycling. Greg LeMond remains, as ever, friendly and accessible, charming and unpretentious; a true gentleman champion.
Greg's persistence and physical ability enabled him to not only win the most difficult and prestigious bicycle race in the world, the Tour de France three times, but also awarded him the title of World Bicycle Road Racing Champion three times. These victories, along with several others, brought him much deserved recognition: Sports Illustrated named him one of the 40 most influential people in sports over the past 40 years; he is a two-time ABC Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year; he received the prestigious Pernod Trophy awarded to the best cyclist in the World, and is a member of the Cycling Hall of Fame.
1979 — Wins the Junior World Championships
1980 — Makes The USA Olympic Team
1983 — First American to win the World Professional Road Championship
1986 — First American to win the Tour de France
1989 — Wins Tour de France again, coming back from a near-fatal hunting accident
1989 — Just 4 weeks after winning the Tour, LeMond wins the World Championship
1989 — Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
1990 — Becomes the first American to win the Tour de France 3 times
1991 — World's Most Outstanding Athlete Award Jesse Owens International Trophy
1992 — Korbel Lifetime Achievement Award
1999 — Fox Sports Network's "50 Greatest Athletes of the Century"