There is a TV commercial I've seen several times recently, where pro golfer Jim Furyk and NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer debate the concept of athleticism.
Who's an athlete? And who's not?
Furyk and Bowyer are sitting next to each other at an autograph show, signing hats and other assorted memorabilia. Furyk looks over at Bowyer and asks if he really thinks race car drivers are athletes.
Bowyer is, of course, mildly offended.
"Jim, are you serious?" he asks.
Of course Bowyer considers himself an athlete. Then he shows off his athletic skills by spinning a basketball on his fingertips (demonstrating motor skills), doing a few one-handed pushups (strength and agility) and using his mind to lift a pen off the table (mental acuity) to make his point.
"I guess you are pretty athletic," Furyk says, and then after a pregnant pause, adds, "for someone who sits in a car for a living."
They're promoting Five Hour Energy drink, which was lost on me the first three or four times I saw the commercial. For two reasons:
---One, I was laughing out loud at the very thought of a pro golfer and a pro race car driver debating which of them is the best athlete, when a more appropriate comparison might have been an Olympic decathlon champion and Michael Jordan.
---And two, I was somewhat surprised that any pro athlete -- Furyk and Bowyer both meet that definition in my mind, though neither would be at the top of my list -- might not have some reservations about suggesting to an audience of younger, impressionable athletes that it's OK to improve performance, endurance, attention span, etc., by drinking a vitamin and caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of premium coffee) pick-me-up.
Not that there's anything illegal about the Five Hour Energy product. There's not. But the perception is a couple of swigs (less than two ounces) of Five Hour Energy can boost someone to the top of his/her game.
And here I thought we were trying to get kids to build strength, endurance and energy the right way, through proper training and conditioning.
Anyway, I was amused by the commercial.
But I certainly was not convinced that either Furyk or Bowyer, both champions in their respective sport, were glimmering examples of athleticism.
Not when the first story I read in the newspaper after seeing the commercial on Monday was about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
That's 1,000-plus miles across the worst snow, ice and desolate tundra Alaska has to offer, in fewer than 10 days in sub-zero temperatures, long hours of darkness and winds that make the trip nearly impossible at times.
That works out to about 100 miles a day.
True the greatest athletes of the race are the sled dogs -- usually 12-16 dogs to a sled.
But the mushers aren't far behind. Remember, they're not just holding on back there. Most of the time they're running behind the sled, sometimes helping to push it, if necessary. And they do it in mind-boggling, sometimes dangerous, conditions.
This year, an old-timer -- by Iditarod standards, 53 years of age is ancient -- Mitch Seavey and his 10 dogs -- won.
Rick Swenson has won the Iditarod -- the most competitive and grueling race in the world -- five times. That's a record. There are five others, including Susan Butcher, who have won four times.
So let Furyk and Bowyer talk about athleticism all they want, I think I know who the greatest athletes are.
Think long-distance runners and swimmers.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick firstname.lastname@example.org.