The 1990s Sports: Headline Makers
The 1990s Sports: Headline MakersLance Armstrong
Venus Williams and Serena Williams
Lance Armstrong (1971–) Lance Armstrong was the highest-ranked cyclist in the world in 1996 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which quickly spread to his lungs and brain. Given a fifty-fifty chance of survival, he underwent surgeries as well as aggressive chemotherapy treatment to remove the cancerous lesions. Five months later, Armstrong returned to cycling. In what many consider the greatest comeback in sports history, he won the prestigious Tour de France in July 1999. Only one other American, Greg LeMond, had ever won the grueling twenty-stage road race that covers more than two thousand miles over three weeks.
Jeff Gordon (1971–) Race car driver Jeff Gordon was the indisputable king of NASCAR during the last half of the 1990s. He had won Rookie of the Year honors on the Winston Cup circuit in 1993. The following year, he won his first NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600. He continued to finish first throughout the remainder of the decade. He became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 and was the first ever to win three consecutive Southern 500s, winning his fourth straight in 1998. At the end of the decade, NASCAR selected Gordon as "Driver of the '90s."
Mia Hamm (1972–) Mia Hamm dominated women's soccer from the end of the 1980s. While attending the University of North Carolina, she led the women's team to four straight NCAA championships (1989–93). After turning professional, she was honored as U.S. Soccer's Female Athlete of the Year each year from 1994 to 1998. After the U.S. women's soccer team won an Olympic gold medal in 1996, Hamm became a media celebrity, her face and form instantly recognizable across the country. In 1999, she and her U.S. teammates defeated China to win the World Cup, the worldwide soccer championship.
Michael Jordan (1963–) Michael Jordan dominated professional basketball in the 1990s like no other athlete in any other sport. In the early part of the decade, he won two most valuable player (MVP) awards (1991, 1992), an Olympic gold medal (1992), and three NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls (1991–93). In 1993, at the peak of his career, he retired from basketball to pursue a career in professional baseball on the minor-league level. He returned to dominating basketball once again in 1995, helping lead the Bulls to three consecutive NBA titles (1996–98) and capturing MVP honors in 1996 and 1998.
Greg Maddux (1966–) Pitcher Greg Maddux was the premier professional baseball player of the decade. He won the Cy Young award each year between 1992 and 1995, making him the only pitcher in the history of the game to win the prize four times in a row. He won four ERA (earned-run average) titles (1993–95, 1998) and recorded twelve consecutive seasons with at least fifteen wins and two hundred or more innings pitched. In 1994 and 1995, he became the first major league pitcher in seventy-six years to have an ERA of less than 1.80 in two consecutive seasons.
Pat Summitt (1952–) Pat Summitt, women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, is considered the best college basketball coach, male or female, in history. She coached her team to six NCAA championships, four during the 1990s (1991, 1996–98). The three consecutive titles were a first for any women's basketball program. On March 2, 1998, she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the first female coach to do so. As she concluded, her twenty-fifth season at Tennessee in 1999, she had amassed more than seven hundred victories, less than thirty shy of the all-time mark for a woman's coach.
Venus Williams (1980–) and Serena Williams (1981–) Sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams began to rule the world of women's professional tennis in the late 1990s. Venus won her first singles title, the IGA Tennis Classic in 1998. By the end of the decade, she had won nine singles titles and more than two million dollars in prize money. Serena won a Grand Slam title, the U.S. Open (1999), before her older sister won one. In addition to their individual victories, Venus and Serena teamed up to win two Grand Slam doubles titles: the French Open (1999) and the U.S. Open (1999).
Tiger Woods (1975–) Tiger Woods, who had turned professional in August 1996, won twenty-four professional golfing tournaments, fifteen of them on the PGA tour, by the end of the decade. He was the first player since 1990 to win two tour events in his first year as a pro and the first player since 1982 to record five straight top-five finishes. In 1997, he won the famed Masters tournament, the first African American and the youngest golfer to do so. In 1999, he became the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win four consecutive PGA events.