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The Nonpareil

I like my name, Phil Anderson. I feel a little grateful at times that my parents chose it, being named after my great grandfather, my given name anyway. It’s a name that’s easy to speak, I like the way it sounds when I say it, and I like the way my first and last names are common enough on their own, but put together, not so much so. 

I have come across a couple other Phil Andersons in my life, but not many. I actually ran into one from my home town of Portland, Oregon, and know there are a couple in media and entertainment, which led to a couple bits of confusion when the wrong one of us is “tagged” on social media or credited somewhere. I never faced any sort of serious confusion or case of mistaken identity, though I read about a very successful insurance agent in California once that I suppose I wished I had his financial success.

In my youth it was fun when in the rare occasion my name would show up in print somewhere, when it was in a positive light one of my namesakes had accomplished. None before or sense piqued my interest as much as when on a July morning in the early 1980’s, perusing the sports section of the newspaper on the page that lists all the major sports standings and scores for the day, buried near the bottom in one single, small 1 inch wide by 2 inch deep column was listed “Tour de France”, and low and behold, “I” was leading the race! I knew almost nothing of the thing, only that it was the most famous bike race in the world. I had no idea who “Phil Anderson” was, and finding out any information about him during that time seemed almost impossible. I asked the French teacher in school about the event, and she told me that this was early in the race, and “we” were not going to win, that Frenchman Bernard Hinault was too strong, and would win almost for certain. I had no idea who he was either. But after that I went on a fact finding research mission. One that wasn’t easy.

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It may seem odd today with global television and internet everywhere, but back in the 1980’s there were precisely zero articles in the local print about the Tour de France, no mention on any TV or news channel or sports program, nothing even in Sports Illustrated that I could find. It’s like the race was held on another planet in another solar system. The sport of cycling in the United States, while popular in underground circles, was an afterthought, a hobby in mainstream society, not of any informational value,

other than this footnote of a daily result in the bottom of a small column in a sports page. All I had was these daily results showing the standings after each stage, that’s it. And for several days after first seeing my name, Phil Anderson remain in first place, I had great hope for victory, until after one day, he was overtaken, and the race was ultimately indeed won by Bernard Hinault. It was also then that I saw a slight amount more detail: Phil Anderson (AU), Peugeot. It took a second to add it all up, but I learned that he was from Australia, and Peugeot sponsored the team he was on.

In these days before the Internet, it took several trips to libraries before I could start to even get a grasp on pro cycling, the Tour de France, and just who Phil Anderson was. The only bicycling anything I ever experienced was my old, green Schwinn Varsity “Ten Speed” bike, riding it to my friends’ houses, the city park and such. Living in northern Nevada, I recalled briefly hearing about an American who had lived nearby named Greg LeMond winning the junior world championships, and how he supposedly trained by riding his bike from the Washoe Valley up over Mt. Rose to Lake Tahoe and back. A feat I considered a bullshit claim made up by fellow teenagers, having driven that road with my parents and knowing just how long and high that mountain pass was, one often covered with snow. As a few years passed and I grew into adulthood, I got bit by the bug of cycling, eventually becoming an amateur racer, and as one may imagine, as a training ride of my own I too completed the “bullshit claim” by riding over Mt. Rose to Tahoe and back one day myself.

But as cycling grew as a sport, and appeared more on US television, the cyclist Phil Anderson got more exposure, eventually racing for a US sponsored team, Motorola, even living in the US for a few years, before his career ended. He was exciting to watch, and in the few interviews with him came across as a very affable man, and I soon learned he was a legend in Australian cycling.

 

Every race I could find and follow he’d be the guy I’d cheer for. I soon realized he wasn’t quite the kind of rider who would win the Tour de France, but he was a very successful racer, winning numerous big races in his career. His best shot at winning the Tour was perhaps in 1983, when he was in a good position, but team tactics cost his chances. A popular documentary film was made on it even. 

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A local bike shop gave me an old European poster with him featured on it. When he grew his hair long, I grew my hair long. I didn’t try to be him, I just admired him, his accomplishments, and achievements. And yes, there were a few times when my name turned heads at amateur cycling events I entered. And no, I didn’t win very often, lacking his physical ability, drive and determination perhaps.

As the years went on others have shared our name, obviously. I’ve thought about it off and on, googled my name to see who comes up. There’s a renowned chef with our name. A few doctors, teachers. I admire the accomplishment of a Nobel winning physicist with my name, that puts a little smile on my face.

 

Though I never really envied any my namesakes, as I reflect on my own life choices, my hopes, dreams, and aspirations, that there’s one of us, one Phil Anderson, who in my eyes stands as the hero of us, the nonpareil or “no equal” if you will.