RICHARD ROSENBLATT, AP Sports Writer
From the breathtaking view at a ski station in the French Alps to a horse race that “stops the nation” Down Under to the wackiest golf hole in the Arizona desert — make that the entire planet — sports fans will find the party.
Pardon us “Field of Dreams,” but if someone promotes it, they will come.
Some of the world’s most popular sports events, be it the Tour de France, the Melbourne Cup, the — we’re not making this up — Waste Management Phoenix Open draw on their reputation as THE PLACE to be for the day. Eat, drink, drink a little more and cheer like hell for your country, your horse, your team, your favorite player.
While most of us feel confident we’re on top of the big sports party scene, we’ve conducted an informal spot check and compiled a list of spots worth checking out:
TOUR DE FRANCE
Who wouldn’t love the Alpe d’Huez ski station located 3,000 meters up on the snow-covered French Alps along the route of the Tour de France? Known as “Dutch Corner,” it’s one of 21 hairpin turns to the station. The scene: a combination Woodstock, Munich beer festival and orange-clad Dutch fans in costumes (nuns, animals, superheroes). As exhausted riders in crazy-colored suits carefully weave their way through inebriated fans who have camped out for days waiting for this moment, they are doused with beer, and forced to inhale fumes from smoke bombs and flairs, not to mention cigarette smoke. All in the name of a party several thousand strong.
Nearly 30,000 Indianapolis 500 fans crowd onto the mud and beer-soaked grass of the area that traditionally has become known as The Snake Pit. They are the dirty die-hards that through the years have sat on sofas atop vans, slept in car trunks and set up bars next to ice-filled swimming pools. Known for X-rated antics since at least the early 1970s, the unruly part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield was once known for drunkenness, fights and exhibitionism. It’s a tamer version these days than its 1970 and ’80 heyday — the concert series held there over the weekend now has a corporate sponsor — but it’s still the place to be for a good time. And maybe catch some of the race.
Of course, just being there is party enough. The world’s athletes mingling with millions of fans … at stadiums, arenas, velodromes, ski slopes — and designated meeting places. One of the hot spots is the Heineken House. Since 1992, the Netherlands Olympic Committee hosts what many believe is the best party in town. It’s usually a small tavern-like area for thousands of Dutch athletes, family, friends and fans to gather during the games. For those headed to Rio, the house will be set up in Ipanema, with about 4,000 “guests” per day expected.
Each country has its own unique way of welcoming the world when hosting the grandest soccer tournament of all. Stadium sambas during Brazil’s World Cup. Plenty of beer-guzzling during Germany’s. For those unable to score tickets to matches, special fan zones with large video screens and plenty of refreshments are set up near the stadiums. Start making plans for 2018 in Russia, where a taste for vodka could help. You may want to think twice about vuvezleas, though. Those loud plastic horns from the World Cup in South Africa may be a tradition in that country but are considered not-such-a-party-favor elsewhere.
This one starts in late June, so start planning if you like rowing, sipping champagne or slogging down pints of beer along the Thames. There’s interest in the regatta itself, of course — but for a few days, thousands of England’s upper- and lower crust come together along the river banks. Some enclosures have dress codes, with many “Hoorah Henry’s” wearing salmon-colored pants and boater hats. Others, much less fashion-conscious and mostly unaware of the rowers speeding past, create their own outdoor party that spills into nearby pubs after sunset.
Barely noticed in the U.S., this horse race in Australia has been described as “the race that stops the nation.” Nothing wrong with that. Offices around the country take a break about 3 p.m. to watch the race on the first Tuesday on November. Even school kids are allowed to watch. More than 100,000 fans pack Flemington Racecourse, dressed to the nines. There are even fashion parades at the track, with food and drink flowing all day. Around the country, Cup “luncheons” are held in just about every city and small town. It’s a public holiday in Victoria state. It’s the one day when just about every person in the country has a bet on a pony.
The NFL knows how to throw a party, from Fan Fests to invitation-only meet-and-greets, to media day open to the public to halftime extravaganzas. But our pick for this unofficial holiday is any Super Bowl in New Orleans. Why? Bourbon Street. Booze, Cajun cuisine, jazz, parades and more, all mixing with sports fanatics — and sometimes, athletes. For those who aren’t up for a hardy party, some of the world’s finer restaurants (though still crowded) can be found in the city.
Golf is often secondary at the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open. A relatively-short par-3, the hole turns into “The Greatest Show on Turf ” the week of the tournament with more than 20,000 fans cramming into an enclosed stadium built around it. Drinks flow freely and so does the noise; roars for every good shot, boos for missing the green. The players often get involved, kicking footballs off the tee, tossing items into the crowd, cupping their ears so the fans will get louder. Holes-in-one are celebrated with beer showers that cover the entire hole. Now that’s a party.
There are Rugby sevens tournaments all over the world, but the stop in Hong Kong is one the biggest party-goers are sure to attend. Fans often dress in costumes and are known to spend an entire day dancing in the stands. Streaking is not uncommon. The annual event in Hong Kong features ex-pats and visitors from Commonwealth countries. The event became the catalyst for the world sevens series. And with Rugby sevens recently added to the Olympic program, many credit this three-day fun fest for the success.
Columnist John Leicester in Paris, sports writers John Pye in Brisbane, Australia; Stephen Wilson and Chris Lehourites in London; John Marshall in Phoenix and Dan Gelston in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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