We Americans sometimes get a little too caught up in our little slice of the world. To us, there is nothing bigger than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Final Four. To us, it's all about the Masters and the NBA Finals and the BCS title game. But if you peek outside our borders, you'll find the rest of the world has some big sporting events, too. In fact, there are two going on today — the British Open and the Tour de France. Some of the biggest sporting events in the world — soccer's World Cup, sailing's America's Cup, the Cricket World Cup and the Rugby World Cup — are not held every year. Today, we look at our choices for the most iconic annual sporting events held outside the United States.
Grand Prix of Monaco
They call it the jewel in the Formula One crown for good reason. This auto race weaves through the scenic (but treacherous) public roads of Monaco. Tight corners, hills and even a tunnel make this one of the most demanding and dangerous tracks in the world. The Grand Prix of Monaco along with the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans make up the Triple Crown of racing, but this one is the most compelling and glamorous.
With a history that dates to 1860, an eclectic and international field, scenic links courses and challenging weather, the Open is our pick for the best and most entertaining golf tournament in the world. How cool is this tournament? It's technically not even called the "British Open" but simply, The Open Championship — as if no other exists. They're right.
The oldest tennis tournament in the world, dating to 1877. In fact, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was the birthplace of lawn tennis when it was devised by Maj. Walter Clopton Wingfield in the early 1870s. While there are other prestigious tennis tournaments, this is the one most coveted by players and most adored by fans. Runnerup: French Open.
Japanese World Series
Don't you think it's a little arrogant of Americans to call our baseball championship the World Series considering it doesn't really encompass the whole world? Major League Baseball is the best baseball league in the world, but the Japanese play a pretty good brand of baseball, too, as evidenced by many of them becoming stars in the majors. The Japanese World Series pits the winner of the Pacific League against the winner of the Central League, and it's the drama of baseball combined with the passion of soccer.
In America, we think the Kentucky Derby is a big deal because it has been run since 1875. Go back nearly 100 years before that for the Epsom Derby, with its first race in 1780 at England's Epsom Downs, the birthplace of derby racing. This race for 3-year-old thoroughbreds is the second leg of the English Triple Crown and, easily, the most prestigious.
On the subject of horse racing, this English meeting dates all the way to 1711 and is a four-day event in mid June. While horse racing is the reason for the gathering, it's the fashion (in particular, the hats) that makes this race famous. Remember when Eliza Doolittle screamed, "Come on, Dover, move yer bloomin' arse!" in My Fair Lady? She did it at Royal Ascot. That's good enough for our list.
The Super Bowl has become practically a national holiday in America, but it only dates to 1967. The Grey Cup, the championship of the Canadian Football League, dwarfs that, dating to 1909. And while maybe the level of football is not quite the same as in the NFL, it's not too far off. After all, MVPs of the Grey Cup include Doug Flutie, Rocket Ismail and Warren Moon.
Tour de France
There are hundreds of bicycle races around the globe, but this is the only one known by the general sports fan. Even before Lance Armstrong became a household name, the 2,200-mile, 23-day trek that weaves through the French Alps and finishes at the Champs-Elysees in Paris was not only the most famous bike race in the world but one of the best sporting events in the world.
Grand Sumo tournaments
This sport is so simple it's genius. Two really fat guys get in a circle, and one wins by pushing the other guy out or knocking him down. Six times a year, Japan stops to watch one of the 15-day tournaments. There are three in Tokyo in January, May and September and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November).
We might have invented basketball, but we certainly are not the only ones who know how to play it. Recent years have seen an explosion of European players invading the NBA, and most of them started off playing in the Euroleague, Europe's version of the NBA that includes teams from Asia. The brand of basketball is nearly as good as in the United States, with the top stars easily making the transition to the NBA. The Euroleague Final even has a Final Four.
We think curling is the most underrated sport in the world. It's shuffleboard on ice, except with more strategy, more yelling and way more fans. Seriously, it's a huge deal in Canada, and the Brier, the men's curling championship, is a wildly popular event in the Great White North that goes back to 1927. Just as popular is the Canadian Mixed Curling Championship, where men and women compete with and against one another.
Australian Football League Grand Final
Back in the early days of ESPN, American fans got a kick out of watching Australian Rules Football and the referees with their dramatic signals. In Australia, however, it's more than a cute little sport. It's their NFL, and their Super Bowl is called the Grand Final. How big of a deal is it? The 2008 Grand Final between Hawthorn and Geelong drew a crowd of 100,012.
European Champions League final
We call it soccer. The rest of the world calls it football. We have our Super Bowl. Europeans have the Champions League, and it might be a bigger deal there than the Super Bowl in America. It brings together the top clubs from around Europe for the biggest soccer tournament in the world aside from the World Cup. And it might be the most passionate.