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Photo illustration by Aaron Thorup
** FILE ** Trevor Berbick, left, and Muhammad Ali seem to have an equal reach as they slug it out during a Friday night boxing match in this Dec. 12, 1981 file photo in Nassau, Bahamas. Berbick, who lost his heavyweight title to Mike Tyson and was the last boxer to fight Muhammad Ali, was found dead Saturday, Oct. 28, 2006, in a church courtyard in Kingston, Jamaica, police said. He was 52. (AP Photo)

What has happened to American athletes?

Thank goodness for the U.S. women's soccer team, because otherwise American sports are performing about like the economy. You name the sport and they are pretty much warming the bench or bringing up the rear.

Where have you gone Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis and Chris Evert? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you ... boo, hoo, hoo ...

Start with golf. Almost everyone's list of the 10 greatest golfers of all time would include seven or eight Americans. But the last five majors have been won by two Irishmen, two South Africans and a German. Americans not only don't hold the No. 1 ranking, they don't hold No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4, either

The recent women's U.S. Open was won by South Korea's Yeon Ryu. That means four of the last seven majors have been won by four different Koreans. The No. 1 ranking is held by Yani Tseng, from Taiwan. South Koreans and Taiwanese women have won a stunning eight of the last 14 majors.

First Kias, now this.

Remember the days of McEnroe, Connors, Sampras and Agassi? It's like it never happened. The highest ranked American man is someone named Mardy Fish, at No. 9. The last time an American man won a major was Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open. It's been 12 years since an American man won Wimbledon.

Remember Evert, Navratilova, and the Williams sisters? Now the highest ranked American woman is 31st. Li Na won Wimbledon this summer. She's from China.

Americans invented baseball, and now they're being schooled in the game by people who came late to the game. There were 234 foreigners (not born in the U.S.) on Major League opening-day rosters. That represents 27.7 percent of all players. Most of them come from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and even Canada, for crying out loud. The Yankees' roster included 16 foreigners on opening day.

Both World Baseball Classics, in 2009 and 2006, were won by Japan, on American soil, no less. Does it get any worse for Americans than watching Japan play Korea for the championship in Dodger Stadium?

Know how many gold medals the U.S. won in the five Olympics that baseball was contested from 1992 to 2008? One.

The recent NBA draft looked like a U.N. convention. Five of the top seven players chosen in the draft are foreigners — from Turkey, Canada, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Congo. Congo?? The rest of the first round included players from Montenegro, Lithuania, Spain and Canada. The second round included players from Croatia, Latvia, Serbia, Nigeria, Qatar, Australia and Hungary.

The NBA champion Dallas Mavericks were led by a German, Dirk Nowitzki. At least the U.S. managed to win the 2010 IBAF world championships after losing the previous three. James Naismith is rolling in his peach basket.

Why do we still have the nerve to call the winners of the World Series and the NBA Finals "world champions?"

Cycling? Same story. Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong are becoming distant memories. No American has won the Tour de France since Armstrong in 2005 unless you count Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2008 "victory" for doping.

Speaking of taking a fall, no American has held the world heavyweight boxing title since 2007. How did the country that produced Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Rocky Balboa come to this?

Then there is track and field. America once could boast of Frank Shorter, Billy Mills, Jim Ryun, Steve Scott and Rick Wohlhuter in the distance and middle-distance races. But no American has won an Olympic medal of any color in the metric mile since Jim Ryun in 1968. Ryun is also the last American to hold the world record in the mile. No American man has won a medal at 5,000 and 10,000 meters since Billy Mills in 1964.

At least there were always the sprints to fall back on. Oops, not anymore. The world record and Olympic titles in the 100 and 200 are held by a Jamaican. America doesn't even own the 4x100 relay world record anymore — the first time that has happened since electric timing was instituted in 1968.

No American woman has won gold in the sprints (100, 200 and 400 meters) since Atlanta in 1996.

About the only thing America has going for it these days is women's soccer, the top-ranked team in the world and the defending Olympic champion. They will play Japan Sunday in the World Cup title game.

Finally, there is some good news for the USA.

email: drob@desnews.com