15 things you should experience in sport
It is good to stray, to start new relationships, to explore, to appreciate the various links between sports
READ ‘ALI: A LIFE’
Doesn’t matter if you have read Thomas Hauser’s Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times, Mark Kram’s Ghosts Of Manila and David Remnick’s King Of The World, you still have to read Jonathan Eig’s book. We have reduced modern athletes to caricatures, but this is an honest portrait of a truly complex man.
KNOW THE STORY OF CLARKE AND ZÁTOPEK
In 1966, Ron Clarke, the Australian runner who was a world record holder but never an Olympic champion, comes to visit the legendary Czech. When he eventually leaves Prague, Clarke is handed a small package by Emil Zátopek. On the plane, the Australian opens it. It’s one of Zátopek’s gold medals. This is respect.
WALK A STADIUM WHENIT’S EMPTY
Or somehow get on to the field, at, say, Eden Gardens. Play an imaginary stroke. Think of ghosts. If you close your eyes, you can hear the past. More than 30 years ago, I walked the corridors of the 1936 Berlin stadium and I felt I was in Jesse Owens’ presence. It’s nuts. But you should try it.
READ LOU GEHRIG’S SPEECH TO YOURSELF
It’s 1939 and he’s a New York Yankee called the Iron Horse, dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He’s only 36 but his time in baseball is done and he stands tearful in front of 61,000 fans. Then he starts his speech, only parts of which remain on film, with these lines:
“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break (I got). Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Keep a tissue.
LOOK UP GREG LOUGANIS ON YOUTUBE
The diver is like tennis playerRoger Federer, or the skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. You don’t need to understand their art to recognize their beauty.
WATCH ARMAND DUPLANTIS VAULT
The American-Swede has designed his life to challenge gravity. People have water features in their backyards. He had a runway and pole vault pit.
GO TO PRACTICE
Late February. Singapore. I am in a mixed martial arts gym watching Ritu Phogat and I think I am in dance class. Everyone is a couple here. Two women high-kicking each other, a man absorbing blows from a woman and a fellow cavorting with a punching bag. This is a wincing waltz.
Take a book because it can be boring, yet respect the athlete’s dedication to the repetitive act. Shot after shot, sit-up after chin-up, day after day, they sweat, vomit, swear, start again. In practice you get to see the scaffolding of greatness.
KNOW YOUR WOMEN’S CHAMPIONS
If you haven’t seen Tai Tzu Ying play badminton and that double-hyphenated delight, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, run or Poonam Yadav bowl, then please don’t call yourself a sports fan. What the last named does with flight only Simone Biles could understand.
FIND A WOODEN RACKET
Look where your parents hide their old stuff. Bug an old member of a club. Sometimes the best way to find out how far sport has come is to go backwards. Try to play with a wooden racket, in anything. Try an old cricket bat. Think of hockey goalkeepers without face masks. Maybe we overuse the word bravery these days.
Fun is rifling through David Wallechinsky’s 1,300-plus page The Complete Book Of The Olympics. Every event recorded and almost every contest illustrated with a tale. It is moving, trivial, informative and funny. You will learn that George Lyon, the Canadian who won golfing gold in 1904, was a pole vault champion, a fine cricketer, never golfed till he was 38 and accepted his medal by walking to the ceremony on his hands.
If you are an amateur, examine yourself under pressure because it is what makes sport meaningful. Feel the tension, then overcome it. At break point down, hit your best serve. Conversely, if you are applying pressure on a pal, remember what chess player Boris Spassky told Garry Kasparov. Apply it steadily. “Squeeze his balls," Spassky said. “But just squeeze one, not both."
TAKE 2 SECONDS TO WATCH SAFIN
Tennis players shake hands at the net and leave each other alone. Defeat requires privacy, so does victory. In the 2005 Australian Open semis, Marat Safin saves a match point and outlasts Roger Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7.
Federer packs his bags and leaves but, as he passes Safin, the Russian reaches out to touch his shoulder. It’s nothing, maybe 2 seconds, and yet I have never forgotten it. Is it solidarity, humanity, an acknowledgement of the closeness of their encounter or a very Safinesque recognition that this was just a game? I am still happily wondering.
Velocity underpins modern sport. Athletes are stronger, balls and shuttles are hit harder, so athletes move faster. This is high-speed geometry. Television gives us data in miles per hour but it’s somewhat meaningless because television can’t translate speed.
The only way is to stand behind a tennis practice court, on the opposite side from Dominic Thiem. Then we can feel his forehand coming and appreciate the extraordinary separation between their worlds and ours.
TRY A NEW SPORT
All of us find comfort in the rhythms of familiar sports, hostage in some ways to the cultures we grew up in. Cricket was played in the lane and hockey sticks stood like leaning sentries in the corners of our rooms. We knew their rules and liked their beat.
But it is good to stray, to start new relationships, to explore, to appreciate the various links between sports. I couldn’t fathom baseball but I fell for rugby’s etiquette, am being pulled to free climbing’s lunacy and am learning something I had never thought of. The feet of kayakers ache like hell.
WATCH ‘RAGING BULL’. AGAIN.
And read everything Louisa Thomas writes. You can thank me later.
Rohit Brijnath is an assistant sports editor at The Straits Times, Singapore, and a co-author ofAbhinav Bindra’s book, A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey To Olympic Gold.
FIRST PUBLISHED13.03.2020 | 11:05 AM IST