All changes, even the ones we most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves. But for a new star to emerge the old one must die and that’s exactly what seems to happening in the world of sport.
For well over a decade now, the sporting world has been dominated by constants that go by the names of Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods, Australia and the Los Angeles Lakers. Their rule was absolute; their grace spellbinding and their fall unimaginable.
But in a short space of time, everything around them has crumbled at such a quick pace that they haven’t even had the time to react, let alone stop the slide.
Last night, when Federer lost in Rome, he was plainly looking for excuses to help him tide over what looks like another crisis. His words betrayed an uneasiness that you wouldn’t normally associate with him.
“I’m definitely looking forward to a few days off, I'll definitely be happy to take two, three or four days off, whatever it takes to feel physically and mentally fresh for the French Open,” he said.
Imagine that – a champion who is happy to lose. But a few years back, most of us too would’ve shrugged off the defeat. After all, he was Federer, a player who inspired the unabashed awe of his fellow players.
Schumacher’s case was very different. When he had retired, everyone thought he had got the timing right. He was the kind of driver who knew exactly how to maximise his advantage in every possible way – from getting the best team to the best manager. And even though he was three years into his retirement – he still believed that his ability to get the best out of everyone would hold him in good stead on his comeback. He couldn’t have been any more wrong.
A place on the podium has eluded him since his return and he is being consistently outperformed by his team-mate Nico Rosberg but still, he like Federer, refuses to believe that he is beaten.
“I don't doubt myself, but am I still as good as I was in 2002? The answer must be probably no,” he told Britain's Daily Express newspaper, “If you think of the typical development of a human being, you must imagine it is the case. I cannot feel it. Whatever I do, I am up front. Whatever I do with four wheels, I am competitive.
“I can still perform at this level. If the cars were five or ten seconds quicker, maybe not. Having been out for three years, being the age I am, I don't think there are many who could do what I'm doing. How much am I different and how can I compensate with experience? How much the F1 situation, with it being slower not quicker, compensates for age? It is difficult to put in figures. The success I have had is because maybe I am exceptional. Probably I am still exceptional to do what I am doing at the age I am.”
Tiger Woods has targeted Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors for a long time now. But injury and controversy have slowed him down to such an extent than what once seemed a given, is now a tough task to say the least.
It’s been three years since Woods claimed the last of his 14 Majors and with almost every Major tournament throwing up a new winner, the number of his competition has increased many time over. Even though he is just 35 – relative youth by golfing standards – he has already had four surgeries on his left knee. And that could be the deciding factor. How much can his knee take? How much more can his injured psyche take?
While Federer, Schumacher and Woods dominated events on the strength of their individual genius, teams like Australia (in cricket) and the Los Angeles Lakers managed to do it collectively for such long periods that after a while all the other teams ceased to exist.
Australia’s fall to mortality was a result of the retirements of many of their legends but even then going into the World Cup, they were defending champions. That last vestige of invincibility still existed a month back but now even that is gone.
For the Lakers, the five titles of the past decade, now count for nothing. In the sense, that they were swept 4-0 during the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks, their coach Phil Jackson has retired and Kobe Bryant, their dominant player, now seems a spent force. In the words of many a critic, it’s over.
Their reign is over as is that of the others. It is time to start over, not only for the players but for sport itself. The kings are dead, but long live the kings.
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Updated Date: May 13, 2011 15:01:25 IST