As the World Cup is spoilt by footballers’ phantom injuries, we must turn to other sportspeople for inspiration, says Roberto Pavoni.
When you think about overcoming adversity to reach your goals in the pool, the example of Grant Hackett is perhaps one of the most impressive stories you will hear.
Hackett’s accolades included 7 World Championship and 2 Olympic titles but as he prepared to defend his 1500m Freestyle gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, he was hospitalised with bronchial problems which he had been battling for some time. It was reported he had completed 15 courses of antibiotics in the few months leading up to the Games.
Only after he successfully won his third Olympic gold medal and remained unbeaten in the 1500m for the seventh consecutive year, did he admit the full extent of what he was fighting. Hackett swam the race – and several weeks preceding it – with a collapsed lung!
As if winning wasn’t enough, Hackett also broke the Olympic record with only 75% lung function. He hadn’t even made the Australian medical staff aware of this, in fear of their refusal to let him defend his title.
One can only feel admiration for Hackett as he lined up for such a gruelling event, knowing he wasn’t fully fit to swim, but still having the audacity to defy his physical wellbeing. What impresses me most is his refusal to admit to anyone that he was weakened. There were no excuses, and he wanted no sympathy.
Another example from the tennis court amplifies this point. In the final of the 2014 Australian Open Rafael Nadal was the favourite to win but suffered a back injury during the warm up, which worsened during the first set to the point that he was unable to compete properly.
I recall watching the pain on his face with every movement, every shot he played. It seemed not a matter of if he would retire from the match, but when. Nadal battled on though, and despite losing, gained a great deal of respect from the crowd for refusing to admit defeat. He said “The last thing I wanted to do was retire. I tried hard until the end, trying to finish the match as good as I can for the crowd, for the opponent, for me.”
Which takes us to Brazil and the World Cup. I enjoy watching as much as the next person; I tend to appreciate most sports. Nevertheless one can’t help but notice how often players spend on the ground, writhing in apparent agony, only to be miraculously healed a moment later. This spoils the game for me.
At the end of each half of the match, a few extra minutes is added on for time lost to ‘injuries’ during normal play. Since when did the definition of an injury extend to include deliberately falling over? Haven’t these players learnt never to show weakness to your opponent?
Whilst footballers spend the majority of their time pretending to be hurt, other sportspeople are pretending not to be hurt! I for one live by the mantra, ‘never, never, never, give up’. And this is perhaps seldom more applicable than when you are in pain during training or a race.
So for me it’s Hackett and Nadal that we should try to emulate. And as I watch yet another football player trip over his own shadow, I know I am in the right sport.