Today – from the Sports department – links to two insightful and superbly written pieces that appear today upon the website of The Guardian.
Arguably – as were well-testified to in the eulogies to the recently-late, great journalist Hugh McIlvanney – there are few more rewarding and uplifting experiences than the opportunity to read the coming-together of (1) an era-defining elite exponent who transcends the confines of his or her chosen sport; (2) a globally-important tournament or event in which they take part; and (3) a on-site scribe possessed of sublime descriptive reporting skills and a unique ability to draw out and analyse the key elements of what he or she has witnessed.
The articles I refer to above swing close to the elements I describe above.
Firstly, the subject of sporting prodigies – and the issues they personally face on their rise to the top as well as though they present to those guiding them and indeed the administrators of the sport at which they excel – is wide-ranging and complicated.
They say that the best skiers are already competent on the slopes at an early age – some of them no more than four of five.
There are soccer kids around the world who are spell-bindingly good at ‘keepy-uppy’ at the ages of eight, nine or ten. There are youngsters playing tennis who have mastered the mechanics of metronomic ground strokes on both wings at similar ages. I could go on …
There are also physiological factors involved. In men’s versions of sports – in which strength, dynamism and size or bulk (depending upon the sport) can count for so much – a supremely-talented prodigy may initially be at a disadvantage until he reaches the age of between 17 and 21 simply because the impact of growth and development upon the human frame has yet failed kicks in and give him the relative parity upon which his special talents can then work their magic.
Conversely, in many female sports – I’d use here gymnastics and swimming as examples – because the body is at its most flexible and perhaps pliable before puberty and/or for a period of three or four years afterwards (i.e. when full adulthood occurs) it is the norm for elite exponents to be aged between 13 and 19.
I’d add here that perhaps in the case of females the period before full womanhood is also a time when ‘the art of the physically possible’ knows few boundaries and, mentally, individuals are relatively untroubled by attendant fears of injury or danger (possibly partly because at that stage they have little to no awareness of them).
See here for Kristen Doerer’s report upon the rise of Alysa Liu, a 13 year old America figure skater, featured today on the website of – THE GUARDIAN
Here is a link to copy of an appreciation of tennis icon Björn Borg written/published in June 2005 by the novelist Tim Pears.
It was penned upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of the epic Wimbledon Men’s Singles final of 1980 and is one of the best on any sporting great I have ever come across – THE GUARDIAN