Saturday, September 26, 2009

Old Habits Die Hard

Gaurav Parab

There is something captivating about old dogs. The unassuming way they walk, the contempt by which they ignore a free meal, and the way they go after a young threat at the cul-de- sac. Honest, fearless, turning back the years as if the beats of their proud hearts could power them beyond the walls of age. The gleam in their eyes says, “You don’t arrive at a place; you earn the right to stay”.

Sports over the years keep on throwing back old champions to the limelight, with each comeback marking moments of nostalgia, awe, and longing for the good old days in the minds of fans from previous generations.

Recently, Tom Watson, Lance Armstrong and almost Michael Schumacher demonstrated their right to stay. These old hands revisited the big stage, as if they had left merely moments ago to answer a phone call.

“Turning back the years” one of the most overused statements in modern sport, found a new meaning as an almost apologetic sixty year old wisely guided a golf ball through the winds of Turnberry, as his competitors were simply blown away. And some of Tom Watson’s competitors were young enough to be his grandsons. Golf maybe a forgiving sport on the human body, but nature dictates that sixty year olds cannot out-survive men bought up on strict sports regimens and Playstations. Tom Watson defied more than the links in those four days, he defied nature.

It was not a comeback, yet one. Watson and some of the older players may have never left the scene, but they as age would dictate it, never defined the scene after their prime.

Watson may have lost in the playoffs, but his victory over the fundamental laws of life gave hope to many individuals living on the wrong side of age. His exploits at this year’s Open, perhaps will define his life more than the outstanding eight majors, including the five claret Jugs that he won decades ago.

And like the wise old grandfather that he can so easily pass off as, Tom Watson wisely remarked, “It would have made quite a story had I won, wouldn’t it?”

Then there was the man who has made the color yellow truly his own. Lance Armstrong, the spirit who was not born to stop. The seven time winner of the Tour De France rode back into the public eye with an outrageous attempt at the title he had once made his own. Accusations, illness and drug scandals withstanding, Armstrong once again demonstrated his insatiable passion for the sport. When speaking on his controversial return to the race, known more for the news from the lab than the mountain tops, Armstrong said, "I look forward to racing again. I cannot guarantee an eighth Tour victory, but I can guarantee you the 'Livestrong' (Armstrong’s cancer charity) message will touch all aspects of our society.”

Armstrong’s message of overcoming odds certainly lives strong. Just like him. And no one will write off the champion, come France next year.

Speaking of odds, even Michael Schumacher’s biggest critics will acknowledge that his aborted return to the sport could have perhaps saved the sport itself. Dogged by the economic crisis, lack of interest and a boardroom which has more action than the pit lane – Formula One looked towards a man who once almost killed the sport because of his sheer dominance.

The neck pain may have demonstrated the physical side of F1, but the injury was due to a motorcycle crash that he was involved in and was not a comment on his physical fitness even after having left the sport a few years ago. Perhaps the recovery time becomes a factor of age, but passion remains timeless.

So what drives these old dogs out of their retirement kennels? It cannot be the money or fame. Having reached the pinnacle of their sports, they can live their lives many lives over.

Maybe it is the belief that they still have it in them to do what they have been doing for the better part of their lives. And do it better than today’s drifters. Not too different from a retired soldier looking for a fight to believe in. Or maybe it is just the love of the game.

Whatever it is, for these old champions, winning is more than a belief. It is a habit. And old habits die hard.


Anonymous said...

good one...
the best para, according to me; is where you have praised Michael Schumacher :)..
Didn't know you admired him...;)


Gaurav Parab said...

@ Juhi.

and you thought you had figured me out.


ullhas said...

Well with the stigma of drugs with him Lance should not have figured in your list. Suppose a great like M Phelps was ommitted for the same reason. May be someone like Teofilo Stevenson who people rated better than my fav C Clay aka Md Ali another comeback man or Al Oerter or Martina Navratilova could have found mention. Even Sachin for that matter. 20 years at the highest level needs to find a place.

Golfer Boy

Anonymous said...

Though its pretty late to be reading it, i have been reading Lance Armstrong (its not about the bike) over the last couple of days. the memories of Lance are fresh in the mind.. the young fighter Lance..

and today while reading this blog of yours, i could somehow identify with it and could personalize it. :)

nicely written.. amazing!

you always give me a thought to ponder on.. specially in those frustrating times of an MBA life. :)

I am glad you exist.. coz u touch a little part of my life in some way.

thanks! :)

-Mugdha L