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Heart has a lot to do with sporting success

One of sport’s great benedictions is the sense of boundless possibility it offers us. When we watch sport, we are acutely aware, as we are not in our everyday lives, that anything, anything at all, is possible.

analysis Updated: Sep 03, 2018 19:46 IST
Hindustan Times
Asian Games
To be a successful sportsperson, one needs a lot of qualities: talent, guile, endurance, tactical nous, luck, fortitude. But one always needs heart to make that final leap.(REUTERS)

In George Pelecanos’s novel, Hell to Pay, a team assembled from a ragtag bunch of children of blue collar workers and drifters takes on a side comprising children of the affluent and the upper class in a game in the junior league of American football. The poor boys’ jerseys are frayed; their boots are old; their helmets tatty. The posh boys are all impeccably turned out. As the game is about to start, the poor boys’ coach says: “We got what we got. Game time comes, it’s not the uniforms gonna decide the contest. It’s the heart in these kids gonna tell the tale.”

Success in sport has a lot to do with heart. Resolve, determination, grit, hunger, fight, gumption, character, call it what you will. But “heart” probably captures it best. If success had to do with only talent, Rohit Sharma would have more Test centuries than Virat Kohli. Had it to do only with discipline and work ethic, Ivan Lendl would have won more Wimbledon titles than John McEnroe. Because heart is so crucial in sport, Diego Maradona’s Napoli (in the relatively poor south of Italy, from where a team had never won the Italian league) a side similar — other than Maradona — to the ragtag outfit of Pelecanos’s novel, surged to the Italian title in 1986-87, leaving in their shimmering wake Juventus, the blue-blooded, wealthy team from the north of the country Because sport has a great deal to do with heart, Roger Federer, supremely talented and immensely disciplined as he is, has offered us the unforgettable, glittering autumn of his career.

To be a successful sportsperson, one needs a lot of qualities: talent, guile, endurance, tactical nous, luck, fortitude. But one always needs heart to make that crucial difference, make that final leap.

We have seen a lot of heart on display from our athletes at the just concluded Asian Games. We saw it from Swapna Barman, her father a rickshaw puller, six toes on each feet crammed painfully in to special shoes, her jaw bandaged on the final day of her event because of an excruciating gum infection, win the heptathlon. We saw it from sprinter Dutee Chand, at the centre of a debilitating public controversy about gender stereotypes, as she sprinted away to her medals. We saw it when Saurabh Chaudhary, a farmer’s son, only 16, beat a four-time Olympic champion to win the gold at the 10-metre air pistol event. We saw heart, in some form or the other, from each and every one of our 69 athletes who won medals at the Games.

In Pelecanos’s novel, the poor children beat the rich ones at the game. That is how the novelist would have it. One of the great allures of sport in real life, as opposed to other kinds of popular culture, is the thrill of not knowing what one is about to witness. A 15-year-old winning a medal at the Asian Games? Well, why not? A 37-year-old man aiming to win his 21st Grand Slam title when most of those his age have retired from the circuit? Bring it on. Croatia, a country ravaged by war, with a population of 4 million, reaching the final of the biggest global event in football? Don’t count it out.

When we are reveling in sport — be it the 90 minutes of a football game or five sets of tennis or five days of a Test match — we are always on the edge of history, waiting to see it unfold, unannounced, unexpected, before our eyes. We saw that over and over again at the Asian Games. We will see it again as long as we watch sport.

One of sport’s great benedictions is the sense of boundless possibility it offers us. When we watch sport, we are acutely aware, as we are not in our everyday lives, that anything, anything at all, is possible.

soumya@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Sep 03, 2018 19:45 IST