Being second best should be good enough?
What defines greatness? Achievement? Appreciation from peers? Recognition? social, financial, tangible?
Every athlete strives to reach a professional level at a discipline. Unfortunately, very few achieve goals they set out
Athletes work tirelessly to reach the top(unless you’re Sania Mirza or some cocked up professional on page 3 and celebrity columns). They work hard with strict routines and near perfect appetites, educate themselves to bridge the gap between physical and mental fitness. Preparation that includes studying opposition, perfecting technique and passion beyond our wildest dreams. Some earn the right to be great, others are simply born with it
What happens when you have two superpowers?
Do you slate one due to personal preference for the other? Or can you objective enough to recognise both?
Does one always tip the other?
All valid questions, answers which only a viewer understands and aims to answer
Its like arguing over the Stanfords and Harvards of the world, McKinsey‘s and Bains, lefts and rights. We never come up with logical enough answers. Those in the systems will be biased, and those not in it will just pass jealous judgements
There’s one world though where this argument border lines on hatred. Sport. Its add to competition and increases intensity, almost war like, it transcends into a battleground with blood on the line
There will always be winners and losers. In the greatest rivalries of world sport, there are moments that define careers, seconds that decided status’ and face-offs that make you legends.
So being second best here should be good enough right?
Ali vs Frazier
These are the men who gave heavy-weight its real meaning. Those traded blows, damaged faces, beyond their age almost made the world uncomfortable, but did anyone stop watching this madness? No. It was just pure brilliance
Another one slightly before our time was Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Bird had the wonderful hook, 3 NBA titles, 5 MVPs and shouldered the hardworking Boston. Bird would glide through defenses and lay off the prettiest looking shots, an absolute great on the East Coast. There was one man though, quite the opposite, a man whose nickname described his ability, his aura and persona, his being. Magic Johnson, probably the greatest up until that time, had 5 titles, and 6 MVPs. The battle not only engulfed the two cities, completely opposite in colour, it managed to divide the USA into half, literally East vs West. Magic, the more talented, the more flamboyant had redefined the game, taken the sport to the next level. A true joy to watch.
Was being second best to this man not good enough?
Doubt Larry Bird and Boston would answer that.
Brash, arrogant, boisterous; had to be American didn’t he?
Calm, composed, golden haired yet lethal, would you guess a Swede? Maybe not…
The world in the 70’s and early 80’s had the chance to witness one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. Bjorn Borg, the greatest ever tennis player to live, was the true definition of a champion. Class, humility, that sheepish charm couldn’t hide the Swedes impeccable ability to strike a ball. Emotion was suddenly blocked out for a few hours, until he had his hands on that trophy. Had he not retired at the tender age of 25, god knows what he would have achieved in the sport. One man though, who might have been the catalyst to that retirement was the brash and argumentative John McEnroe. Those wonderful hands were always outclassed by the mans mouth and attitude. A man who took his time to peak, but considered highly in the echelons of tennis history.
Borgs achievement has not been matched by many in the tennis world. Current greats still hold him to be the greatest example that sport ever produced.
That whiplash tongue defeated him a few times, but arguably the American was still second best.
Again, was being second best not good enough?
Lets fast-forward a bit to the 2000s. Records set by these athletes will take ages to beat. These superhuman characters are chiseled from perfection, borne with ability far superior to their peers. These rivalries probably eclipse the history books and all their items.
The acclaimed and proven bests are those who seem to have been borne with this inert talent, almost god gifted, representatives of the super natural, true textbooks and examples for the rest of the world.
The other set, the challengers if i may, are a group of athletes who defy the odds, reach this inhuman physical condition through adversity, yet make their marks enough to dent the champions.
Unfortunately for neutrals and some fans, being second best is always a concern. For me, I’m just truly honoured to be able to witness such genius on our teles
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Same team, same age, the largest difference being, one’s a 22 time Olympic gold-medalist, the other, has a combined total of 11 medals. Stark difference in the number of medals, but the timings of these athletes was slightly different.
A 16 yr old, suffering from this sort of body dis-morphia and dyslexia, lands up being the most decorated Olympian of all time, the other left to rue missed opportunities. Yet, one of the very few who has ever managed to outswim the Albatross. The slapping off the back before the start of the race, a machine in the water, butterflies have never looked better. Micheal Phelps, yes flawed and sometimes immature, is arguably one of the greatest sportsman of all time. An inspiration to swimmers all over the world, a story that everyone relates to, but the ability none can ever match.
So what happens to Lochte? Will his legacy just wash away?
Is second best really good enough?
Most rivals cant stand each other, they constantly take digs at each other preparations, each others ability. The hatred is what drives them, the anger and loathing adds to the drive. But is it alien for rivals to be friends?
The ability of these professional has led to this respect and mutual admiration for the others talent. Warriors in battle no doubt, but concern, worry and smiles off it.
If Borg was the epitome of champion, Roger Federer is the modern embodiment of all its qualities. His grace, ability and technique transcends us followers into this world of ballet where everything is perfect. The man performs for an audience, graciously gliding through opponents and calmly accepting accolades. A champion in every definition, there has just been one stumbling block. This barrier in the form of a tennis machine, a matador, a holder of 6 less grand-slams, the true definition of fight and endurance. Rafael Nadal has endured failure and pain, overcome all his shortcomings by enduring all these years. A respectful yet fiesty opponent, he holds Roger on a pedestal, that he stands for.
He condemns those who think he is better then Federer by saying, ‘those who think I am better than Roger, do not know the game of tennis’ and Roger knowing that Nadal has always stood the final frontier, often defeated him in finals, shows concern for his compatriots career and health.
A fairy tale? Not really, just this undying love and respect for each others ability, one of the greatest rivalries ever to be witnessed.
Is being second best still not good enough?
An El-Classico is supposed to be a platform for two of the greatest football teams in the world, one of Catalunyan, a quasi nation fighting for its independence from the mainland, another, from the glorified capital of Madrid. Barcelona and Real Madrid have always displayed the highest quality of football possible in the beautiful game today, yet both get upsurged by two prodigious world-beating talents.
A flamboyant Portugese, standing over 6 feet tall, holds his own against the best in the world, and comes up trump in most cases. A public persona, he has spent a lot of time being on pages of newspapers and magazine covers. What Cristiano Ronaldo lacks in talent(if any) he covers in this almost Herculean physical conditioning. Yes, he would love to drop to grass, but to hate such ability sounds preposterous doesn’t it?
Not quite if you compare to the low key, humble, the less individualistic Leo Messi. The 5,4 Argentinian God set the world alight at a very young age. This surreally talented leftie, has won everything there is to win as an individual in world football today. Records were meant to be broken for this little master. The boy who migrated from a small town in Argentina has overcome his growth deficiency to win accolades in consecutive years to try to cement his position as the greatest player of the year, maybe even the greatest player to ever live.
The difference between these ridiculously talented superhuman figures is probably half a foot and some hair gel, but these two have caused the biggest divide of preferences in the world. So much so, that love for one almost automatically makes you hate the other.
Athletes have their quirks, their hang-ups, their persona. Phelps smoked a bong and learned from it, for every act of flamboyance, Ronaldo supports his small town almost single-handedly but some have this undying hatred, borne from jealously or this irrational love for another.
One of the greatest ever football managers said,’ If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing’.
While i understand the sentiment and emotion behind a quote like this, it is unfortunate that choices need to be made, sitting on the fence for the benefit of sport is a by-gone. To leave such choice to personal perspective just seems unfair.
I probably know who I’d choose if asked the question, but lets respect pure ability rather than tarnish on the basis of eccentricities.
For the love of Sport, I leave you with this::
Being second best should be good enough