Sporting history is replete with examples of if not famous last words, at least famous statements, good, bad and ugly, by famous sportsmen, for the most part good. Of recent vintage are two by former Olympian Ato Boldon which provoked a third from newly minted Commonwealth Games 100m gold medallist, Michelle-Lee Ahye.
Here is the first one: “If you worried as much about podiums as much as you do about unprovoked shots at younger teammates, you MIGHT actually win something in this lifetime.” That is definitely not in the ‘Good’ category.
And I can’t swear for him but I suspect the ex-sprinter-turned-coach is today looking for a deep, deep, deep, deep hole to hide in.
I know something about that Oh-Lord-I-really-say-that-in-truth? feeling. Last year, I publicly wrote off the Jason Holder-led West Indies after England swept them away by an innings and 209 runs in the First Test at Edgbaston in under three days. In the Second Test at Headingley, Shai Hope (147 & 118*) and Kraigg Brathwaite (134 & 95) stuffed humble pie down my throat, leading Dave Cameron’s men to a five–wicket win. I lost my appetite for a full week.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Boldon has already called the Express to apologise publicly. Or, alternatively, to feed T&T some rubbish about how he was just trying to spur the lady on to do her best and finally win a medal.
T&T, let’s be clear, had three representatives in the 100m final, the Boldon-coached Khalifa St Fort, who had not originally been selected on the team, Reyare Thomas and Michelle-Lee Ahye. Thomas brought up the rear in seventh while Boldon’s charge fought the good fight to pip her compatriot for sixth.
Ahye—who took Boldon’s “Lane filler” comment to heart, although the former track star insisted it was not aimed at her—only managed to clock a more-than-decent 11.14 seconds to take gold and occupy the highest rung of the podium, the first T&T woman ever to do so at a major athletics event.
Frankly, I would have given anything to see Boldon’s face at the end of the race. Or during the playing of the National Anthem. I do not doubt that he was extremely pleased to see his prediction come true.
England’s Tony Greig couldn’t say the same in 1976.
His unfortunate and unforgettable threat to make Clive Lloyd’s West Indians grovel backfired. Spectacularly. Viv Richards made 291 at London’s Kennington Oval, Michael Holding took 14 wickets, nine of them bowled or LBW, and the WI romped to a 3-0 win in the five-Test series. Greig’s scores were 0, 6, 20, 9, 3, 116, 76, 12 and 1.
A big cricket score—277—led to my first example in the Good category. What spawned it was Brian Lara’s near triple-century at Sydney in the first innings of what was only his ninth Test.
“Remember, young man,” then coach Rohan Kanhai said to the gifted then 22-year-old left-hander, “that your next innings begins at zero.”
Lara remembered. After that first fateful day in Sydney, he went all the way from zero to 375 in Antigua in 1994, to 501 in an English county game against Durham two months later and to 400 again in Antigua ten years later in 2004.
At Brisbane in 1960, over 30 years before Kanhai sought to keep Lara’s feet on the ground in Sydney, Frank Worrell had sought to keep Wes Hall’s feet behind the crease in what would turn out to be cricket’s first ever tied Test. Proving that he was indeed the black man CLR James and Learie Constantine had said the West Indians needed to lead them if they were to fulfil their true potential, the soon-to-be first West Indian cricketing knight found this wonderfully inspired and inspiring warning for his pacer as he prepared to deliver the last ball:
“And if you bowl a no-ball now, Wes, you’ll never be able to go back to Barbados.”
Let us now go back to 1967 to find an example of the ugly.
“What’s my name, Uncle Tom, what’s my name?”
I don’t know precisely what Ernie Terrell said to Muhammad Ali before the pounding the champ put on him in February of 1967. I feel sure, though, that Terrell never again called Ali “Cassius Clay.” The challenger had insisted on using the World Heavyweight Champion’s “slave name” instead of his new Muslim handle.
Ali tattoed his gloves all over Terrell’s face in the 15–round fight to secure an untroubled, unanimous decision; the champ, many agree, had won almost every round but had simply declined to knock Terrell out so as to prolong the “Uncle Tom’s” agony.
Agony is the apt word for what Cleveland Cavaliers fans suffered in 2010. Lebron James made Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert and their jersey-burning’ fans eat their words after they called him the worst imaginable names. “Selfish,” “heartless,” “callous,” “cowardly” and “traitor” they dubbed him after he revealed that he had signed for the Miami Heat. James kept his silence while Jesse Jackson dismissed Gilbert’s “venomous personal attack”on the high-profile basketballer, stressing that it was the franchise boss’ “slave master mentality” which ‘had allowed him to think that he could with impunity treat James as “a runaway slave.”
But that worked out okay in the end because he eventually came back home to Cleveland in 2015 and subsequently helped the franchise win its first championship the next year. And all was forgiven.
In Ahye’s case all is NOT forgiven. Boldon also had this to say when the squad for the Games was initially released—without St Fort’s name!
“The way to ensure the future of sport in T&T is to NOT select Khalifa St Fort.”
The gold medallist, 26 tomorrow, has announced that she will not be taking part in the relays because “home girl is the future of track.”
“Home girl” is, obviously, the 20-year-old St Fort. Truth be told, like Boldon, I too feel that St Fort will one day stand on the podium at one of these big Games. But I’m not entirely certain.
I’m not entirely certain either of what will happen when Boldon, St Fort and Ahye come back home.
But I feel pretty certain that, no matter what tomorrow’s Express tells us, starting today and for a little while yet, the quadruple Olympic medallist is going to have mud all over his face.