Magazine article The Spectator

Going for Gold

Magazine article The Spectator

Going for Gold

Article excerpt

Miami - Bragging goes hand in hand with failure. I've met a lot of stars in my life - sporting and literary ones, and not a small number of film stars, too - and I've yet to come across a successful one who boasted.

Sure, there was Muhammad Ali, but his was a jig, a publicity stunt to make up for the years of white man forced-down-yourthroat humility. Writers, athletes and actors, in fact all artists, have one thing in common: Insecurity with a capital 'i'.

Athletes have short careers, writers and actors longer ones. One loses the facility for words as one gets older, but makes up for it through experience. I know nothing about acting, but I do know about sport.

An old boxer sees a punch coming before the one throwing it has thought of it. But when it comes, it lands on the old boy despite the fact he was expecting it. That's the time to hang it up, as they say.

Once upon a time a tennis player reached his peak at 32. Match-winning tennis required experience. One could beat a stronger opponent through guile, touch and superior strategy. No longer. Technology has done away with the thinking man's game. Now all one needs is power to hit the cover off the ball. The harder the hitter, the better the player. That's why I only watch women's tennis, and will soon stop doing even that as the women's game has gone the way of the men's. Tennis is now a very young person's game, as is boxing.

Remember Archie Moore? He boxed well into his late forties and put Rocky Marciano down early in the fight during a world heavyweight championship. Archie was 47, Rocky 22. Archie was a light heavyweight, Rocky was 15 pounds heavier. Moore slipped punches, bobbed and weaved, cut the ring in half, faked men out of their jockstraps with his shoulder movement.

Norman Mailer insists that Moore was in his fifties when he fought that gallant losing fight against the great Marciano, but I will play it safe and say that not even Archie knew his true age. My mentor Jaroslav Drobny won Wimbledon in 1954, aged 34, something no player could do today. Drobny had great touch, could drop-shot from the baseline - a real nono - and, although known for his weak sliced backhand, could disguise a lob or a passing shot like no other. Footballers, of course, are through before they reach the age of Beckham, but I'm getting away from my subject of the week.

Namely me. Oldies have a powerful lobby in America, even in sport. …

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