Monday, 4 August 2014

Life, sport...or a plot in the making?

Greg Rutherford meets with triumph at Hampden Park
Whew! Sport, eh? Bloody hell, as Sir Alex memorably said on that day when he wiped the sweat from his Premier-League-and-Champions-League-winning brow.

Almost everyone who was at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will bend your ear about how wonderful the atmosphere was, how cold the burgers were (room for improvement there, Hampden) and how they were almost swept way by that great tidal wave of mutual love, for everyone and everything from the Cook Islands’ lawn bowls team to the fastest man on the planet. Sport brings people together. That’s the message of the Friendly Games.

For the novelist (writer or reader) there’s more to it than that. Real life weaves all our stories together, sprinter and spectator.

My own favourite moment, probably because it was the one I saw at closest quarters, was Olympic champion Greg Rutherford taking on the world in the long jump.

Since his triumph in London, life has been tricky for Greg. He left the Olympics as a surprise winner, with whispers that his victory was a fluke. Subsequent performance lent their support to that theory and then there were the injuries. Safe to say that he wasn’t expected to achieve…which made it all the ore special when he did.

Elsewhere in the sporting world, another young man was battling with loss of form, loss of confidence and public criticism. England cricket captain Alastair Cook was out of the runs and his team hadn’t won a test match in almost a year. Pundits and the public called on him to quit. But Cook came out fighting, just missed a century in the first innings ad finished the second 70 not out as his team thrashed their previously-triumphant opponents.

It was (if I may mix my sports) a Roy-of-the-Rovers storyline, just like Greg Rutherford’s. Sport lends itself to that because it pits its heroes not just against their opponents but against themselves. By challenging them with disaster after disaster — not just defeat after defeat but their own self-doubt — it demands that they reach deep into the well of courage to emerge. And it’s why sports fans care so much when Alastair Cook shakes the hands of the umpires with the broadest of grins as he leaves the field victorious; and why Greg raises his arms to acclaim the crowd just as they acclaim him.

A bit like the story arc for a novel, in fact…