Oscar Pistorius and other fallen idols in the world of sport
However you view the events at Oscar Pistorius’s Pretoria home yesterday, it’s a tragedy. For those who’ve been living on Mars, Pistorius’s girlfriend – model Reeva Steenkamp – was shot dead. Police initially refused to confirm that the suspect they were questioning was Pistorius (standard practice in South Africa, apparently), although they did make the baffling decision to tell us that they’d been called to incidents ‘of a domestic nature’ at the address in the past.
It’ll be months before we know whether or not he’s guilty. But, whatever happens, it’s hard to see anything other than the ruination of the man who’s arguably been the single-most important sportsperson in the world over the last five years.
As such, his is likely to be the most spectacular plunge from grace by a sporting figure in history. Here are some other fallen idols, whose descents I’ve attempted to rank.
2. Ben Johnson
From the holder of the most prestigious title in sport to ultimate villain in 72 hours. In the famous words of Des Lynam, “I’ve just been handed a piece of paper here that if it’s right, it’ll be the most dramatic story out of these Olympics or perhaps any others.”
I probably shouldn’t say this but, in my book, that 1988 final remains the greatest race in the history of the 100m. The look on Carl Lewis’s face! And four men under 10 seconds for the first time. It’s been branded ‘the dirtiest race in history’ but at the time it was pure adrenaline-filled theatre.
The saddest part of the whole tawdry business, as I recall it, was that ‘Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’ became ‘Jamaican-born sprinter Ben Johnson’ in many sections of the media. Talk about institutional racism.
3. Lance Armstrong
It must be nigh-on impossible for the few journalists who continued to throw awkward questions at Lance Armstrong at the height of his fame, such as the admirable Paul Kimmage, not to be smug now. Kimmage was once roundly bullied by Armstrong at a press conference for using the phrase ‘the cancer of cycling’. It’s not certain whether he was referring to drugs in the sport or Armstrong specifically. Armstrong, who had overcome testicular cancer in the 1990s, chose to interpret it as the latter and lashed out.
Perhaps the most distasteful aspect of the entire affair was Armstrong’s likening of his current situation to the challenge he faced when he found out he had cancer.
It might help the public’s perception of him if he sounded even a little apologetic.
4. Hansie Cronje
A second erstwhile favourite son of South Africa on the list.
I walked past Cronje at Centurion in Pretoria during the rain-affected fifth Test of England’s 1999-2000 tour. We’d already lost the series but on the final day, news filtered through that he and England captain Nasser Hussain had agreed to forfeit an innings each to ‘make a game of it.’ For us spectators, it felt like a bit of recompense for what had been a frustrating few days; the sun had shone almost constantly since a deluge on the first day but the wet outfield had prevented any play until day five.
The enterprising agreement by the captains produced a brilliant, one-day-style run chase, England reaching their target of 249 for the loss of eight wickets when Darren Gough pulled Nantie Hayward for four through midwicket with just five balls to spare. Only in subsequent years did the game look suspicious and, sure enough, it emerged that Cronje had accepted money and a gift from a bookmaker in return for the early declaration.
Cronje’s death at the age of 32 in a plane crash meant South African cricket was able to move on rather more swiftly than would’ve been possible if he’d stayed alive. One of the reasons that current captain Graeme Smith was ushered into the captaincy at the tender age of 22 – apart from being an admirable character – was that he had no links to Cronje.
5. Tiger Woods
Tiger’s last on this list as his fall from grace has not broken him. Sure, in the words of The Smiths, ‘at the time it was terrible’, and his carefully-staged apology press conference made for cringe-worthy viewing. However, he’s emerged from the scandal if not unscathed then at least intact. He even retained his lucrative association with Nike – unlike Armstrong, who was summarily dumped – although who knows how much money he forfeited from the dozens of other sponsors who walked?
I suppose that in the public consciousness, serial adultery is more forgivable than making a mockery of an entire sport. Even though the base crime is essentially the same: lying. People haven’t forgotten Tiger’s exposure as a prolific philanderer but at least he’s back doing what he’s most famous for. Next question. Is he good enough these days to add to his 14 majors?Tagged in: Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius, tiger woods
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