The higher they climb, the harder they fall. The more time they spend at the top, the less they expect to fall. Victory has defeated them.
The sporting world is more competitive than ever before. Advancements in health, medicine, and technology have lengthened the careers of athletes. As a result, athletes are able to stay at the top of their game for longer, well into their thirties.
Change is something that people almost never welcome willingly. Winning is something you get used to, specially when you have spent over a decade at the top of the sporting world as a world-famous athlete. Hence, when they realise that they are being surpassed by new, young upstarts, their reactions aren't pretty. They get so used to having their way, it's unfathomable for them to imagine someone else taking away their victory. They feel as if the sporting world owes them a debt, as if they are entitled to win the highest honors because of their achievements and legendary status.
Victory, in a sense, has defeated them. It has defeated their ability to suffer, their ability to stand back up after falling down. The very same ability that brought them to the top.
Last week, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka won her first ever Grand Slam title by beating veteran Serena Williams in the US Open final. Throughout the match, Williams continued to throw tantrums: she proceeded to insult the umpire by calling him a "thief" and accusing him of sexism, all simply because he deducted points from her and gave her a penalty for taking coaching in the middle of the match and for breaking her racket on the court.
Looking at the facts here, the umpire was fair and justified in handing her the penalties for misconduct and violation of the rules of the game. This is neither an issue of sexism nor of racism, as Serena's opponent was also a woman of color who did not face any charges, due to her clean game. Instead, this whole controversy is merely a publicity stunt by Williams, upset at the fact that her fairy-tale return to the sport from her pregnancy was now cut short twice in quick succession, with the first incident being her loss in the Wimbledon final back in July. Unfortunately for Naomi, her impressive accomplishment and one of the best moments of her life, were shattered as she cried to the jeering of the crowd. The internet, social media, and the news outlets were all talking and debating about Williams, instead of focusing on the accolades of the young woman.
Williams, however, is not the sole victim of her own hubris. Another notable example has been Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most popular soccer player. After his high-profile move from Real Madrid to Italian giants Juventus, Ronaldo lost out FIFA's Best Player of the Year award to former teammate Luka Modric. Modric inspired both club and country throughout the season, leading Real Madrid to their third consecutive Champions League title, and guiding Croatia to the World Cup final.
Instead of congratulating his former teammate of 5 years, with whom he shared unprecedented success, Ronaldo decided to skip the ceremony and not wish Modric for winning the award after he found out that he failed to win, according to reports. Unfortunately for Modric, the press coverage mostly went to Ronaldo and his reactions, rather than focusing on his stellar performances over the past season.
As rapid progress is made in fields related to sports, it is to be expected that players will be able to sustain a career for longer periods of time. However, we must still bear in mind that this should not be an excuse to try and prolong the inevitable. Change will eventually come, and there is no point in resisting it. The newer breed of players will replace the old stars, and we, as fans, must embrace it and move on, instead of trying to live in the days of the past. The old must pave the way for the new.
Nothing is bigger than the sport. No player can claim to "deserve" anything, no player should be entitled to anything, regardless of their past accomplishments. What matters is the spirit of the game. What matters is that all of these athletes, amongst countless others, will go down as legends of their respective sports, and will hold a special place in the hearts of millions of fans across the world.
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