‘I’m sad to say I’m on my way
Won’t be back for many a day
My heart is down, my head is turning around
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town….’
Harry Belafonte is crooning one of my favourite songs as I warm up to Usain Bolt’s swansong run at the London World Championships. What a career Bolt has had! An eight-time Olympics gold medalist, with the ‘triple double’ combination of 100 m and 200 m wins the last three times. Bolt has been Mr. Clean in the oft tarnished image of dope-stars in the world of athletics. I am starting to think that he gave the phrase ‘bolt from the blue’ a new meaning altogether.
So when Bolt lines up for one last time at the 100 m starting line, it sort of signals the end of an era. As the gun roars, Bolt makes another slow start. The youngster Coleman from the US is the one who starts with a bang. But you expect Bolt to make up ground between the 60 and 80 meters mark, like he always does. You look at lanes 4 and 5 expecting a photo finish when, all of a sudden, Gatlin from the outside lane presses a foot on the accelerator and does the unthinkable. The crowd is stunned. Boos are heard as Gatlin has had a long history of failed dope tests. The fairy tale finish was not to be but Gatlin pays homage to the ultimate champion as he bows to Usain. 9:57 seconds will continue to be a marker, for generations to come.
Sporting farewells are always difficult- and here are some of the more memorable ones.
It was November 2013 when India stopped for a day. This was when the ‘Little Master’ Sachin Tendulkar finally decided to call it a day. Remember seeing a banner which said ‘I was an atheist till I realized that God played cricket.’ We grew up with our lives punctuated by centuries by Sachin. He gave us hope when there was none. So when the curtains came down at Wankhede after 24 memorable years of unadulterated joy, the entire country cried with Tendulkar. His humble speech, when he thanked his family, his roots, his coach and fellow players defined the middle class values this great man stood for. But the most remembered shot was when the little master after finishing his speech, went and bowed to the playing pitch one last time as he departed with tears in his eyes. One remembered the shot of Kohli carrying Sachin on his shoulders after the ODI World Cup win. Virat said ‘For more than twenty years he has carried Indian cricket on his able shoulders. It’s time we carried him…’
Arguably the greatest to play the game of cricket, Bradman went into his final test in 1948 with an average of 101.39. ‘The Don’ had broken all possible records. He squared up to face Eric Hollies one last time. Given Bradman’s metronomic consistency, everyone assumed he will hit another century in his last innings. But just the second ball into his innings, Hollies pitched the ball up slowly, it was a googly and what followed was ‘He’s bowled…Bradman bowled Hollies … nought’. The unthinkable had happened- the crowd was silenced and then they rose in deafening applause yet again to accompany the legend’s walk back one last time. Bradman would finish with a career average of 99.94, another four runs in his last innings and it would have been a perfect 100!
The other memorable farewell from the game of cricket was for one of my sporting idols. Saurav ‘Dada’ Ganguly redefined the way India played cricket, especially away from home in tests. Who can forget the Eden Gardens test win against Australia and that unabashed shirt waving in the hallowed Lord’s balcony after the Natwest Final? So when Dada decided to call it quits after the home Aussie test series in 2008, it was indeed the closing of a great chapter in Indian cricket. Saurav started his career with a test ton and would end his innings with a duck, but what I remember from that farewell test is how Dhoni handed over the captaincy reigns to Dada towards the end, and as the last wicket fell, Dada finished his career in the way we all remember him the most, as a leader!
Not all farewells are stuff of dreams. Some are infamous. Take the 1994 World Cup for example. After winning the World Cup in the most magical manner in Mexico ’86 and breaking Azzuri hearts in Italia ’90, US ’94 was positioned as Diego Maradona’s parting shot. It seemed to be setting up nicely for him as the Argentines started with a bang with an easy win vs Greece with the stud getting a goal too. But the world would fall apart after that- Diego would fail a drugs test and be suspended and sent home. His country would also fall apart and exit in the knockouts. What a sad way to go for one of the game’s greats!
Moving to the world of tennis, I started watching the game due to Becker. Those booming serves, the theatrical dives, Boris had an aura which went beyond just his game. And Wimbledon was his backyard. Well, before Sampras dethroned him anyways. But there’s that romanticism about Boris and his relationship with London SW19. 1999 was the year. Boris would start the tournament the way only he can. Playing a local wildcard Miles Maclagan, he would come back from two sets down to win in his own signature style. Two wins would follow against much younger opponents in Nicolas Kiefer and Lleyton Hewitt. Chance for one last dream, maybe? Maybe not! The second Monday saw Boris come across Pat Rafter, the second seed. Rafter would bull doze Boris for a straight set win. Sampras and Federer ruled Wimbledon for the next two decades, but somehow Becker and those days would be hard to match, at least for this hopeless Becker fanatic.
Michael Phelps swam for one last time in the Rio 2016 Olympics- 23 golds over five memorable Olympics, setting a record which would be difficult to match ever. Kobe Bryant would finish his illustrious career with a scarcely believable 60 points game. And the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus would receive a 10 minute standing ovation after crushing his final tee shot to close out the greatest career in PGA history.
There are a few adieus around the corner. Federer seems to be reaching his peak well into the mid-thirties while the sunset is near. How about a CSK win with Dhoni lifting the cup one last time in the IPL? And Messi has to win one time for Argentina before hanging his boot- Russia ’18 anyone? Till then, let’s enjoy the symphony.