The art of stretch­ing time and ta­lent

Mint ST - - RUSH -

lent to a “200 in Test cricket”. 500 is what he used to rou­tinely do in matches, which he’s done once in prac­tice, and which he wants to do again in com­pe­ti­tion.

500 is per­sonal. It will just tell him he’s play­ing well—he had a 190 in the world cham­pi­onships—and that is where he wants to jour­ney to, this place he once knew and wants to re­turn to. There’s a po­etry to cham­pi­ons when they start to speak about this feel­ing and even their voice changes. Sethi talks of “flow”, about “ev­ery­thing be­ing in sync”, and for him that’s “bliss”.

You won­der as he talks on the phone from Dubai if he’s smil­ing. But I am. Be­cause we need re­minders now and then that there’s no ap­pro­pri­ate age for sport and no ex­piry date for en­thu­si­asm.

Sport might be­long to young peo­ple, to the elec­tric Kylian Mbappe, 19, and the elas­tic Si­mone Biles, 21. And yet there’s still a place for Ok­sana Chuso­vitina who came fourth in the vault at last week’s world gym­nas­tic cham­pi­onships. She’s a mother and 43 years old.

We ap­plaud the new but who says sport is not a coun­try for old men and women? If you said that to Os­car Swahn, he would have tugged at your ear. With a bul­let from a 100 me­tres. He’s a fasci- cham­pion whose pro­file, taken from the Sveriges Olymp­iska Kom­mitté (Swedish Olympic Com­mit­tee) web­site, and put into Google Trans­late (Swedish to English), starts like this:

“He is a strange fig­ure in the Olympic his­tory this Os­car Gomer Swahn, from the farm Skärbo at the San­näs­fjord in the Tanum parish”.

You bet he was strange? Af­ter all, in 1908 he won his first Olympic gold at 60 in the men’s sin­gle-shot run­ning deer (re­lax, the deer wasn’t real). At the next Games, he fin­ished fourth in the same event, beaten to gold by his son. But then shoot­ers don’t bend to time that eas­ily and Fe­haid Al-dee­hani won dou­ble trap gold at 49 in Rio. I mes­saged Ab­hi­nav Bin­dra, a mere boy of 36, to sug­gest he had suf­fi­cient time for a come­back. “No chance,” he replied.

Sailors brave the wind deep into mid­dle age and run­ners stamp on ageists as they stride proudly down the road. Meb Ke­flezighi won the Bos­ton Marathon in 2014 when he was a month from 39 and Kather­ine Beiers, a mere 85, fin­ished that same race this year in un­der 8 hours. Later, she told a TV sta­tion: “A beer is my re­cov­ery drink.” In­deed.

All th­ese peo­ple mat­ter be­cause they are stretch­ers of time, they scoff at the years and no birth cer­tifi­cate re­flects what they feel within. In 2012, at the Lon­don Olympics, I went to watch the dres­sage for the first time sim­ply to be in the pres­ence of per­sis­tence. Just to won­der how long love sto­ries last. Just to see Hiroshi Hoketsu, 71, whose first Olympics was in 1964, in Tokyo, when The An­i­mals were sing­ing House Of The Ris­ing Sun.

Isn’t this partly why we watch sport, to see the con­stant ex­pan­sion of hu­man lim­its? How far can the body be pushed, am­bi­tion sus­tained, abil­ity de­vel­oped? Ice baths, nu­tri­tion, high-alti­tude cham­bers, ev­ery day there’s a new de­vice, rou­tine, fad, break­through. You can’t tell how much it helps ex­actly just like you can’t mea­sure the love for a game.

Few sto­ries ex­em­plify the lat­ter bet­ter than the life of Julius Boros, the golfer who won the 1968 PGA Cham­pi­onship at the age of 48. His son, Nick, told the San An­to­nio Ex­press-news this year that “in his later days, one time (Julius) went out be­fore a hur­ri­cane on a closed course just to hit any­thing that wasn’t un­der­wa­ter”. When Boros died in 1994, it was on a golf course, in a cart, un­der a wil­low tree.

Older ath­letes lean on ex­pe­ri­ence, trust in­stinct, adapt, for it is a harder road. Sethi lived in­tensely for bil­liards, now his at­ten­tion is scat­tered be­tween game, fam­ily, job. Ev­ery­thing erodes a lit­tle. His eye­sight is weaker and this hin­ders tim­ing. Or as he ex­plains, “The eye flicks be­tween the cue ball and the ob­ject ball and the speed of the eye de­ter­mines tim­ing.”

Yet he pushes on, role model to our rusty tribe, and per­haps he’s tuned to Fran­cis Ba­con who once wrote: “I will never be an old man. To me, old age is al­ways 15 years older than I am.” Play, Geet, play, you want to say. Hunt the 500. En­joy your chase. Draw your own fin­ish line. Sport is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man right and at no age does that right run out.

Ro­hit Brijnath is an as­sis­tant sports ed­i­tor at The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore, and a co-author of Ab­hi­nav Bin­dra’s book, A Shot At His­tory: My Ob­ses­sive Jour­ney To Olympic Gold.

A file photo of Geet Sethi.

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