Nicol the great
A toast to an exemplary performer and the pride of a nation.
HISTORY has had stars who shimmered all too briefly before disappearing into the night, like vanishing comet tails. Then, there are those who have shone as brightly as the light of a thousand suns. Luck? That’s for the superstitious. I think it’s all down to hard work and perseverance.
Excellence isn’t easy to achieve, sustaining it, harder still. Dedication and a singleminded devotion are prerequisites, for talent alone seldom endures.
This is an article I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years but whose time had yet to arrive ... until now. This is about a sportswoman whose star has sizzled for almost two decades – if the light dimmed slightly at times, it wasn’t for long. She always found an inner strength, a blazing flame, to ignite the game of her choice.
This is about our home-grown squash queen, Datuk Nicol David.
Some talented people attain excellence and success, and then get distracted by the bright lights. Some achieve these but burn out all too soon. Others are just too lazy to even try. Then, there is Nicol.
Had her chosen sport been tennis, she might have reaped even bigger rewards and be mentioned in the same breath as the greats of the court – Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova. But squash was her destiny, and what a ride it has been!
Many of my friends wistfully recall a time when Malaysian football was at its prime. I’ve never been much of a football fan but hockey and, badminton, yes. When we won the Thomas Cup in 1992, I was glued to the TV, biting my nails in anxiety. And for a brief time, I viewed the world through the eyes of a giant. When Malaysia finished fourth in the World Cup hockey in 1975, I was on cloud nine for days.
Squash has never been perceived as glamorous, although Nicol has possibly won more international sporting titles than any other Malaysian! It seems cruelly consigned to the role of a poor cousin in racquet sports, minus the glitter of tennis or the hype of badminton.
Tennis and badminton get regular coverage on TV, squash, less so; thus, it came as a surprise to see a game of Nicol’s being shown on an Astro channel recently.
My missus, after a minute of watching, remarked: “I feel tired!” The reference was to the gruelling nature of the game – sure it all looks easy, but few racquet sports are as draining as squash. Seems a shame, though, that it doesn’t have a profile to match its demanding physical and mental requirements.
Few will argue that Nicol has contributed extensively towards furthering and sustaining the cause of the game, and to think that she’s just 27! Cruel, then, that she will probably never have the chance to add an Olympic medal to her list of accomplishments.
The wise men who govern the Olympic Games have so far kept squash out of the event. The earliest it has a chance of being included in the Olympics is in 2016, by which time, it may be a bit too far into Nicol’s career.
Yes, a time will come, as with every athlete, when younger and stronger players will get the measure of her. One hopes that when she finally calls it a day, she’s still at the top of her game.
Malaysia should ensure that Nicol’s feats and her inspiring story are never forgotten. We spout rhetoric about excellence and reaching for the stars, but here in our own backyard is one who has scaled every peak on her journey to greatness. Truly, here is a champion, not just for this era, but for all time.