Days away from the New Year, Anthony Tan signs off 2011 with a few parting words.
Sometimes, words flow onto the page as easily as I pull on a garish jacket. Other times, I feel like I’m subjecting myself to a bizarre form of self-flagellation.
Still, nothing that I have done compares with the dedication of British-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died last Thursday and spent much of his precious remaining hours eking out a 3,000-word review of English writer G. K. Chesterton’s biography by Ian Ker.
Hitchens’ close friend and fellow author, Ian McEwan, remembers escorting him from his deathbed in a Texas hospital to a desk set up under a window. Doped on morphine, his pain was implacable and denied eating or drinking, he sucked on tiny shards of ice to keep himself alive that little bit longer. “We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop,” McEwan recalled to the Guardian newspaper.
“At intervals, his head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line.
“His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer, the brilliant friend.”
As involved as I am in sport, the more I immerse myself in the profession of journalism, the more I find myself beguiled by conversation, people and well-written prose, and less about the game itself.
Like Hitchens, it will most likely be conversation and literature that keeps me going till the end, not cycling or any other sport per se. Because as charmed as I am with races like Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France, it is the players I find most interesting – because without them, those events amount to nothing more than a one-dimensional sketch on paper.
* * *
Notwithstanding, Season 2011 had its highlights.
Cameron Meyer began the Year of the Underdog by demonstrating how scrawny can beat brawny – even in a sprinters’ race. A history-making triumph in Milan-San Remo will surely prove to be a turning point in Matt Goss’ career that, on its current trajectory, will only get bigger, bolder and better. Cadel Evans’ victory in Tirreno-Adriatico – defined by his mountain-top victory on the sixth stage to Macerata – was the first step in an astonishing year for the plucky all-rounder and demonstrated age was no barrier.
Flanders and Roubaix were special, because they continued the Underdog theme with Flandrians Nick Nuyens and Johan Van Summeren as respective champions, also debunking the theory that money can buy you victory.
The Giro was unexceptional for me. Because even for someone as gifted as Alberto Contador, who was so good he might as well have ridden the whole damn thing on his own, the course again proved too tough for anyone wanting to do well at the Tour; it also heightened the need for restraint, if we are to convince future generations doping is not just illegal, but unnecessary.
What can I say about the Tour I haven’t already said to you, online or on TV?
It was everything every Australian cycling fan wanted it to be, and to be there, in the thick it, has provided memories that will last me a lifetime and I can tell my kids one day. (Yes, I know, first I need to get myself a wife…) I have a feeling the 2012 Grande Boucle will also be a cracker, but I won’t make any predictions just yet.
If only for unearthing The Talented Mr. Froome, who could well surpass Bradley Wiggins in the not too distant future as Team Sky’s numero uno, the Vuelta was worth watching. Come January, should Contador be banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it will be Sky and RadioShack-Leopard-Bruyneel-Schleck-Nissan-Trek as the teams to watch come next July – provided your name is Cadel Evans.
The Worlds was significant not just for Mark Cavendish’s win, but equally for the power of a team that displayed a unity like no other. For those times when it does come down to the power of one, Tony Martin’s dethroning of Fabian Cancellara in the time trial was an abject lesson in humiliation – his only path to redemption to take the title back in the same way he lost it.
And Anna Meares receiving the People’s Choice award? That was pretty significant, too. For me, it demonstrated how a person’s qualities can transcend arguably the greatest sporting achievement by an Australian sportsman.
* * *
That brings me to my final blog of the year, and a few parting words. (Cue sobs and handkerchiefs.).
I thank you for reading, your support, and your comments (including more than a few volleys of vitriol during the Tour that was akin to a shot of Valium and helped me sleep at night).
I leave you with a quote from a speech by Daniel Ellsberg, the former US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971, and which ignited the flame for the Watergate scandal that eventually led to then President Nixon’s resignation.
“The courage we need, is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war; to help conceal lies; to do our job by a boss who has usurped power and is acting as an outlaw government – it is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it.”
I continue to do what I do because, like Ellsberg, honesty and integrity mean everything to me. If I see otherwise, I consider it my duty to expose those acting unscrupulously.
Merry Christmas y’all, and stay safe and happy – I’ll be back in the New Year.
Image by Christian Witkin, Vanity Fair.